More Sports:

October 11, 2022

Instant observations: Nick Castellanos comes alive as Phillies take 1-0 NLDS lead

Phillies MLB
Phillies-Nick-Castellanos-Braves-NLDS-MLB-Playoffs-2022 Brett Davis/USA Today Sports

Nick Castellanos celebrates scoring a run against the Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS.

Remember Tuesday afternoon as The Nick Castellanos Game.

Castellanos, who signed a $100 million contract with the Phillies this past offseason, struggled mightily in his first season in red pinstripes, posting a .694 OPS that was the worst mark of his career since his cup of coffee stint with the Tigers in 2013. 

A rough regular season goes down the drain when a guy steps up with a gigantic postseason performance though and that's certainly the case for Castellanos in the Phillies' 7-6 win over the Braves. The Phillies, as the road underdog, have now gone up 1-0 against Atlanta in this National League Division Series. Castellanos went 3-5 with 3 RBI and led a bruising Phillies offense that "fried" Braves starter Max Fried. 

What a day for the Fightins, pouring it on against their 101-win division rival. The city's energy between the Phils and the Eagles might be big enough to create a black hole that swallows stars. A cocky Philadelphia is a dangerous proposition for the rest of the universe. The world made a mistake letting the Phillies and Eagles get hot at the same time. 

Bouncing off all of that, here are my good, bad and ugly observations from Game 1...

The good

• Nick Castellanos... welcome to Philadelphia's good graces. He might not have hit a "drive into deep left field," but Castellanos was everything the Phils imagined they were getting when they first signed him in Game 1. 

Not only did he produce, it came in the most timely of situations. Castellanos broke things open with an RBI single in the first inning with two outs to make it a 1-0 ball game. His fourth-inning single that scored Rhys Hoskins and Edmundo Sosa came with two outs as well. 

The Phillies flat-out didn't get this guy the entire season. He went hitless against the Cardinals as well. If Castellanos wants all those struggles to be erased in the minds of Phils fans, driving runs in like this is a quick way to their hearts. 

There may be no better way to showcase how different this Castellanos is from the one Philadelphia saw all spring and summer than this:

For a guy who's without a doubt a defensive liability, how about Castellanos coming up with a wild diving catch for the second out in the ninth inning? If that ball gets by him, it's triple territory at best, but, hey, it was The Nick Castellanos Game for a reason. 

•J.T. Realmuto going first to third on Harper's single in the top of the first? That's smart baseball. Chase Utley-like base-running ability from a catcher is something no one else in the sport has. That extra base from Realmuto reading the ball well off the bat allowed Castellanos to drive him in the next at-bat. Perhaps Realmuto scores anyway, but doing things like that consistently will pay dividends the further the Phils go into October (and maybe November?). 

All of that happened after Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins recorded two outs on three pitches. It couldn't have been a better start. 

Realmuto also legged out an infield single in the top of the third. The broadcast couldn't stop talking about how great of a fielder Fried is as a pitcher. He then proceeded to throw a tad off the mark, allowing Realmuto to get there. He actually may have been out and it's odd that Atlanta didn't challenge it, but, hey, that's how things broke. Realmuto is doing any little thing to help. 

• Edmundo Sosa: Great "vibes" guy. He's the utility infielder every good playoff roster needs. 

• The Fightins got Fried out of there in 3.1 innings. He had a 2.48 ERA this year. Over the last three seasons (69 starts), he's had a 2.68 ERA while striking out 8.4 hitters per nine. Incredible. For a team that had only one inning of true offense in their Wild Card matchup with the Cardinals, this was a badly needed explosion. 

• Rhys Hoskins pulse alert: The Phils' first baseman recorded the first hit of his postseason career (he was 0-9 with 3 Ks against the Cardinals) and also scored a run in Atlanta. As I've written a ton this season, no one gets colder than Rhys Hoskins and no one gets hotter.

• Seranthony Domínguez: In contrast to Ranger Suárez and Connor Brogdon, Dominguez was absolute money. With Suarez not hanging long (more on him in a bit...) Dominguez gave the Phils two great innings of no-hit ball with 3 Ks. He did all of that against the top of the Braves' lineup on down. 

The bad

• Ranger Suárez made his postseason debut against Atlanta. It was less than ideal. In the first inning, Suárez allowed the bases to get loaded with William Contreras up to bat. Not great! Suarez was able to work a double play and get out of the jam, but he got himself in so many bad situations in his 3.1 innings out there. 

Suarez's second pitch of the second inning sailed over the left field fence on a homer from Travis d'Arnaud. d'Arnaud, if you recall, was one of the prize prospects the Phillies traded to the Blue Jays in December 2009 for Roy Halladay. Hot take: the Phillies definitely won that trade, but d'Arnaud got a taste of revenge with that homer and a two-RBI double in the fifth.

Suárez did well against this loaded Atlanta squad in the 2022 regular season. In five starts (28.0 innings pitched), he had a 3.21 ERA with 23 strikeouts. A player's first playoff start is always going to feel dicey, but Suárez couldn't replicate that success from earlier this year.  In the third inning, he once again had the bases loaded. He did, for the Phils' sake, get himself out of the jam with an inning-ending strikeout on d'Arnaud of all people. He was pulled in the middle of the fourth, finishing with one earned run with five strikeouts and five hits. 

From the second inning on, I had zero confidence in Suárez to throw a strike. He looked lost and overmatched for the moment. He's been known as a laid-back, level-headed guy who's risen to the occasion over the last two years, but his first postseason appearance was a struggle. it looked like every ball was taking a toll on him. 86 pitches in fewer than four innings is taxing. 

The Phils will take surviving this type of outing, but there can't be a repeat performance from Suárez down the line in this series or potentially in a later playoff round. 

Asking 17 outs for this Phillies bullpen, which is now without David Robertson, is a lot and needs to be an anomaly rather than the norm for the Phils in the non-Zack Wheeler/Aaron Nola starts. The pen just won't hold up to that workload. 

The ugly

• Connor Brogdon allowed 44 hits in 44 innings pitched in relief this year. I imagine Brogdon's name is one that makes Phillies fans groan. He was toast in less than a full inning of work, allowing 2 hits, 2 walks and 2 earned runs while recording only a single out. The Phillies had taken what felt like a commanding 7-1 lead, but Brogdon's blowup wiped that away. This is where the trickle effect of Robertson's absence is truly felt. More shaky guys are going to need to be used and I have doubts that the results are going to be what's needed for a legitimate championship run. 

• More bullpen woes: Zach Eflin allowing a three-run ninth inning blast from Matt Olson that made it 7-6, sending a wave of worry to Phillies fans everywhere. "Are they really going to blow this?" They didn't, but, again, this is frankly what happens when the bullpen is held together by a thread. 

• As soon as I saw John Smoltz's face pop up as a broadcaster, I knew Phillies fans' eyes were rolling all across the Delaware Valley. A Braves Hall of Fame pitcher calling an entire series of Braves games? Surely this won't be infuriating to listen to! It's almost as if Smoltz has a vested rooting interest in this matchup! 

Follow Shamus & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @shamus_clancy | @thePhillyVoice

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Add Shamus' RSS feed to your feed reader