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October 17, 2023

Instant observations: Phillies overwhelm Diamondbacks in Game 2 to take commanding NLCS lead

Aaron Nola tossed a scoreless gem backed by an explosion of offense as the Phillies take a 2-0 series lead heading to Arizona.

The dream October continues at Broad and Pattison, as the Phillies cruised to a dominating 10-0 win over the Diamondbacks to extend their NLCS lead to 2-0.

All Arizona can do is hope that Wednesday's day off cools down a few of the Phillies' bats — and arms — before the series shifts to Phoenix on Thursday afternoon.

It's hard not to feel overcome with confidence and satisfaction thus far in the postseason, and the Phillies are a pair of wins away from advancing to a second straight World Series. Philadelphia is clearly ready for it, expecting it, and unable to imagine any alternative.

Here's a look at the good, the bad and more trash talk gone wrong from Game 2 in the NLDS:

The good

• If a space alien landed in Citizens Bank Park and watched baseball for the first time these last few games, it would likely think the only way to score runs was one at a time, when the ball leaves the yard.

I considered putting "the Phillies have hit 13 consecutive solo home runs" to the bad section of this space — but it seemed like a stretch. The Phillies are hitting home runs at an absolutely blistering rate — they have 19 of them in eight playoff games. That's a 385-home run pace for a regular season, which is miles better than the record-setting 307 the Braves hit in 2023.

Anyway, Turner got things going with this solo shot in the first inning, giving the Phillies yet another lead and a ton of momentum:

And then in the third, Kyle Schwarber added his own with a line drive that looked like it might not have been high enough to clear the fence but did by a hair to double Philly's lead to 2-0. 

And then Schwarber did it for a second time in the sixth. That's three homers in the NLCS for Schwarber now, who was quiet in the first two rounds but has jumped into relevance quickly as he often is known to do. In his two seasons with the Phils, including the postseason, Schwarber has hit 102 home runs. 

He's also already become one of the most prolific home run hitters in MLB postseason history:

• After seeing the Diamondbacks scrape together three runs late to make it a game in Game 1 (a 5-3 Phillies win), everyone at Citizens Bank Park knew there was a need for some insurance, with Philly up by three in the bottom of the sixth. The offense answered as they blew the game open. A two-RBI J.T. Realmuto double, followed by another RBI double from Brandon Marsh put the Fightins comfortably ahead 6-0. 

This chunk of runs put to bed a few less-than-stellar trends. First, it ended their crazy streak of only scoring with solo homers. Second, they showed a little life with runners in scoring position, a rare category the offense has not been pulverizing in. The three runs also all came with two outs.

• Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott — the Phillies' No. 4 and 5 hitters all postseason — finally ended their respective slumps. Bohm's postseason average was as low as .148 before he drove in Schwarber and Harper with a double in the seventh, increasing their stranglehold to 8-0. In the inning prior, the equally quiet Stott had a stellar at-bat against lefty reliever Joe Mantiply, earning a base hit and forcing the southpaw into a mismatch against Realmuto which would break the game open. 

• There were even more runs scored —  eight of them in the sixth and seventh innings combined. It was a bloodbath.

• Aaron Nola was a rock Tuesday, striking out seven in six innings and allowing just three hits and blanking the D-backs where it matters. He was in two minor jams but was able to avoid his trademark blow-up inning. Wheeler resembled an ace in Game 1, and Nola outdid him in Game 2. With both hurlers performing like this, it'll be hard for anyone to beat them the rest of the way,

There are a bunch of reasons why the Phillies lost the World Series to Houston last fall, but among them is surely the taxing load the team put on Wheeler and Nola, and the pair was unable to hold up to the rigors of a long postseason as their journey extended into November. Phillies manager Rob Thomson is clearly being mindful of that. He pulled Nola after just 82 pitches to save a little stamina in case he's needed again in the series. In Game 1, Wheeler was yanked after six frames and 81 pitches of his own.

Philadelphia is going to try and spread out the labor as much as it can to keep every arm fresh for the Fall Classic if they're able to advance that far.

• While we're on the topic of the Phillies' pitching, they have sort of been an unsung hero this postseason. Following their shutout in Game 2, they now sport the lowest postseason ERA (through 8 games) since 1980. They look, at times unhittable, and at worst they've been bend-not-break up and down the pitching staff.

The bad

• It's never good to start a postseason game with an error on a weakly hit ground ball, but it's been that kind of season on the dirt for Turner. The $300 million man has turned it around to be sure, thanks in part to supportive Phillies fans. But he's been a liability at times at shortstop. He has four errors in eight games and led the majors in errors during the regular season with 23 of them. 

The Phillies tied for the fourth most errors in 2023 during the regular season, with 94 of them, and their .984 fielding percentage was near the bottom of all 30 MLB teams. But that is the price of doing business with Schwarber, Turner, Bohm, Nick Castellanos and other sluggers in the lineup.

For what it's worth, Turner's first-inning hiccup was overcome easily by Nola on the mound. And then he hit a homer to make up for it even more.

• The one remaining struggling hitter is centerfielder Johan Rojas. He's the only Phillies starter on offense who didn't reach base in the win. The rookie has made some really impactful defensive plays and has more than earned his roster spot, but a little offense going forward would be a nice bonus.

The bulletin board... again

• This is starting to defy logic. 

The Braves were undone — at least in part — because of controversial bulletin board material from Orlando Arcia, making fun of Bryce Harper after a Game 2 base-running misjudgment. Harper and the entire Phillies roster demolished the 104-win Braves and were the last ones laughing. Their ace pitcher, Spencer Strider, also complained about crowd noise and was lambasted with it throughout his start in South Philadelphia.

The Diamondbacks should know it doesn't take much to get this crowd going, and Game 2 starter Merrill Kelly fell into the trap before his first NLCS start:

Okay so a lot to unpack here. The World Baseball Classic? Are you kidding me? 

Is a loud postseason crowd discernibly different from another crowd? That might be a slightly different question. The fans made sure to make their best case for an affirmative answer as Kelly was knocked out of the game after three home runs and four earned runs allowed. And, well, the entire D-backs pitching staff was as embarrassed as it gets, knocked around for 10 runs in total. 

The Diamondback's manager Torey Luvollo commented with almost the same thought Kelly had before Tuesday's game, but with one little compliment thrown in:

"It was about what we expected. To be honest with you, the final game against the Dodgers at Chase Field when it was rocking with 50,000 strong, I was proud of our fans, and it was about the same. It was about the same intensity, same volume.

"These fans here are just very smart and very engaged. It's the timing of their engagement. It's like as soon as the ball has gotten through or as soon as a strike is caught, they're just on it, and it's just very quick engagement.

"But I would say the overall sound is something very similar to what we heard at home that last game against the Dodgers."

Until someone beats the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park this postseason, we'll have to give these fans the benefit of the doubt.

• One more friendly jab at the Diamondbacks. The cheapest ticket for a seat in Chase Field for Thursday's Game 3 is $25 via StubHub. World Series standing room only in Philly is already up to $1,200.

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