PHOENIX – Craig Kimbrel was an All-Star this season and will probably be in Cooperstown one day, but he made it difficult for the Phillies to rely on him at the most important time of the year.
Kimbrel lost for the second straight Friday night. In Game 3, he was wild and allowed a no-hitter in the ninth. In Game 4, he blew the first save of his playoff career, allowing three runs in the bottom of the eighth as Arizona turned two runs into a 6-5 victory that the Bulls shook the Phillies and tied the NLCS at two games apiece. a slice.
Pinch hitter Alek Thomas, a lefty with a career-low .230/.274/.359 line over two seasons, hit a game-tying double to right center. Phillies manager Rob Thomson waived Kimbrel because he wanted to avoid using Jose Alvarado, who pitched two innings in Game 3, at all costs. Alvarado didn’t enter until Kimbrel had already put two other batters — Ketel Marte and Corbin Carroll — on base. Gabriel Moreno won the victory over Alvarado.
“The last two games sucked,” Kimbrel said. “I rolled over here and it cost us two games. The good thing is we’re tied 2-2 and we’ve got a game here tomorrow, so we’re going to Philly.”
The Phillies would have been better if they had taken the last five runs of Game 4 on Friday night. They would take a 3-1 lead in Game 5 with their ace, Zack Wheeler, on the mound, and worse, a three-run chance to close out the NLCS.
Now, the series comes down to whoever wins two out of three, and the Phillies won’t have a full bullpen for Saturday’s Game 5. Kimbrel, Alvarado, Jeff Hoffman and Orion Kerkering have all been used on back-to-back days. Kimbrel has thrown 45 pitches, all under pressure. Kerkering had not been seen for several days before these last two. Little by little, it looks like the two will be sitting down on Saturday night.
“When we see them tomorrow we’ll see how many guys we have,” Thomson said. “We’re not going to put people at risk, but this is a strong team, and they want to play.”
The Phillies are 7-3 this postseason and all of their losses have been crushing. There were those two in the lineup and the top of the eighth in Game 2 of the NLDS in Atlanta. For a long time, their major revivals have passed. Kimbrel had a 3.26 ERA and worked as a closer when Alvarado injured his elbow in early May. Alvarado was a light fixture for a long time. Hoffman had a career year. Matt Strahm helped the Phillies in several capacities. Kerkering was picked up four times because of his smooth slider, off-bat skills and control.
It’s a bad time for Kimbrel and Kerkering to go south, and a lot of it comes down to fighting.
“That’s the key,” employee JT Realmuto said. “That’s the difference in the last two games versus the first two games, we’re turning our 0-2, 1-2 scores into 2-1, 3-0 and that’s how you turn good hitters into great hitters.”
The Phillies knew they would need more of their bullpen in Game 4 when Cristopher Sanchez made his first start in 26 days. Sanchez went 2⅓ and allowed two runs, one earned. He didn’t have the feeling of change leading up to his breakout season. Thomson didn’t want to develop him beyond 60 or 70 but pulled him at 38.
Hoffman, Strahm and Seranthony Dominguez did their jobs to score 12 to take the game to the seventh inning. If it had turned out differently Gregory Soto, the main offensive force in the Phillies’ high-octane offseason bullpen last year, kept the D-backs in check, but he did walk the first two batters he faced. and walking. Kerkering relieved him and walked two straight to force in a run.
“A lot of our players impressed me,” Realmuto said. “But that’s what happens when you fall behind in numbers and runners step up. The place gets loud, you start to feel the crowd, the atmosphere. It’s the same as what our team does to the opposing players when they’re at home. The best way to not rush is to not let guys go down. .”
The big question now is who closes out the rest of the Phillies’ postseason games? Alvarado has been so valuable as a reliever at the top that he can’t always be saved in the ninth. Dominguez has been suffering from depression. So is Soto. And now Kerkering.
Thomson kept his faith in Kimbrel after the game but admitted he may need to put him in a lower position next time to help him under less pressure…
“I’ve been in the big leagues a long time,” Kimbrel said. “I’ve lost a lot of football games and I’ve won a lot of football games. The only way you can come back and win is to believe you can. And I believe the next time I touch the ball, it’s going to be big.”
It will take more than faith for Kimbrel and Kerkering, the Phillies’ most inexperienced pitchers, to make a comeback. Kerkering had a 1.51 ERA with 79 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 49 plate appearances this season, then began his major league career with seven straight appearances without allowing an earned run.
Two nights ago, he couldn’t command the slider that landed him on The Show. He said it came down to overthinking. Realmuto thinks it came down to over-control.
“I think yesterday he was hooking his slider a little bit. Today, I think he changed a little bit and was stopping a lot, it was like no contest,” the catcher said. “I think maybe he just tried to make a big change and he couldn’t make it happen. It’s like the rest of our ‘pen’, when he goes back, it’s hard for him to get out.”
The Phillies will need more height in Game 5 from Wheeler, who is as capable as anyone on the staff. He has a 2.63 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in nine starts. Only one has been subpar. He has 26 hits and one walk in 19 innings this postseason.
The Phils need him to be Superman again Saturday night.
“For me, every game in the postseason is a must-win,” Realmuto said. “We won’t need anyone else tomorrow. Mawilo is our boy.”