The Phillies have been playing sloppy baseball to start off the 2023 season, and it came back to bite them yet again on Sunday afternoon. After cruising to a 5-2 victory in the home opener on Friday, the Phils orchestrated a miraculous 3-2 walk-off win on Saturday to set up a potential sweep of the eminently beatable Cincinnati Reds. They had it all set up to win another easy one, and yet stupid mistakes and sloppy play cost them a very winnable ballgame.
Taijuan Walker hasn’t looked anywhere near the dominant hurler we saw in the World Baseball Classic last month, or the All-Star Mets hurler he was last season. He got shelled in his first start of the year against the Yankees, and his struggles continued Sunday against the Reds. Walker labored all day, needing 105 pitches to get through only 4.2 innings. He only surrendered three hits, but walked an excusable five batters, while also balking a runner into scoring position by throwing too many pickoff attempts. Walker struggled to find the strike zone all day, and was lucky to only give up two runs.
Mirroring Walker’s shoddy play, Phillies baserunners as a whole put on a dreadful performance, as they ran headfirst into more than a few outs. It started in the bottom of the first when Nick Castellanos laced a double down the left field line. The sluggish Kyle Schwarber ran through Third Base Coach Dusty Wathan’s stop sign, and was seemingly a dead duck at the plate. However, the gamble miraculously paid off, as the throw home hit Schwarber and bounced away from the catcher, giving the Phils an early 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, Castellanos decided to tempt fate himself, blowing through his own stop sign from Wathan and was cut down easily. It was a big missed opportunity, as Castellanos would’ve been primed to score from third base with only one out, but instead the Phillies settled for only one run.
The atrocious baserunning continued in the bottom of the fourth, when Brandon Marsh laced a line drive down the left field line. The ball squirted past a sliding Will Benson, allowing Marsh to advance all the way to third for a one-out triple. Dusty Wathan’s misfortune continued, as he initially windmilled Marsh around third for a potential inside-the-park homerun. However, Wathan realized Benson had recovered, and Marsh would be a dead duck at the plate. He threw up the stop sign as Marsh steamed into third base, but Marsh’s head was down. The Phillies’ center fielder flew around third, picking up the stop sign only after he was a good ten feet past the bag. He tried in vain to get back, then to outlast a rundown, but it was too little too late as he was tagged out to erase yet another likely run.
The third time was definitely not the charm for Phillies baserunners, as Kyle Schwarber made yet another perplexing decision in the bottom of the eighth. With one out in the frame, Schwarber roped a routine single into left field, but got a bit too aggressive rounding first base. He took a massive turn around the bag, and after attempting for a moment to scamper back, simply gave up on the play and jogged into a tag at second base. The Phils were up 4-3 at the time, but with Seranthony Domínguez falling apart in the ninth, it was a costly missed insurance run.
There are more than a few villains in this ballgame. Taijuan Walker had another rough outing, and put even more pressure on an already taxed Phillies bullpen. Seranthony Domínguez has continued his struggles to start the season, and ultimately blew the game in the last frame. Craig Kimbrel gave up yet another run, and has continued to look completely washed up. Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber and Brandon Marsh all made brutal mental mistakes on the bases, any one of which could have led to one or more extra runs being on the board.
There are a few positive takeaways despite the crushing defeat. Bryson Stott notched two more base hits, extended his season-opening hitting streak to nine games, and brought his season-long batting average up to an incredible .429. Edmundo Sosa racked up a hit and an RBI while playing his usual brand of excellent defense at third base. José Alvarado has continued to look like one of the best relief pitchers in the game, as he struck out the side yet again and has yet to walk a batter this year. Gregory Soto had a clean inning and looked to have his mercurial command in check.
In an improvement upon the first week of the season, the Phillies didn’t get blown out in this one. Yes, it’s a brutal loss, and it was easily avoidable. However, at least we’re seeing the underlying excellence of this team that should come to the forefront once the kinks are straightened out. It’s been a frustrating start to the 2023 season, but no one should be giving up hope just yet.