Game 2 for Phillies even more disastrous than Opening Day

By | March 31, 2024

Game 2 for Phillies even more disastrous than Opening Day originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Zack Wheeler left after six glorious innings on Opening Day and pretty much everything has gone wrong for the Phillies since.

The Braves’ relentless attack followed with nine runs on Friday and another twelve on Saturday. Aaron Nola delivered one of the worst performances of his career in his first start since signing a seven-year, $172 million contract, the Phillies lost their only long reliever to injury and never returned after the top of the second inning played Saturday’s game.

If you knew the Phillies were going to chase Max Fried in the first inning, you’d probably think it was a productive rebound effort after the offense went quiet and the bullpen imploded on opening day.

Not so much.

Nola didn’t have his curveball or good command, allowing seven runs on a career-high 12 hits over 4 innings. The Phillies lost 12-4. They started 0-2 after dropping their first four games a season ago.

“We are clearly better than we show, but the last two days have not been good,” Trea Turner said.

“I don’t think you put that much pressure, we have an experienced clubhouse, but sometimes you try so hard. You have to take a step back and relax a little bit. Sometimes everyone gets caught up in things early in the season. You try to settle down and you want to win the games, you don’t want to give these away because at the end of the year they are important.”

Nola’s day unfortunately started when Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a ball softly to third base, which Alec Bohm tried to play with his bare hand. Bohm may have had enough time to take it and throw it across the diamond, but rushed because of Acuña’s speed and missed the ball. It was initially ruled a foul, but was then converted into a goal in this foul-crazed official scoring environment of 2024.

Nola left a changeup over center of the plate to the next batter, Ozzie Albies, who sent the ball to the right-center field seats.

The Phillies responded in the bottom of the first with three runs to take a brief lead. Key plate appearances were a two-out Nick Castellanos, bases-loaded walk and a Bryson Stott two-run single. Castellanos clearly struck out on a 2-2 count, but home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman blew the call, extending the at bat and allowing the Phillies to score three runs.

Fried went in all directions at varying speeds and was retired after seven batters and 43 pitches.

But Atlanta kept reaching Nola. Some of the hits were bloops or seeing-eye grounders, but the performance can’t be chalked up simply to bad luck, as there was also quite a bit of hard contact. The seven runs were two more than Nola had ever allowed to the Braves in 35 career starts.

“We really didn’t get enough swing-and-miss,” catcher JT Realmuto said. “It felt like they were pressing the ball a lot with the bat and when they put the ball in play, they seemed to find a lot of holes. Basically, they just didn’t have a throwaway pitch. When we got two strikes, we just didn’t do that.” ‘It’s not enough to lock boys up. They put it in the game and beat us that way.

“They did what they had to do. When they got two hits, they didn’t do much. They just tried to get the ball in play and they found holes.”

Manager Rob Thomson extended Nola a bit deeper than he would have otherwise because the Phillies don’t have a true tall guy in their bullpen. They have Luis Ortiz, who has thrown more than two innings twice in his career, but that’s about it. To make matters worse, Ortiz left Saturday’s game with a sprained left ankle. Even if he’s on a daily basis, a roster move could be necessary Sunday given the number of innings the Phils’ bullpen had to cover.

“Our bullpen doesn’t go very deep today and everyone we used yesterday and used today is down tomorrow,” Thomson said. “(Nola) dug it out for us and probably saved the bullpen.”

The Braves have a number of sluggers who are coming off careers, but their bottom line did just as much damage on Saturday. Michael Harris II was a problem on the six holes two days in a row, going 6-for-9 with a homer, double, walk, stolen base and five runs scored. Orlando Arcia, batting seventh, had three singles. Travis d’Arnaud hit a two-run double on the eight-hole. And Jarred Kelenic delivered RBI singles in each of his first two at-bats from the ninth spot.

He also robbed Bryce Harper with a diving catch in left center to open the bottom of the third inning. Two innings later, there was more bad luck for Harper when he lined out to first baseman Matt Olson, who doubled off Turner.

The only stroke of luck on Saturday was that Harper avoided injury when he dropped the dugout railing into the camera in the first inning. It was a frightening piece that silenced the audience of 44,468, but Harper made up for it after the piece. The buzz is high, but he and the Phillies would likely benefit from more caution. One out isn’t worth months on the shelf.

“He took a hit,” Thomson said. “That was a little disturbing when he went into the hole there, he hit it pretty hard. … It’s Bryce, he’s going to play the game hard all the time. It’s hard to contain him, that’s the way he is Ordinary .”

The Phillies won’t have many opportunities to immediately make up ground on the Braves this season. After the weekend, they won’t see Atlanta again until July 5-7, with the final two series taking place over a ten-day period in late August.

The Braves are an elite team. They have improved. They added Chris Sale to their rotation and built out their bullpen, adding four lefties. With so many lefties, they can do things like use Tyler Matzek against Kyle Schwarber with two outs and a runner in scoring position in the fourth inning. The Braves only had two lefties on their 2023 NLDS roster, AJ Minter and an ineffective Brad Hand. They are better positioned this year to compete with the Phillies’ best hitters.

The schedule softens after the Braves leave town, with six of the Phillies’ next seven series pitting them against the lowly pitching staff of the Nationals, Reds, Pirates, Rockies and White Sox. Either way, salvaging the opening series and avoiding a sweep by their top rivals is pretty important – even this time of year – from both a mental and practical point of view.

“Two tough ones, tough two to start the season off right,” Nola said. “Come out tomorrow and play, that’s all we can do. Try to get Game 3 and we’ve got a lot of baseball left. We know it’s going to be a battle against the Braves.”

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