May 17, 2023
Struggling pitching, unsteady fielding and bats that couldn't take advantage with runners in scoring position left the Phillies on the receiving end of a three-game sweep against the Giants out in the Bay.
They're now 20-23 on the season, still hovering around the .500 mark and in the middle of the NL East standings, and still looking for steady ground in what's been the 2023 season so far.
They'll come back to South Philly to look for it this weekend against the Cubs, but before they do, here are five thoughts from a three-game set out in San Francisco where nothing quite went right:
Late last season in the push for a Wild Card spot, Bailey Falter proved all kinds of reliable in the back of the rotation.
From late August to the end of the regular season in early October, the lefthander went 6-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 37 strikeouts in nine starts, usually giving the Phillies around 5-6 innings per outing.
He was an underrated piece in helping the Phils finally snap their 11-year long postseason drought, and coming into the spring, was the safe option to reclaim the fifth spot in the rotation in the event top prospect Andrew Painter wasn't ready to make the jump yet, which injury would go on to prevent.
Now, a quarter of the way through this season, Falter is struggling immensely.
He's 0-7, his ERA is a much too high 5.13, and on Monday night against the Giants, even though he took over in relief of Connor Brogdon in a spot start, got tagged for six runs (all unearned) all in the second inning.
What is going on here? What's making this year so hard compared to last?
“I do not know,” Falter said postgame Monday night (via MLB.com).
“I feel like I’m doing the same thing, honestly."
Either way, something's not right, and the Phillies, still with suspect pitching depth, are in a bit of a jam because of it.
Falter was sent back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley ahead of Tuesday night's game, which will trigger his last minor-league option. Righthanded reliever Erich Uelmen was called up to take his spot on the 26-man roster, though it isn't clear yet what the Phillies are going to do for what was supposed to be Falter's next turn in the rotation on Sunday against the Cubs.
Granted, the Phillies' fielding didn't do Falter any favors during that brutal second either.
With one out and runners on first and second, Trea Turner snagged a routine grounder and made the throw to second to set up the double-play attempt, but the ball went right off Bryson Stott's glove and into the dirt instead. Everyone was safe, bases loaded.
Then in the next at-bat, Wilmer Flores looped a fly ball into right. Nick Castellanos got under it, but couldn't glove it either. He still caught Thairo Estrada between first and second for the force out – he assumed Castellanos caught it – but the Giants were on the board with a runner still at third.
It snowballed from there in the form of a three-run homer from Michael Conforto and then back-to-back RBI singles from Mitch Haniger and Brandon Crawford.
One frame where everything that could go wrong did, and the Phils never recovered.
In all three games, the Phillies' bats had opportunities to do some serious damage with the bases loaded but squandered nearly all of them.
Overall, they went 0-for-8 on Monday night with runners in scoring position, 1-for-11 on Tuesday, and at one point, were 0 for their last 27. They did finally make some headway in the series finale on Wednesday, but not enough and not when it mattered most, going 1-for-6 in possible scoring situations.
With one out and the bases juiced once again in the fourth, J.T. Realmuto knocked a two-run double down the left-field line, and Alec Bohm hit a sac fly to bring the Phillies back within one after falling into an early 4-0 hole.
Then in the fifth, Stott hit a solo shot to tie the game up.
But in the ninth, after the Phillies managed to load the bases again down three, there was nothing doing. Trea Turner struck out swinging with two outs. That was it.
In a series where the pitching – for the most part – struggled and the fielding had its share of miscues, all those potential runs left on the table just compounded the Phillies' problems out in San Francisco.
"We're just going through one of those times right now," manager Rob Thomson said postgame Tuesday night. "But as long you're getting runners on base...just gotta keep grinding.
"The tide will turn. It will. It always does."
And you have to wonder – as much as hope – that the tide might be turning soon for two of the biggest names in the Phillies' lineup.
Kyle Schwarber hit a solo shot in the ninth Tuesday night for his 10th homer of the season, but through the month of May (not including Wednesday's game) he's been batting just .125 with a .625 OPS – though he did have six walks too across the Rockies and Giants series combined.
10th Schwarbomb of the szn #RingTheBell pic.twitter.com/F4MT5dUdMk— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) May 17, 2023
It's not exactly a pretty stat line, but with that being said, the calendar is about to turn to his time of the year. Are we in for another June Schwarber tear?
Likewise, Turner was hitting just .255 this month entering Wednesday, but has notched at least a hit in all but one of those games (May 13 at Colorado).
There are signs that the All-Star shortstop is beginning to find his groove again at the plate, though that last at-bat in the ninth on Wednesday definitely wasn't one of them, but could that all finally start picking up with a turn to June too?
Regardless, the Phillies are going to need their $300 million man to step up.
Taijuan Walker lasted less than an inning in his start Wednesday and was pulled after 40 pitches and four earned runs surrendered off of six baserunners.
After putting up respectable, six-inning outings in each of his previous two starts, the righthander came out completely flat, falling behind in counts and struggling to hit the strike zone.
Walker was brought in on a four-year, $72 million deal during the winter to solidify the middle of the Phillies' rotation, but so far, he hasn't been consistently able to do so, which – when combined with Falter's struggles – leaves glaring weaknesses in the three and five spots of the rotation.
Credit to the bullpen for holding the Giants once Matt Strahm took over in relief – well, at least until San Francisco started hitting Gregory Soto around in the eighth – but if the Phillies want to gain a foothold in the division, Walker has to be one of the guys to start finding some sort of rhythm.
Still hovering around the .500 mark, the Phils will come back to Citizens Bank Park to play the Cubs this weekend.
Chicago, well past their 2016 World Series prime, is just kind of hanging around in the middle of the NL Central right now, but that's no reason for the Phillies to take them lightly, especially given the recent history between the two clubs.
Understandably, the run to the World Series put it in the rearview, but late last season, with the Phillies still pushing for one of the NL's last two available Wild Card spots, the Cubs went and swept them at Wrigley, which put the Phils' postseason hopes in serious danger.
The stakes won't be nearly as extreme this time around, but a series win back home can definitely help right the ship again after a three-game sweep out in the Bay.
This weekend's probable starters:
|Date||Time||Cubs Probable||Phillies Probable|
|Fri., May 19||7:05 p.m.||TBD||LH Ranger Suárez (0-0, 6.75 ERA)|
|Sat., May 20||4:05 p.m.||TBD||RH Aaron Nola (3-3, 4.53 ERA)|
|Sun., May 21||1:35 p.m.||TBD||TBD|
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