NLCS heads to Game 7 after Phillies’ bats can’t solve Merrill Kelly and D-backs

NLCS heads to Game 7 after Phillies’ bats can’t solve Merrill Kelly and D-backs originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The entire season has felt like déjà vu to the Phillies and Monday night had potential as the latest and most important example to date, the one-year anniversary of the Phillies’ NLCS clincher over the Padres.

But Aaron Nola didn’t have it and neither did the Phils’ offense against Merrill Kelly. Nola became the first Phillies starting pitcher this postseason to struggle, allowing three runs in the second inning on back-to-back homers, a walk, and an RBI double, and another on an RBI triple in the top of the fifth, which he was unable to complete.

The Phillies lost, 5-1, and the NLCS has reached a decisive Game 7 on Tuesday night, the first Game 7 in Phillies history.

The Phils will turn to Ranger Suarez, who has the lowest playoff ERA ever (0.94) for a pitcher with at least five starts. The Diamondbacks will use Brandon Pfaadt, who was more effective against the Phillies in Game 3 than any other pitcher this month, striking out nine over 5⅔ scoreless innings.

The Phillies’ offense had its chances early to take a lead on the Diamondbacks or at least tie. They had Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper on in the first inning with one out, but Alec Bohm struck out looking and Bryson Stott grounded out.

They had runners on the corners in the second inning but Trea Turner struck out to end an over-aggressive at-bat. Stott was stranded in scoring position in the third when J.T. Realmuto struck out swinging on a fastball at his eyes.

Game 2 was the first start of Kelly’s career in which he allowed at least three homers and three walks, but he was much sharper against the Phillies in Game 6, using his pitchability and savvy to keep off balance an over-aggressive lineup that was swinging for the downs. He struck out eight, four of them looking, fooling the Phillies on three different pitches.

It is clear that Arizona’s game plan has shifted as the series has worn on to not let Schwarber or Harper beat them. Why would they? That duo combined for seven homers and scored 15 of the Phillies’ 27 runs in the first five games of the NLCS, but Kelly and the Arizona bullpen handled them carefully in Game 6. They went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and three walks.

Manager Rob Thomson’s decision to keep Bohm in the cleanup spot throughout the playoffs despite the third baseman’s three-week slump has been called into question, and Bohm was again unable to come through in a huge spot in the first inning Monday night. He fouled off a 94 mph sinker right down the middle for strike one and ended up striking out looking at a four-seamer low in the zone.

Bohm was the Phillies’ leading hitter with runners in scoring position in the regular season at .344. He’s hit .315 in 492 career plate appearances with RISP. He went 2-for-4 Monday with a pair of bases-empty singles, but he’s been cold at the plate this month, hitting .233. Thomson has been hesitant to make any lineup changes with how swimmingly the playoffs have gone for the Phillies to this point. Push might come to shove in Game 7. Nick Castellanos has struggled mightily since Game 1, but Realmuto has hit this month and would be a logical candidate as a right-handed bat behind Harper.

The Phillies have controlled most of this series and so much of their playoff run, entering Monday night having trailed after just five of 99 innings in October. Many thought the NLCS was over after Game 2. Many thought it was over after Game 5, with the Phils returning to Citizens Bank Park where they owned the best home record in MLB playoff history.

The Phillies are the more talented and more experienced team, but all that matters now is how these two clubs perform over the course of three hours Tuesday night in South Philly.


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