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June 16, 2024

Phillies quick hits: Orioles series gets away after gutsy win in the opener

The Phillies won an 11-inning battle on Friday night, but then had seemingly everything else go wrong this weekend as they dropped two of three to the Orioles.

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Zack-Wheeler-Phillies-Orioles-6.16.24-MLB.jpg Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports

It was an uncharacteristically off day for Zack Wheeler.

Backed by a heavy fan contingent that made the trip down to Camden Yards, the Phillies pulled off an impressive win over the Orioles on Friday night in an 11-inning struggle, but then had little else go right for them the rest of the weekend, going on to drop two of three for the series and now four of six since getting back from London. 

They'll return home to Citizens Bank Park for a three-game set against the Padres beginning Monday night – with Trea Turner ready to return – but until then, here are a few quick hits from what quickly became a frustrating weekend...

A gutsy opener

Friday night's series opener was a rollercoaster. 

Kyle Schwarber hit a lead-off bomb off of a starter who had yet to give up a home run all season in Baltimore's Kyle Bradish, and then Rafael Marchán hit his first homer in nearly three years to give the Phillies a narrow 2-1 lead. 

Ranger Suárez, in another quality start, and Jeff Hoffman battled for some tough outs late to hold the line, but only to see Matt Strahm's scoreless streak end on an Anthony Santander solo homer in the eighth to tie the game, followed by scoreless ninths from Craig Kimbrel (who is clearly aware that he's Philadelphia's favorite former closer) and José Alvarado to force some tense extra innings – with a rain delay to extend it all even further. 

After a run each was traded in dramatic fashion in the 10th to keep the game tied, 3-3, Bryce Harper was up with one out and the ghost runner at second. The Orioles wanted no part of him with the game on the line, electing to intentionally walk him so that Baltimore reliever Jacob Webb could deal with Alec Bohm instead. 

Bohm approached the batter's box before Harper even had his gear off to jog to first. Offense was taken. 

Bohm launched a fly ball to the left-center wall and Orioles outfielder Austin Hays couldn't get to it, two runs scored to give the Phils the lead back, then Seranthony Domínguez took the mound and retired the side to shut the door on an emphatic 5-3 win. 

It was a heavyweight bout between two of baseball's current powerhouses, what could be a potential World Series preview, and in the moment, a hard-fought, character-defining win for the Phils taken on a personal slight. 

"I learned that from Jean Segura," Bohm said postgame of the Orioles' decision to pitch to him instead of Harper. 

And if you'll recall back in early September 2022, when that miracle pennant team was still chasing after that last wild card spot, they had the Marlins' backs to the wall with Harper at second in the bottom of the ninth and J.T. Realmuto at the plate. They walked Realmuto to pitch to Segura instead. He took it personal, then lined the walk-off winner into right to score Harper from second. Segura's helmet was off, fists were pumping, and his bat might still be in orbit from the flip in one of the 2022 run's signature moments. 

The influence of it came back around on Friday night, for a club still fighting to make it back to the World Series, and for one that clearly hasn't lost any of its edge in pursuit of it.

The next day that got away

Game 2 (and 3) just didn't go the Phillies' way though. 

Bohm opened up Saturday with an RBI double and Edmundo Sosa hit a solo shot in the second to give the Phils a quick 2-0 lead, while Taijuan Walker held up pretty decently on the mound through five innings until back-to-back singles and a Santander sac fly gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead in the sixth.

By the eighth, the Phillies reached too deep into a bullpen they had already run through the night before, and with José Ruiz on the mound, the Orioles teed off. 

Santander, especially, was a Phillies killer this series. He hit the two-run shot in the eighth that all but decided Saturday's result, preceded by a solo homer off Walker earlier in the second. Plus, he got the tying home run off Strahm on Friday night then drove in another run on Sunday. 

On the whole, he went 5-11 with three home runs and six runs batted in against the Phils. Anytime he was at the plate, it felt like trouble. 

Wheels fell off

Then on Sunday, Zack Wheeler just didn't have it.

After a brilliant seven innings in Boston earlier in the week, Wheeler got dragged into a nine-pitch battle against Gunnar Henderson and then tagged for a lead-off home run on the payoff pitch.

That set the tone for the rest of the day. 

Wheeler needed 27 pitches to get out of the first, and by the fifth, he had given up three more home runs to reach a career-worst of four for a start – a two-run shot from Colton Cowser in the second, a solo one from Adley Rutschamn in the third, and then a three-run blast from Jordan Westburg in the fifth.

