The Philadelphia Phillies dumped the host Atlanta Braves in the opener of a four game series at Turner Field.
In the Thursday night opener of a four game series, the Phillies did what they had to do – they beat the host Braves by a score of 7-5 at Turner Field.
That is what this weekend and a number of series to come here in the second half need to be all about for this Phillies team as it tries to prove that it is taking a firm step up from last year’s dismal MLB-worst record.
Beating weaker teams, those teams behind them in the MLB standings, has to be a primary goal, and has to be accomplished on a regular basis in order to make such a claim.
For this weekend, that means somehow taking three of the four games, and returning home next week with a 5-5 record on this long road trip.
The Phils got off on the right foot thanks to an offense that exploded for five runs in the top of the 1st inning, allowing a still-shaky Aaron Nola to manage his way through five shutout innings before Atlanta finally caught up to him in the 6th frame.
The first four runs of that early outburst came fast and furious against Braves’ starter Matt Wisler, who was so ineffective that he was demoted to the minor leagues following his dismal outing.
With runners on the corners and nobody out, Maikel Franco stepped to the plate. If anyone bothered to read my “Phillies Series Preview” piece yesterday (and shame on you if you didn’t, you can read it in the next bar) you know that I highlighted the importance of Franco in this series and over the course of the rest of this season.
Well, Franco might have been reading, because he took one ball and then drove the second pitch that he saw from Wisler out deep to left field for a three-run home run. His 19th long ball of the season put the Phillies on top by 3-0, but that was just the start of the offensive fireworks.
The very next batter, Tommy Joseph, stepped in and did almost exactly the same thing, taking one pitch and then driving the second out of the park. Joseph’s 14th of the year, and remember, he spent the first month of the season in the minor leagues, was a liner out over the center field wall.
Up next was right fielder Aaron Altherr, making his first official appearance of the season for the Phillies after recovering from a preseason injury. Altherr worked the count to 2-2 and then got in on the fun himself, slashing a base hit to right.
The subject of numerous trade rumors, veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz then followed by working a walk. Cody Asche then hit into a fielder’s choice at 2nd base on which Jace Peterson was charged with an error, and Altherr rolled in for the Phillies’ 5th run of the inning.
Wisler allowed five runs, four hits, and two walks in the frame, but still somehow made it through five innings in this one.
With two outs in that 5th inning, Joseph singled and Altherr stepped in again. This time he drove a 2-1 pitch over the left field wall to up the Phillies lead to 7-0, and a rout appeared to be officially on.
Altherr would go 3-4 on the night with two runs scored and two RBI, and everyone was glad to see him back in the lineup in the 5-hole, no one more so than the player himself.
“…sitting around thinking about how that first game’s going to be being back,” Altherr said, asked by MLB.com contributors on if this was the perfect season debut. “For it to be like that it was definitely special.”
After a Nick Markakis single, Adonis Garcia delivered an RBI base hit that scored Freeman to make it a 7-2 game. One out later, an Anthony Recker sacrifice fly brought in Markakis, and the Phillies lead was down to a 7-3 margin.
In the bottom of the 6th, David Hernandez came on in relief of Nola (6-9), who had allowed three earned runs on eight hits over his five innings of work with five strikeouts and three walks. He threw just 61 of his 95 pitches for strikes on the night.
Hernandez was ineffective, but almost got out of it thanks to a pitcher’s best friend. After Peterson had reached on a perfect bunt single to 3rd base, d’Arnaud rolled into a classic 6-4-3 doubleplay.
However, Hernandez then proceeded to walk two batters, getting himself right back into trouble. Garcia made him pay by roping an RBI double to center field, and it was a 7-4 ballgame.
That score would stand into the bottom of the 9th, where Jeanmar Gomez came on to try for the Save. He also would benefit from that pitcher’s best friend in getting the job done.
After the first two Braves’ batters reached on a single and a walk, Gomez induced Erick Aybar to bounce into a 4-6-3 twin killing. Gordon Beckham then singled to bring score a run that made it a 7-5 game, bringing the tying run to the plate. But Gomez then froze Peterson with a called third strike to bring the game to an end.
The most important thing on this night was never going to be the return of Altherr to the lineup, but instead was the performance of Nola on the mound. The young righty has suffered through a month of mostly poor pitching, and last night’s performance did nothing to put concerns to rest.
“He’s not the same guy,” manager Pete Mackanin said per MLB.com contributors. “He’s just struggling with command once again. He’s not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.”