July 05, 2023
The Fourth of July ended with fireworks and the Phillies holding an NL Wild Card spot after a win over old friend Zach Eflin and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Sure, there's a lot of season still to go, but the Phillies are gaining momentum and surging through the summer again, especially when they're on the road right now.
Is it beginning to look a bit more like last year? Maybe.
Granted, there's a lot more notoriety now.
Here's what they're saying about the Phils...
The big, and perhaps understated, difference coming into 2023 was that the Phillies are big time now.
Around town, they're the summer's stars of the show again. People know the players' names, their faces too, and that goes for the whole roster, not just the usual suspects like Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and Aaron Nola.
The 2022 miracle run to the World Series has the city fully in love with baseball again, and the team can't go anywhere without feeling it.
"I’ve gotten recognized in a Wawa," second-year second baseman Bryson Stott said. "But I guess that's not really that weird here. I guess that’s where I would go if I wanted to get recognized."
Stott, who made the team out of spring training as a rookie last season, admitted that while he hardly got noticed in public for the first half of 2022, everything changed when the Phillies stormed through the National League in October.
"It's not a Bryce Harper, LeBron James kinda deal. But people are just more aware of all of us, especially in the city of Philadelphia," he said. "Like, the amount of detail when they were watching the games you could tell it was me. In the playoffs, they're always zooming in, and the broadcasts are always nationally televised." [FOX Sports]
There are other recent experiences Mintz went over like Brandon Marsh getting recognized in a restaurant bathroom and Garrett Stubbs, the club's vibe master, being acknowledged while getting a sandwich at Reading Terminal, but the Wawa thing on its own is probably one of the most Delaware Valley/DELCO-esque things you could read.
When 2022 ended, Zach Eflin wanted to be a starter again, but the chances of him being one with the Phillies were slim.
One of the longest-tenured members of the team by that point, having come up through the system with Aaron Nola, who became a close friend, Eflin never wanted to leave the organization or the city where he developed into the pitcher he became and definitely not after the incredible run that they had just embarked on.
But at the end of the day, professional baseball is a business. The Phillies wanted to move in a different direction, and the Tampa Bay Rays came calling with a big-money offer Eflin couldn't refuse.
In the end, it worked out.
Eflin still keeps up with the Phillies – it's hard for him not to after so many years with them – but the change of scenery, better health, and being more open-minded to analytics has him pitching like an ace now down in Tampa.
Mostly, though, Eflin can trace his success to better health. He had surgery on both knees in 2016, a procedure in 2021 to repair a torn patellar tendon in his right knee, and another knee injury last season that caused him to miss 2½ months. He made more than 25 starts and threw more than 150 innings only once with the Phillies.
Eflin returned from his knee problems last September to join the bullpen, even closing out the victory that clinched the Phillies’ first playoff berth since 2011. But when his agent asked about the mutual option after the World Series, the Phillies “said they hadn’t talked about it,” according to Eflin.
“That didn’t necessarily sit well with me,” Eflin said. “After that, we heard from them, I think it was one time, saying they were going to go after a big-market free-agent starting pitcher.” [The Inquirer, $]
It's business. It sucks, but life goes on and sometimes works out for the better.
With all that said, it was only fitting that on Monday, with the Phillies paying the Rays a visit for a three-game set, Nola and Eflin would oppose each other on the mound to kick things off.
And Nola got the edge, pitching 7.1 innings of one-run ball with only five hits surrendered and a menacing 12 strikeouts.
It was a big performance in what's been an up-and-down year for Nola, made all the more promising that he could be getting better because his typical struggles – mainly with runners on in the second time through the order – didn't knock him out this time. He mowed right through them.
The most encouraging sign from Nola’s outing was his ability to navigate traffic on the bases. When opposing lineups are able to get Nola out of the windup and into the stretch this year, they usually do damage.
Heading into [Tuesday], opponents slashed .199/.245/.366 against Nola with the bases empty. Those numbers go all the way up to .282/.345/.496 with runners on. There were thoughts that something was mechanically off with Nola when he pitches out of the stretch.
Nola is no stranger to a big inning that derails an entire game. It usually comes in the middle innings, namely the fourth. He came into Tuesday’s game with a 7.56 ERA in the fourth inning this season. He’s susceptible to command slips as he faces the order a second time. He lost to [Isaac Paredes] on four pitches in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s game, but was able to bounce back and get the final two outs of the inning rather easily. [Phillies Nation]
And the Phillies, with questions still surrounding their pitching, are going to need Nola to keep working through those jams as the playoff race begins to really heat up.
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