There wasn't much to salvage after that. 

When he was finally pulled after a long 4.1 innings for Spencer Turnbull, Wheeler had been tagged for nine hits, including the aforementioned four homers, two walks, and eight runs (all earned). He only struck out four.

On the other end, Corbin Burnes, in what was looking to be a marquee pitching matchup going in, held the Phils to seven hits, two earned runs, and two walks over six solid innings. He punched out seven for the Orioles in his eighth win of the season.

Wheeler has been throwing great stuff all year so far and is one of the clear NL Cy Young candidates through the first half of the season. And while Sunday was rough, for now, it's probably safe to chalk this one up to a bad day at a bad time.

Even with Sunday's loss (Wheeler dropped to 8-4), you can still count the number of meh-to-bad Wheeler starts on one hand. They weren't all going to be stellar, and no J.T. Realmuto behind the plate for the next month to call games is probably taking some adjusting for him and the rest of the rotation.

But way more often than not, Wheeler has been excellent this season, so there probably isn't too much to get worried about here – unless, of course, the losses start to pile up after this. 

Ebbs and flows

That can probably be said for the Phillies as a whole, too. 

Look, it wasn't exactly a great week for them. Their star catcher is gone for a month and they just dropped back-to-back series to Boston and then Baltimore. 

It's been a rough several days, but that is also compared to a larger sample size where they've been the best team in baseball. In a 162-game schedule, they were never going to fully sustain that incredible of a pace. A bad stretch, sooner or later, was inevitable, and one is here now. 

But it's hardly the end of the world.

The Phils will be coming home now to a three-game set against an inconsistent Padres club before getting the NLCS rematch against a Diamondbacks team that hasn't fully recaptured their footing either, Turner is expected back for Monday's opener against San Diego, and they have the buffer of an eight-game lead over the Braves in the NL East to work with. 

It's a pretty favorable situation coming up to snap out of it, and the benefit of the Phils playing so well before is that it allows them the breathing room to iron things out, too. 

The season isn't won in May or early June, but good play in the early months can buy a club time to comfortably figure out how. 

That's the Phillies' biggest benefit right now. 

"We feel good about our club and where we're at," manager Rob Thomson said postgame. "But we got a long way to go. We gotta play well, and I expect that we will."

Decisions, decisions

With Turner coming back, an active roster spot does need to be cleared for him, so what call do the Phillies make there? – keeping in mind that Brandon Marsh also just returned to the outfield. 

Johan Rojas has the minor-league options but seems to walk just enough of the line to prevent justifying a minor-league demotion, which might bring the decision down to David Dahl and Cristian Pache and what each's long-term outlook on the club is projected to be. 

Something to keep an eye on, too: While Turner has been out, Sosa has been great filling in, and might have built up enough of a case now to be an everyday player – if not here than elsewhere. 

Sosa has arguably been the best utilityman in baseball since the Phillies acquired him from the Cardinals at the 2022 trade deadline, but Bryson Stott can still play short in a pinch and Whit Merrifield can move into second if called upon. 

Sosa is the better fielder – a very competent hitter, too – but that's a luxury that might be able to net the Phillies a major return come deadline time later in the summer if they're on the hunt for something like one more bullpen piece or even a more offensive-minded outfielder. 

It's just food for thought for now. Otherwise, it's definitely been clutch for the Phillies to have him step up in Turner's absence. 

Loose thoughts

• Bohm had a solid series overall, going 8-13 with a double in each game and five total runs batted in, which included Friday night's winner in extras. 

• Nick Castellanos did not, going 0-14 for the weekend with six strikeouts. He has had some glimmers, but for the most part, it's just been brutal for him at the plate. If he's not chasing on a breaking pitching that everyone in the park knows is going way out of the zone and into the dirt, he's slapping a soft grounder only good for a routine out. Entering Sunday, Castellanos was slashing .208/.267/.353, and as a $100 million outfielder, that's still very much a problem.

• The strike zone was suspect all series. Stott had several calls that were clearly outside the zone go against him, like here:

Then in the sixth on Sunday, after the game was well out of the Phillies' hands and Garrett Stubbs had the call taken back on a hit by pitch, Thomson had enough:

Felt like that was brewing all series.

"It is what it is," Thomson said afterward.

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