9:45 PM EST – Line: Phillies -114, Over/Under: 7
A pair of teams whose only remaining outlet to the Playoffs is the Wild Card face off against each other in the first chapter of a four-game series from Oracle Park in San Francisco, as the fading Giants play host the Philadelphia Phillies. While they’ve certainly failed to live up to the considerable expectations built upon their ambitious Offseason, the Phillies (59-54, 3rd in NL East) have somehow managed to climb the ladder in the National League, clinging to the final Wild Card. Exactly how Philadelphia got to this point is indeed, for it’s not like they’ve been blowing anybody away of late; since the All-Star Break, they’ve been simply a shade above average, going 12-11, though that is certainly an improvement over the miserable 11-16 malaise they were mired in during the month of July. Fortunately for Gabe Kapler & Co., their bats have finally begun to heat up in August, hitting a much-improved .279 this month, with an On-Base Percentage of .351, and a Slugging Percentage of .451, which are all season-highs in comparison to previous months. For that matter, the Starting Rotation has followed suit as well, posting a 3.41 ERA and 1.049 WHIP, with both figures significantly lower than their predecessors Taking the mound tonight for the Phillies will be Aaron Nola (10-2, 3.60 ERA, 24 GS, 142.1 IP, 124 H, 57 ER, 20 HR, 57 BB, 163 K, 1.272 WHIP), who has really carried the load for the club over the past five weeks. It’s no coincidence that as Philadelphia improved, they relied upon their young ace, who has gone unbeaten in his last Eight Starts. Granted, he’s only been fortunate enough to earn a Victory in four of those outings, but his team has nonetheless prospered when he’s headed to the bump, winning all but one of them. While the Pitching Staff as a whole, particularly the Starting Rotation, has greatly underwhelmed, ranking Twelfth in the National League in Team ERA (4.59), Tenth in Strikeouts (980), and dead-last in Home Runs allowed (188), the 26-Year Old has largely overcome his own struggles to get to this point. Following last year’s emergence in which he finished Third in Cy Young voting, Nola has struggled with his control, yielding more Homers (1.3) and Walks (3.6) per Nine Innings, along with a higher ERA (3.60) and WHIP (1.272), despite racking up Strikeouts at a career pace (10.3). When we last saw him, the Righthander was masterful in an Interleague meeting with the Chicago White Sox, permitting a single Earned Run on Three Hits over the course of Seven Innings, fanning Ten Batters and walking just two in a 3-2 victory. Since his last Loss on June 27th, Nola has appeared to have regained his form from 2018, posting an ERA of 2.03 with opponents batting a mere .168 against him, with Sixty-Three Strikeouts in comparison to Twenty Walks. In relevance to tonight’s matchup, he’s faced the Giants on three occasions, going 1-1 with a 6.46 ERA and 1.630 WHIP, though in his last meeting with them, which came in 2018, he was dominant in a 4-2 Phillies’ win, relinquishing One Earned Run on Five Hits, while totaling Twelve Strikeout and Zero Walks.
Meanwhile, this could indeed be it for the Giants (56-58, 3rd in NL West), who in trailing their opponent by 3.5 Games for the final Wild Card in the National League, are on proverbial life support. After emerging from the All-Star Break as if they were literally shot from a cannon, winning eleven out of thirteen games, San Francisco appears to have made the mistake of standing pat instead of adding reinforcements via trade, entering an immediate tailspin, winning just once in their last five outings since the passing of the Trade Deadline. Needless to say, if they can’t their !@#$ together in this series against Philadelphia, then Bruce Bochy’s charges will be without October Baseball for a third consecutive term. Looking back, it sure does appear that their Offense, which has been rather meager throughout the campaign, peaked in July; the Giants batted .268 with an On-Base Percentage of .330, and a Slugging Percentage of .464 last month, only to slowly revert back to their previous averages in August, batting .259, with a .302 On-Base Percentage and .339 Slugging Percentage. Hell, after averaging 25.3 Home Runs through the first three months of the season, they tagged a whopping Thirty-Eight in July, but have just four thus far. Taking the mound tonight for the Giants will be Madison Bumgarner (6-7, 3.92 ERA, 24 GS, 144.2 IP, 140 H, 63 ER, 20 HR, 30 BB, 142 K, 1.175 WHIP), who like his counterpart in the opposite dugout, has carried his team over the past five weeks, though there was a considerable amount of speculation for nearly a month that he wouldn’t even be on the roster by this point in time. Indeed, the July 31st Trade Deadline came and went and the World Series MVP is still a member of the Giants, which tells us many things, mostly that the club was indeed open for business (proven by their many other moves), yet were never truly blown away by an offer to part ways with their longstanding ace. In the final year of his contract, there are growing reports that the 29-Year Old will be leaving the Bay Area this Winter, with last week’s deadline proving to be the last time that San Francisco would be able to net assets for his services. Of course, the fact that Bochy’s troops have remained on the fringes of contention for a Wild Card in the National League no doubt made the decision harder, for it would be rather difficult to see this team return to the Postseason after a two-year hiatus without the veteran Lefthander. Time will tell if this will be viewed as a missed opportunity for the Franchise, for one would have had to figure that they could have bled some contender for the rights to claim one of the most successful Postseason Pitchers in Major League History. With that said, when Bumgarner takes the mound, it usually means good things for the giants, who have gone on to win nine out of his last twelve starts, with the ace going unbeaten since June 20th. Of course, he’s only come away with a decision once in his last Six Starts, so his disappointing record is greatly misleading. When we last saw him, Bumgarner was roughed up a bit in a trip to Coors Field, relinquishing Five Earned Runs on Eight Hits, including a pair of Homer Runs, while striking out two batters and walking one over just Five Innings in what would eventually end in a 6-5 victory for the visitors. Over the course of his career, the three-time World Series Champion has faced off against the Phillies on ten occasions, going 4-3 with a 3.41 ERA and 1.121 WHIP, having his way with them in averaging 9.4 Strikeouts per Nine Innings and sporting a stellar 6.27 Strikeout/Walk Ratio.