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October 23, 2023

Instant observations: Listless Phillies fall flat in Game 6, face do-or-die in NLCS

The Phillies will play the first ever Game 7 in franchise history Tuesday night.

All good things must come to an end. There is no such thing as a sure thing. That's why they play the games.

Pick your cliche — as the Phillies had a cliche letdown Monday night in Game 6 of the NLCS at home, failing to punch a World Series ticket in a woeful 5-1 loss to the Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park.

The NLCS will now continue on to a do-or-die Game 7 Tuesday (at 8:07 on TBS or streaming on Max) to determine whether a Pennant is in their future.

We did our best to look on the bright side, but it was pretty dim. 

Still, as always, here's a look at the good, the bad, and the consequences of a forgettable Game 6 loss...

The good

• Well, they had a 3-2 series lead. So it means they still have one more try to get to the World Series. That's good — in the large scheme of things.

• Trailing 3-0, after the crowd got so quiet it felt like a game from 2016 or something, J.T. Realmuto hit a double and Brandon Marsh scorched an RBI single to get the crowd amped back to 11. It is really quite remarkable how engaged and supportive these crowds have been this entire run, and the energy was flipped back on almost instantly. 

Props to Marsh for being basically an energizer bunny out there. After falling behind even further — 5-1 — the grizzly outfielder hit a single to lead off the bottom of the seventh and nearly tore his britches sliding into second to break up a potential double play. Not a ton has been written — or witnessed — from the secondary guys in the lineup lately. It might take a big hit from Marsh, Johan Rojas, Bryson Stott or Alec Bohm to lift them in Game 7.

• Phillies manager Rob Thomson did handle the pitching staff reasonably well given the situation. He assured he'd have his big arms — Seranthony Domínguez, José Alvarado, and Jeff Hoffman — well rested for Tuesday's kitchen sink game. Which is another reason why he probably left Aaron Nola out there a little too long to surrender a fourth run.

The bad

• The Diamondbacks decided to trust veteran DH Tommy Pham Monday after benching him in Arizona and it paid off in a big way, as the 35-year-old who was battling the Mendoza Line in the postseason went deep to left field in the second inning. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. did the same one hitter later for back-to-back dingers. It's the most quiet the ballpark has been all postseason. 

Nola gave up a career-high 32 home runs during the regular season and thus far in the playoffs had not given up a homer. It seemed inevitable that he'd have a hiccup after being nearly perfect through three starts so far in October. 

Alek Thomas proceeded to score from first on an Evan Longoria double, and very quickly — with no one out — Nola was on the ropes. A couple hard hit balls and a groundout ended the threat, but a 3-0 early deficit was the punishment for Nola's worst inning in weeks.

Nola settled down for a few innings but when he faced lefty hitters Corbin Carroll and Ketel Marte for the third time each, he fell victim to a single and a triple to help Arizona pad its lead and knock the ace out of the game, trailing 4-1. Prior to the loss, the Phillies had won each of Aaron Nola's last eight starts and 11 of his last 12.

• Merrill Kelly walked two batters ahead of Bohm in the first frame — and then proceeded to strike out the Phillies' struggling clean up hitter and forced Stott to pop up. There is no way to know for sure if shaking up the batting order would make a difference, but we've lamented about it in this space for a while now. Would J.T Realmuto or Nick Castellanos have made at least some kind of productive out there with just one man out?

(We'll go with a no on Castellanos for now, he's mired in an 0-for-19 slump right now after hitting those four home runs last week.)

Giving Harper a little protection in the lineup would probably have a trickledown effect on the entire offense, an offense that has gotten along without getting much from Bohm (or Stott either for that matter). Skipper Thomson has been reluctant to make any kind of move among his starting 9, so don't expect that to change in the World Series (if they make it there).

• Those stranded runners started to add up, as the team left seven men on base and went 0-for-7 tries with runners in scoring position. This team made its mark earlier this postseason hitting the ball out of the ballpark — specifically with a barrage of solo home runs. They really haven't had many multi-run hits, nor have they really been able to get runners home even with them stealing bases left and right. 

• Not to pile on, but I never was really was on board with the Phillies carrying Orion Kerkering with them into the postseason based on what was basically a one week sample at the end of the regular season. The 22-year-old has been put into some key spots in this series, one of them might have cost the team Game 3, and the other gave Arizona a valuable insurance run in the seventh inning and a 5-1 lead. I don't blame the kid, and I get the idea of bringing someone with some youthful energy with to the playoffs, but using Kerkering in these spots was questionable.

• You know things are desperate with Schwarber tries to steal a base. Woof.

• One last woof — playing "Welcome to the Jungle" with the flashing lights and all for Craig Kimbrel before the eighth inning, as if the guy is Mariano Rivera or something, is a tasteless move. No disrespect to the man but he blew two saves in Arizona and is sort of the reason Game 6 even took place. Maybe just let him enter like the other relief pitchers do?

The consequences

• There's a lot of baseball left to be played and the Phillies will have a home Game 7 to play to punch a ticket into the World Series. But their loss in Game 6 came with some consequences:

  1. Zack Wheeler announced to media members that he would be ready to pitch if needed in Game 7. Obviously winning the game in front of you is the most important thing — but it's possible he could get himself out of line to pitch in Game 1 and 5 in the World Series. 
  2. They have now lost at home for the first time this postseason. Will that home-field advantage be less intimidating now that they've been beaten at home?
  3. The Phillies will be playing in their first ever Game 7 in franchise history Tuesday night. That is 141 years — never a Game 7 before this season. There will be more history in South Philly.
  4. Did the Diamondbacks swing the series' momentum with their convincing win?
  5. Could his relented RBI-triple in the fifth inning Monday be the final pitch ever thrown by Aaron Nola as a Phillie? He's due to be a free agent in a few weeks and the Phillies did not offer him an extension during the preseason.

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