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Phillies Raise Questions In Game 1 Scare, But Show They Have Answers

Nick Castellanos was smooth in all areas of his game in Game 1 of the NLDS. The Phillies… weren’t. But an aggressive start on offense and timely work on the mound and in the field was enough to get the jump on Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Phillies Raise Questions In Game 1 Scare, But Show They Have Answers

As has been the case all season, there were major flaws on paper with the Phillies’ performance in Game 1 of their NLDS matchup with the Braves. The usually calm, reliable Ranger Suárez, who handled the Braves in consecutive September starts, lasted just 3.1 innings. The pitching staff yielded seven walks. They did not hit a home run. Their top three hitters were a combined 2-15 with six strikeouts. And they burned through six relievers, including their top three bullpen options.

But there is no such thing as a bad win in the postseason. Just like they have all season, the Phillies found answers, some more obvious than others. Bryce Harper went 3-3 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt. Jean Segura and Alec Bohm continued their hot Octobers, combining for three hits and three RBIs. Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado were lights out in three total innings of work as well.

Their success is no surprise. These are the players the Phillies need to produce to continue their winning ways, as they improved to 3-0 in the postseason with a heart-stopping 7-6 win at Truist Park on Tuesday. But they also know that they need more. The Phillies usually received incredible production from their stars in past seasons. But without quality depth, it created a strain that just was not sustainable over the course of a 162-game season. This year, they received contributions from numerous sources, and it has resulted in their first postseason appearance since 2011 — and more.

However, even though benches and bullpens shrink as the postseason continues, the need for help from everyone does not dwindle. If anything, it grows. Every pitch is intense postseason, something the Phillies are already well aware of after a decade-long break. So, when a scuffling Nick Castellanos goes 3-5 with 3 RBIs and a game-changing sliding ninth inning grab, or Brad Hand halts Atlanta’s momentum dead in its tracks with a pair of important fifth inning outs, it means a lot in the moment. But it could also mean even more going forward.

In previous seasons, winning your division was undoubtedly better than being a Wild Card team, especially if you finished top-two in your league. You did not have to burn through your ace or bullpen in a stressful one-game Division Series play-in. However, while the Braves still had home field — which the Phillies took from them with their Game 1 win — they were also playing for the first time in six days. Such a lengthy layoff can create rest, but it can also produce rust.

So, the Phillies attacked early. They were aggressive against Braves starter Max Fried, who like Suárez, only lasted 3.1 innings. They strung together four straight two-out singles in the first inning to take an early lead. After Travis d’Arnaud cut their lead in half with a second-inning solo homer, they turned a rare error by the two-time Gold Glove winner Fried, into two more runs. After struggling to drive runners in from third with less then two outs against the Cardinals, the Phillies lofted a pair of sacrifice flies. The second drove in their seventh run, the eventual game-winner.

The first Phillies game of this postseason that did not feature a starting pitcher going into the seventh inning was certainly dicey. But they still found a way. The offense scored at least seven runs against a team other than the Nationals for the first time since Sept. 25 — against the Braves. Their defense remained crisp, highlighted by Castellanos’ incredible ninth inning grab. “Thank God I caught that ball,” he said when asked about his reaction. It wasn’t even his only impressive defensive play of the inning; he did a nice job holding Dansby Swanson to a single on a ball hit off the wall a few batters earlier.

Like Bohm, Castellanos graded out as one of the league’s worst defenders during the regular season. But Castellanos, who had never won a postseason game in his career before this season (including a 2-0 2020 Wild Card Series sweep in Atlanta with the Reds) is finding out what makes October different. His first season with the Phillies was disappointing. Castellanos largely underwhelmed at the plate and then suffered two injuries just as he was getting going. But the first six months of the season aren’t what go down in bold letters the history books. It’s what happens in the big moments like these. Keep delivering in them, and the perceptions surrounding Castellanos and his crazy, chaotic, successful team will swing in the direction they want them too.

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