The Phillies traveled to New York to face the division-leading Mets for the first time in the Rob Thomson era. Philadelphia was slated to face both Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom in a postseason type environment. They finished the series 1-2, winning the first game and dropping the final two without scoring a run. This series was seen as a test for Philadelphia, as they struggled against the Mets earlier this season and were entering after winning 13 of their last 16 games.
Here are three major things we learned from this highly anticipated series
Ranger Suárez and Aaron Nola are ready for the moment
Suárez had the unenviable task of starting on the road against Max Scherzer to open the series. And all he did was match Scherzer pitch for pitch and possibly outpitch him, as both starters went 7 innings while allowing one run. However, Suárez allowed only three hits while Scherzer allowed 9. The Phillies won the game with a strong defensive performance capped off by an outstanding throw from Matt Vierling and a good tag from J.T. Realmuto. The play prevented the winning run from scoring and forced extras, where Alec Bohm’s sac fly knocked in the go-ahead run. David Robertson then slammed the door in the bottom of the 10th.
Nola similarly had a tough task, as he was going against Jacob deGrom in the second game of the series. Both pitchers dominated, but Nola ended up on the losing side in a 1-0 game. Nevertheless, Nola went eight innings while allowing one run on four hits with 8 strikeouts. deGrom went just six innings as he is still working back from injury but allowed just two hits and struck out 10. Nola rebounded after a shaky start and at one point retired 17 Mets hitters in a row.
Suárez and Nola proved that they could excel in a high-pressure environment against a high-quality opponent. To do it on the road against two future first ballot Hall of Fame starters is a bonus. This is especially huge for Nola, whose late season struggles (4.60 career ERA in Sept./Oct.) are well documented. The Phillies will need them to continue performing like this down the stretch if they want to end their postseason drought.
Zack Wheeler’s Road Splits are a growing concern
There’s no doubt that Wheeler has been exceptional this season. He’s 11-6 with a 2.92 ERA and was arguably an All-Star snub. However, he entered Sunday’s start against the Mets with a 3.88 ERA on the road this season. That’s opposed to a 1.57 mark at home in Citizens Bank Park. Wheeler proceeded to be charged with 6 runs on 9 hits in 6 IP against the Mets in a 6-0 loss in the rubber match. His defense certainly let him down and he had some bad luck in a disastrous fourth inning where he allowed 4 runs, but he wasn’t sharp all day regardless.
Unless the Phillies close the gap with the Atlanta Braves for the first Wild Card spot (currently 6 games), they will be playing a three-game series on the road if they make the postseason. Wheeler’s drastic home/road splits could come into play at the worst possible time in that scenario.
The Phillies offense is good enough to make it to the postseason as is, BUT…
It’s an obvious statement to say that the Phillies are a better team when Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber are in the lineup. They’ve been able to win games and stay ahead in the race in Harper’s absence, including beating some quality opponents along the way. Schwarber’s injury isn’t as serious, but he was slated to miss the Mets series with a strained calf muscle.
Without the two in the lineup, the Phillies scored just 2 runs in the series and only one without the use of the ghost runner in extra innings. That’s not particularly surprising against Scherzer and deGrom. But they were shutout Sunday too by Chris Bassitt and went 0-10 with runners in scoring position. Bassitt is a good pitcher, but he’s certainly no deGrom or Scherzer. They even had a chance to win the deGrom start at times including with two men on in the ninth against Edwin Diaz but failed to capitalize.
The Phillies really missed Harper and Schwarber in this series. It showed that without them, it’s very difficult for the rest of the lineup to generate runs against an upper tier opponent. Sunday displayed that it’s even more difficult when the normally strong starting pitching has a bad game.
Philadelphia’s depleted offense has shown that it’s still good enough to win games without key pieces even against good opponents. That piece is critical as they try to hold their position in the standings while awaiting Harper’s return. But they won’t be good enough to consistently beat teams with elite starting pitching in the postseason without being at full strength.
What does this all mean?
The simplest way to summarize this series is this: The Phillies are a good team who lost a series on the road against a very good team who started two elite pitchers. That doesn’t excuse the Phillies poor offensive performance, particularly on Sunday against Bassitt. On the contrary, it does put it in some perspective. This series was just the fifth series the Phillies have lost under Rob Thomson. It was the first since the sweep by the Cubs following the break. Good teams lose to very good teams sometimes.
The Phillies entered a week where they were going to face Sandy Alcantara, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom and finished it 3-3, including going 2-1 against those pitchers. They still occupy a postseason spot and are 1.5 games up on the Brewers for that spot. Most people would take that in a heartbeat if you told them that last Sunday. That doesn’t limit the sting of wasted opportunities to finish better, but again it helps put it into perspective.
Now, none of that matters if the Phillies don’t win this upcoming series in Cincinnati. They have shown they can rebound from tough losses, and they need to do it again. The Mets will come to town for four games next weekend in yet another huge series. However, this time the Phillies will miss deGrom and Scherzer. That series is also significant because it will be the last time the Phillies face a team over .500 until September 16th against the Braves.