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March 30, 2023

Instant observations: Phillies give up embarrassing nine-run inning in Opening Day loss

Here's a depressing look at the good, the bad, and the ugly as the Phillies begin to defend their NL pennant.

If there was any doubt that hitters are a bit ahead of pitchers after spring training, Thursday's wild and disappointing 11-7 loss by the Phillies on Opening Day was a case study.

Aaron Nola clearly ran out of gas and the bullpen was atrocious, with a rare nine-run inning for the Rangers boosting them to a victory over a team highly motivated to do great things this season.

The Phillies' offensive stars contributed across the board, but it wasn't enough. Without a pitching staff that can keep a team with an average offense at best at bay, you cannot win baseball games.

Here's a depressing look at the good, the bad, and the ugly as the Phillies begin to defend their NL pennant:

The good

• There were good vibes and optimism early as the Phillies broke open a 5-0 lead with their ace on the mound. Whether he truly is an ace — well, we'll get into Aaron Nola a little later – but there were definitely the makings of what could be one of the best offenses in baseball early Thursday.

• The pressure might be a little bit higher across the board for the Phillies' big hitters with Rhys Hoskins out for the season — after tearing his ACL last week — but Nick Castellanos certainly feels that even more than some of the team's other offensive starters. With All-Star talent and a $100 million contract, he had one of his worst seasons as a pro last year 

It was really nice to see him double in the second inning, the first hit of the game. In the heart of the order, Castellanos' power could make a huge impact this year. A home run from Alec Bohm (more on him in a bit) plated him and gave Philly a 2-0 lead.

• About Alec Bohm. 

We, and many others, picked the third baseman as a potential breakout star this year, and hitting an Opening Day home run off a two-time Cy Young award winner is a pretty good way to make a statement to start the most important year of his career. A big step forward for a former early first-round pick in Bohm could have him in the All-Star conversation come the summer.

It doesn't get much better than two extra-base hits to start the season, with Bohm adding a double and scoring a run in the fourth. The Phillies will be hard to beat if someone like Brandon Marsh is creating this much offense (he had the RBI single) out of the nine-hole in the order.

Bohm struck for a third time, driving in a run on a single (after Castellanos and Bryson Stott each got base hits, looking to avenge a nine-run inning prior). 

Points (a very few points) to the Phils' hitters for not giving up. They scraped a few runs together after falling well behind — including yet another triple — this one from Realmuto — leading to a run on a Darick Hall ground out to cut the deficit to four.

• The bottom of the order is going to create a lot of opportunities for leadoff man Trea Turner. After Marsh reached with a speedy triple to leadoff the third, Turner went down the right field line again, reaching third for his half of a rare back-to-back triple for the Phillies to plate Marsh for a 3-0 lead. He'd eventually score on a wild pitch, putting the Phillies ahead 4-0 thanks in very large part to excellent aggressive baserunning — something fans can get used to as the Turner era kicks off.

The hustle continued in the third inning, with a hustle double off of J.T. Realmuto's bad adding to the impressive offensive showing for the defending NL Champs.

The bad

• The sample size couldn't be smaller, but considerable resources, effort and thought went into rebuilding the Phillies' bullpen into a deep unit that is basically half comprised of accomplished closers. They didn't show up on Thursday.

• Neither did Nola, who the Phillies decided not to extend this preseason. The soon-to-be free agent is playing for his next contract and did not get off to a good start in Texas, falling victim to his usual sin of randomly becoming a bad pitcher during an inning to be named later.

• The first jam of the season for a Phillies pitcher came in the latter half of the fourth, as Nola surrendered two hits and a walk to load the bases with just one out. A sharp liner just over Darick Hall's head at first scored two runs off the bat of Jonah Heim, getting the Rangers back into it down 5-2. 

Nola was rolling through the first three frames, but early-season rust and fatigue appeared to catch up to him as he tried to complete a second trip through the order. Robbie Grossman smashed a drive to deep center to equalize things at five, neutralizing the Phillies' offense early and rattling Nola — who was lifted with one out left in the fourth. Interestingly he wound up with basically the same pitching line as his fellow starter Jacob deGrom.

• It would have been nice to see the Phils close the door on the ugly fourth quickly and get on with it, but Gregory Soto gave up two walks and bloop single in between in his debut and a dribbler to Soto on the mound resulted in a run and a 6-5 Texas lead as Soto left without retiring a hitter.

A trio of runs scored to cap off one of the worst Opening Day innings in memory as Connor Brogdon wasn't able to clean up the mess either, with the Phillies eventually trailing 9-5.

Oh baseball...

• Old friend Brad Miller added to the pain, hitting a two-run homer in the fifth to help the Rangers solidify an 11-6 lead.

The ugly

• It's a little unlucky and a little ironic that the Phillies drew deGrom on Opening Day as he makes his first start for a team not playing in the NL East. It was, however, fortunate for the Phils that they caught him so early in the season. Limited to just 73 pitches, the flame-throwing Cy Young Award winner was roughed up for five runs off six hits and while he did hit 100 MPH on the gun, he clearly was not in midseason form. 

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