On the brink, Phils frustrated by RISP struggles

November 4th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies’ remarkable postseason run has featured its fair share of iconic home runs.

Rhys Hoskins’ epic bat spike against the Braves in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. Bryce Harper’s go-ahead shot in the NL Championship Series clincher. J.T. Realmuto’s game-winner in the 10th inning of Game 1 of the World Series. A World Series record-tying five homers in Game 3.

But Philadelphia is likely going to need something beyond home runs if it’s going to rally past Houston to win the World Series.

• World Series Game 6, presented by Capital One: Tonight, 8 p.m. ET on FOX

Despite a leadoff homer from Kyle Schwarber on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies couldn’t come through with a timely hit in their 3-2 loss against the Astros in Game 5 of the World Series. The Phils went just 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 men on base as they were pushed to the brink.

Kyle Schwarber’s leadoff homer
The dozen runners left on base is tied for the most by any team in a nine-inning World Series loss since the 1980 Royals stranded 13 in a Game 5 defeat — against the Phillies.

“We had opportunities the whole game to get things done and we weren’t able to do that,” said Harper, who reached base in four of his five plate appearances but did not score a run.

Phillies on loss in Game 5
That’s become an all-too-familiar refrain of late for a Phillies team that had thrived in those situations for most of the year.

Philadelphia hit .269 with runners in scoring position during the regular season, third best in the Majors. The Phils were 13-for-35 (.371) with 20 RBIs in those situations in the NLDS and 8-for-31 (.258) with 11 RBIs in the NLCS.

But after going 4-for-10 with five RBIs with runners in scoring position in their Game 1 win against the Astros, the Phillies are just 1-for-19 with two RBIs with RISP in the four games since.

“That’s baseball. It’s the ebbs and flows of the game,” manager Rob Thomson said. “Sometimes you go through times when you don’t hit with runners in scoring position, and then three days later, everybody’s getting hits. So we’ve just got to keep battling, that’s all.”

Still, the newfound struggles couldn’t come at a worse time, and it’s left the Phillies relying on the long ball.

Jean Segura’s RBI single
Prior to Jean Segura’s eighth-inning RBI single on Thursday, Philadelphia had scored eight straight runs via home runs going back to Game 3. Segura’s base hit also snapped an 0-for-20 streak with runners in scoring position, which was tied for the third-longest drought in World Series history — and it was the longest since, again, those 1980 Royals vs. the Phils.

“We were close, but we could talk about would have, could have, should have all day,” said Nick Castellanos, who flied out on the 10th pitch of the at-bat against Justin Verlander to strand Harper at second to end the fifth. “We put together good at-bats, we gave ourselves a lot of opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize on them tonight. So now we’ve just got our work cut out for us when we go to Houston.”

Though the Phillies’ woes with runners in scoring position have been historically bad, they aren’t the only ones to struggle in those spots against the Astros this postseason. Prior to Segura’s RBI knock, opposing hitters were 0-for-25 with eight strikeouts with runners in scoring position against Houston’s relievers.

“They have great starting pitching and every guy they bring in out of the ‘pen is nasty and has been outstanding throughout the whole postseason,” said Hoskins, who struck out with the bases loaded to end the second. “We’re missing some pitches, I’m sure we are. But I think, for the most part, they are making their pitches. It’s tough to hit when they are.”

Still, the Phils had some close calls. Along with Castellanos’ 10-pitch flyout — which left his bat at 98.2 mph — Schwarber hit a couple of rockets that turned into inning-ending outs.

With two on and two outs in the sixth, he ripped a 101.3 mph grounder directly at second baseman Jose Altuve, who was shifted into shallow right field. Two innings later, Schwarber knocked a 98.7 mph scorcher down the line, but Astros first baseman Trey Mancini made a sprawling play to strand runners on the corners — including the potential tying run at third base.

“You wouldn’t be human if you said you weren’t frustrated,” Schwarber said. “You can be. I think the biggest thing is everyone is going to flush this out and we’re going to have to be ready to go there for Game 6.”

Whether the Phillies have a couple more big homers left in them remains to be seen, but one thing is certain if they want to win the World Series: They can’t afford to waste any more opportunities in Houston this weekend.