Matt Klentak was correct when he said fans should not look at each game over the course of a 162-game season and treat it the same way they would a single game during the course of a 16-game NFL season.
“The football fan mentality of scrutinizing it game by game is probably the wrong way to look at it,” the Phillies general manager said the day after his team’s fall-from-far-ahead 10-6 loss to the Washington Nationals. “It doesn’t make it any less frustrating, but it’s going to be a battle all year.”
The sky was not falling. The bullpen was not headed into perpetual implosion and Aaron Nola’s ace ID card does not need to be revoked. It was one of 162 games and it will not be the last time you are left shaking your head after a loss. In fact, you probably shook some more after watching Nick Pivetta get pummeled Wednesday night during Washington’s 15-1 rout of the Phillies.
It’s difficult to give up 24 runs in a row without scoring one, but the Phillies did it and, still, they woke up Thursday morning tied with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets for first place in the National League East. All three teams were 7-4 and no other team in the league had a better winning percentage.
“I think it’s going to be like that all year because every team in the National League is good,” Klentak said. “Certainly the teams in the National League East are good and if we are down, we have a chance to come back and if we’re up the other team has a chance to come back, so I think we should get used to that.”
The most disappinting thing about losing three of their first five meetings with the Nationals is that two of those losses came in games started by Nola. The Phillies did win on a day that Max Scherzer pitched for Washington, but they also lost three out of five without having to face Patrick Corbin.
A one-game sample in baseball is definitely too small to glean anything significant, but 10-game stretches do tend to provide some legitimate information. The thing we seem to have learned so far this season is what we suspected when the year started. The Phillies, Nationals, Braves and New York Mets are all good teams and the Miami Marlins are really bad. The Nats have two superstars in Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto and a potential third one in Victor Robles. They showed the Phillies in their five meetings that they can keep coming at you offensively and there is still every reason to believe the Nats have better pitching.
By scoring 25 in consecutive games, they leapfrogged the Phillies as the highest-scoring team in the division at 6.7 runs per game. The Phillies, in fact, have fallen to third in their own division in scoring at 5.8 runs per game. The Mets are averaging 6.3 runs per game. The Braves, meanwhile, went 7-1 and averaged six runs per game after being swept by the Phillies to open the season. All four of the N.L. East’s elite teams are in the top nine in baseball in runs per game.
The Phillies will face the Mets for the first time starting Monday at Citizens Bank Park as they continue a stretch in which they play 24 of their first 33 games against the National League East. New York is being led by its own young star, 24-year-old rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, who already had five home runs and 15 RBIs ahead of Thursday’s game against Atlanta.
A year ago, the Phillies’ biggest downfall was the way they played against the rest of their division. They finished 34-43 against divisional opponents while the division-winning Braves went 49-27 against the NL East and 41-45 against the rest of their schedule. The Phillies were the only team in the NL East that had a winning record outside of their division last season, but they also had a division-worst 11-8 record against the lowly Marlins.
Miami appears to be even worse this season, so it’s vital for the Phillies and every team in the division to beat up on them, especially if the division is going to have at least one wild-card team.
The Phillies get that chance this weekend, starting with Friday night’s game at Marlins Park. Klentak posted a warning ahead of the series because he knows that there’s going to be a shortage of electricity in the ballpark even if it is catcher J.T. Realmuto’s homecoming.
“This weekend is a little bit of a trap series and I think we really need to keep our level of focus,” Klentak said.