It was a typical Phillies roller coaster on Tuesday night, as they went down big in the first inning, came back to tie it, took a big lead later, and then let it all trickle away. There were problems with the starting and relief pitching. Shoddy defense was a key factor as well. But one thing became painfully clear amongst all of this: Corey Knebel cannot remain the Phillies’ closer.
Things started off incredibly poorly for the Phillies, as Zach Eflin allowed four runs in the first inning on a pair of two-run blasts. Despite being in an early hole, the Phils got on the board with one run in the third, and then tied things up with three more in the fourth.
Eflin settled down and pitched five more scoreless frames after his rocky start, and the Phillies grabbed an 8-4 lead with a four run fifth inning. They were firing on all cylinders, collecting five hits in the inning and seemingly putting themselves on track for an inspiring comeback win.
Then, the seventh inning came. Jeurys Familia did what he does best, and surrendered a double and a walk to set up a Jacob Stallings three-run bomb to make it 8-7. Seranthony Domínguez had a rare hiccup, as he gave up a solo shot to Jazz Chisholm Jr. to make it a tie game. The Phillies seemed completely deflated.
Rhys Hoskins, who had homered earlier, came to the rescue in the bottom of the eighth, as he took Anthony Bass deep to reclaim the lead 9-8. The Phillies looked destined to win this one, as it was so similar to the Angels game from a week ago, and the Josh Hader comeback in Milwaukee. The cardiac kids were at it again.
And then, closer Corey Knebel entered the game. Knebel has struggled mightily this year, as he’s blown four leads in 15 chances, and has walked 16 batters in 25.0 innings. The former All-Star just isn’t what he used to be. This showed tonight, as he blew it yet again.
He surrendered a sharply hit ball to Miguel Rojas that was scored a throwing error on Alec Bohm, but looked to be a hit. Then, to compound things, he walked the next two batters to load the bases. With the game on the line, Corey Knebel melted down as usual and surrendered a base hit to Garrett Cooper to tie the game.
Interim Manager Rob Thomson called on Andrew Bellatti to try to clean up Knebel’s mess, and he tried valiantly. His first pitch induced a weak fly out from Jorge Soler to keep things tied. Then a Jesús Aguilar pop up in foul ground looked to be the second out, but J.T. Realmuto botched it. The ball went in and out of his glove, and Aguilar made him pay. Aguilar laced a double into right field that was inches away from Nick Castellanos’ glove. Bellatti struck out the next two batters to end the inning, but the damage was already done.
The Phillies couldn’t score in the bottom of the ninth and they dropped another game to a Marlins team that has their number. A lot of things did them in. If Realmuto catches that ball in the ninth, the Marlins probably don’t take the lead. The same goes for Bohm’s throwing error. Eflin dug the Phillies an early hole, even though he was terrific afterwards. And Jeurys Familia gave us further proof that he just can’t get major league hitters out any more.
But, the main culprit here is Corey Knebel. Despite all the back and forth of the first eight innings, Knebel was called upon in a game the Phillies were winning, and was tasked with keeping it that way. As has happened many times before, he failed to do that. Throwing errors happen. Alec Bohm can’t be blamed for this meltdown. Knebel issued two free passes and a base hit to blow the lead. His job is to slam the door, not hold it wide open.
I’m not sure what’s wrong with Knebel. He seems to have lost the command of his formerly elite curveball. His fastball doesn’t sit at triple digits, so batters are able to sit on it. Knebel has already gotten too many opportunities and he hasn’t made the most of them. Rob Thomson should mix and match between Brad Hand and Domínguez to close out games moving forward. The Phillies already have a massive bill to climb if they want to play meaningful baseball in October, and that hill is only going to get steeper if Corey Knebel remains this team’s closer.