Philadelphia Phillies vs San Diego Padres Game 1 of the NLCS: reactions and takeaways
In the unlikeliest of NLCS matchups, the Phillies put on a solid display in taking Game 1 from the Padres, but it is not as if San Diego have never been here before.
With Philadelphia back in the NLCS for the first time in 12 years, they started with a rock-solid performance. Zack Wheeler was resplendent, allowing only one hit in seven innings, while Bryce Harper homered for the third consecutive post season game, tying the franchise record. Kyle Schwarber answered that shot with one of his own in the sixth inning, which turned out to be the longest home run ball ever hit in Petco Park.
On the mound, Wheeler allowed only two baserunners all night while notching up eight strikeouts. With the Phillies up 2-0 in the eighth inning, however, Rob Thomson decided to pull Wheeler on 83 pitches, handing the ball to Seranthony Dominguez.
The move paid off and Dominguez did his job, as did Jose Alvarado in the ninth, but the Phillies faithful were left scratching their heads. Pulling a dominant pitcher on a relatively low pitch count has backfired more than once this season, and while it is understandable when viewed from the lens of saving Wheeler for a second appearance in series, the much-maligned bullpenning style, relying on statistics and probabilities over heart and feel may have jumped the shark, with fans feeling increasingly frustrated in the coldness of analytics.
Aaron Nola will take the mound now for Game 2 and will square off against the Padres’ Blake Snell. San Diego have been a game down before, and they will certainly have a game plan for making their way back into the series. Whatever else it involves, that plan will certainly include creating more traffic on the base paths than they were able to muster in Game 1.
Back in June, an inside fastball from Snell broke Harper’s thumb, seeing the hitter miss two months at the heart of the season. It was very likely the reason that the Phillies squeaked into the Wild Card race rather than challenged for the division title. While neither player shows any ill will toward the other, it will certainly weigh on fans’ minds when they face off in Game 2.
Snell was asked about it and replied, “Never had any intent to hit him. Still don’t. It’s pitching. I’m going to pitch how I pitch. If I hit him, I’m sorry. I’m not trying. You’re a really good hitter. I’ve got to throw the ball in, I’ve got to throw it away, mix it up. Going to continue to pitch like I pitch. Nothing is changing.”
The Padres will need to outwork the Phillies on the mound if they are to keep the series within reach. Both pitchers and managers will be keenly aware of that, and look for any early trouble to see the bullpens spring into action, no matter how cold fans view it.