The Phillies are off to a hot start in their tough NLDS matchup with the Braves, surviving a late push to take a 1-0 series lead. The Phils’ offense came out like gangbusters, scoring seven runs in the first five innings, and the pitching staff held off a late rally to finish off the 7-6 victory. 

Phillies hitters jumped on Braves starter Max Fried early, stringing together four two-out hits in the first inning to take an early 2-0 lead. They would go on to double their lead in the third, and put up two more in the fourth, before a sacrifice fly in the fifth gave them their seventh run of the game. Surprisingly, they didn’t use the longball in this one, instead relying on three-hit efforts from both Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos, as well as a pair of knocks from Jean Segura. Every player in the Phillies’ starting lineup collected a hit, except for Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins

On the mound things weren’t so great. Despite only surrendering one earned run, Ranger Suárez had a rough outing, laboring through 3.1 innings on 86 pitches. Suárez worked through trouble all afternoon, walking a career high five batters and surrendering three hits. 

Newly minted skipper Rob Thomson called upon Andrew Bellatti to put out the fire in the fourth, before Connor Brogdon ran into trouble in the fifth. Brogdon walked two and gave up two hits, allowing two runs to score while recording only one out. Brad Hand came on to clean up Brogdon’s mess, and José Alvarado and Seranthony Domínguez combined for three scoreless frames to send the game into the ninth with the Phillies up 7-4. 

After the Phillies failed to score in their half of the ninth inning, converted starter Zach Eflin took the bill to try to finish things off. Back-to-back singles from Ronald Acuńa Jr. and Dansby Swanson put two on with nobody out before Austin Riley struck out swinging. Matt Olson then launched a 94 mile per hour sinker over the fence in dead center to make it a one-run game. With the game now hanging in the balance, Nick Castellanos made a terrific sliding grab to rob William Contreras of extra bases for the second out, and Travis d’Arnaud rolled one over to short to finish things off. 

There are definitely some things to nitpick here. However, much like the two games the Phillies won in St. Louis that were full of missed opportunities, let’s take a minute to remember first and foremost that a win is a win. The most important thing is that the Phillies currently hold a 1-0 lead in a best-of-five series, and have their co-aces scheduled to pitch the next two games. They are in great shape. 

Now for the nitpicks. Pitching, pitching, pitching. Last series it was all pitching and barely any hitting for the Phils, but today was just the opposite. While the offense showed up, the pitching just wasn’t there. Control artist Ranger Suárez couldn’t find the strike zone, Connor Brogdon cast further doubt on his ability to record outs consistently, and Zach Eflin poured cold water on the heartwarming narrative of him being a bonafide stopper. These aren’t catastrophic failures, but they are concerning. 

Suárez’s short outing forced the bullpen to toss 5.2 innings, which could come back to bite them if they’re needed for more than an inning or two tomorrow. Brogdon’s ineptitude didn’t cost the Phillies the game, but it pretty much scuttled any hole that he could be trusted in high-leverage situations at any point this postseason. He hasn’t pitched himself off the roster just yet, but I wouldn’t expect to see him outside of mop up duty for the rest of the series. 

Lastly, Eflin proved he just isn’t the shutdown closer we so desperately wanted him to be. He’s a fine pitcher to be sure, and he should continue to be useful this postseason. He could potentially see work as an opener, or perhaps make a few multi-inning outings in the next few games. However, with his lack of elite swing and miss stuff, and his middling velocity, it’ll be tough for him to slam the door on potent offenses like the Braves. More likely, Alvarado and Domínguez will mix and match for the duration to shut things down at the end of close games. 

Despite the worrisome signs we saw in this game, the most important thing is that the Phillies won. There are now only eight teams still standing, and the Phils just took a huge first step towards becoming one of the final four. The defending world champions won’t go down without a fight, and the Phillies will need to tighten up the screws if they want to win two more against the Braves. However, with Zack Wheeler ready to go tomorrow and Aaron Nola slated to take the mound on Friday, the Phillies have a real chance to put themselves one step away from the World Series.

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