The Philadelphia Phillies are 0-2 now in the opening days of the 2016 season and frankly, there is nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything that should be surprising about the way in which they lost these first two games.
Coming into the season, most fans believed that the starting rotation would be improved, that the offense still did not have enough true impact weapons, and that the bullpen was a complete question mark.
What we have seen in these first two games is an improved starting rotation, a largely ineffective offense, and a bullpen that remains a complete question mark.
I’ve been reading on social media, where of course you are going to find extreme opinions being expressed, ridiculous calls for the firing of Pete Mackanin. While you can’t even pay attention to ignorance like that at the beginning of April, those types of posts do serve to show how passionate many fans are about the Phillies, even during an anticipated losing, rebuilding season.
To have a starting pitcher go out to the mound, work hard for 6-7 innings, leave with a lead, and then to have the bullpen blow the game in the late stages is frustrating for players and fans alike. That is exactly what happened for a second straight game on a blustery Wednesday night at Great American Ballpark.
This time it was Aaron Nola who delivered the excellent starting pitching. The 22-year old sophomore went seven strong innings, allowing just one earned run on four hits. He struck out a career-high eight Cincy batters while walking no one in his regular season debut.
“I kept thinking he threw too many strikes, but he just pinpoints that fastball and it is tough to square up,” said Mackanin per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. 73 of Nola’s 95 pitches on the night went for strikes.
The Phillies jumped out early, scoring a pair of runs in the top of the 1st inning thanks to their two most consistent offensive threats. Odubel Herrera beat out a slow roller to 1st base for a two-out single, which was followed by Maikel Franco blasting his first home run of the season over the right-center wall.
The Franco homer came off Reds’ starter Brandon Finnegan, a 22-year old lefty. Finnegan would pitch an outstanding game himself, striking out nine Phillies batters while walking just one. He would allow just one more hit over the next five innings after the Franco blast.
That home run was all the Phillies’ offense would provide in the way of scoring. The Reds got a run back right away in the bottom of the 1st when shortstop Eugenio Suarez took Nola out to left field for a solo home run.
That 2-1 score held into the 8th inning, and Mackanin turned to his bullpen. First out was David Hernandez, who had been right smack in the middle of the bullpen meltdown on Opening Day. This time, Hernandez came through with a nice 1-2-3 inning in which he didn’t allow a ball out of the infield.
Mackanin thus had his hoped-for end game combo setup to close this one out for Nola. The skipper had settled on a late-innings combination of Hernandez setting up Dalier Hinojosa as his closer, and unlike the opener, Hernandez had done his part.
Now on came the 30-year old Cuban to try to earn his first big league Save, and possibly begin a career in that high-profile closer role. He may indeed end up a successful closer one day, but this was not the day.
Hinojosa quickly fell behind Suarez with two balls to start the bottom of the 9th. When he tried to groove a strike, Suarez delivered a clean base hit to center field. Hinojosa then got the tough Joey Votto to fly out for a big first out. Unfortunately it would be the only out that the righty would record.
Devin Mesoraco dribbled a ball back towards Hinojosa that went for an infield single, pushing the tying run into scoring position. Jay Bruce followed with a base hit to left, loading the bags and now putting the winning run at 2nd base.
That brought up speedy rookie Scott Schebler, who had started the Reds’ 8th inning rally on Opening Day with a pinch-hit double, to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Schebler came through once again, drilling a line double to left that scored Suarez with the tying run and pinch-runner Tyler Holt with the game-winner.
So the Phillies have started off the season 0-2, with a pair of dispiriting losses to a team that is also expected to be among the National League’s worst. It is an inauspicious beginning to what could be a long six months of baseball for Phillies fans.
We really do need to maintain perspective, and remember that this season is not supposed to be about wins and losses, but instead about individual performances by youngsters such as Franco and Nola. From that perspective, there is much about which to be hopeful.