Going into the third game of the NLDS between the Phillies and Braves, the sensible question was whether on not the starters involved, Aaron Nola and Bryce Elder, would pitch “as they should.” The assumption on sports talk radio in Philly was that Nola was the better and more experienced pitcher, and “should” win. Callers to such stations in Georgia on this matter may have admitted that Elder was the one who needed to “step up.”
The raw seasonal data (ERA and losses notwithstanding) suggested as much. Both pitchers had won 12 games, but Nola had posted superior WHIP, FIP gap and direction to ERA, IP and SO figures. He had also struck out 202 batters in a season his SO/W ratio dropped from 2022.
A pivotal question was how Bryce Elder would perform in front of a playoff-wild Philly crowd.
The weather at game time was entirely pleasant, quite seasonal. Well-struck balls would probably carry.
And brother, did they. Nola and Elder, however, began by keeping hitters largely off balance for two innings each while the batter’s eye was partially in shadow after an oddball 5:07 p.m. starting time. However, in the third inning, the Phillies bats came alive in a frankly predictable way.
Nick Castellanos banged a high sinker that didn’t sink into the left field bleachers to tie the game at 1-1 after Nola had surrendered a run to the Braves in the top of inning. Then, after Brandon Marsh and Trea Turner singled around two outs, Bryce Harper slammed a second-deck shot for three more Philly runs. But that wasn’t all. After a single by Alec Bohm and a walk to Bryson Stott, Brandon Marsh doubled.
Both runners scored.
Suddenly, Philadelphia led, 6-1. Bryce Elder had been relieved before the inning was over, and ended up being charged with six earned runs. The question about whether he or Aaron Nola would dominate was answered before the game was a third of the way over and Nola could establish himself as dominating.
The Phillies starter did not pitch badly at all, but was removed after 5.2 innings, having struck out nine, the majority of them on knuckle curves or high fastballs. The Braves managed only one more run against five relievers.
The Phillies offense, however, was not finished. Both Harper and Castellanos homered again, as did Trea Turner and Brandon Marsh. The six dingers tied an MLB record for home runs in a postseason game (Chicago Cubs, 2015), and set a club record.
The 10-2 loss dropped the Braves into a pickle jar, but they will send out their ace, Spencer Strider, tomorrow to try to quiet the noisy Philly fans.
His problem will be that the Phillies have been very good at home lately, to understate the matter. And they now lead the series, 2-1.