Well, Game 3 was fun. Games 4 and 5…not so much. The Phillies are down 3-2 in the World Series after losing the final two at Citizens Bank Park this week. With the series heading to Houston for its final stretch this weekend, the Phils certainly have their backs against the wall. The Astros, after winning 106 games this season, need just one more win to claim the world championship while the 87 win Phillies, well, it looks grim. It’s been a magical ride, one that got the entire city of Philadelphia to fall back in love with its baseball team. No matter the outcome of this weekend, this year will be viewed as an overwhelming success. The club broke its decade-long playoff drought and made a historic run through the playoffs that included the biggest hit in Phillies history. Nevertheless, there’s still two games to play––including Game 6 tonight.

Zack Wheeler (12-7, 2.82 ERA) will start for the Phillies against Houston’s Framber Valdez (17-6, 2.82 ERA). The two squared off previously in Game 2, where Valdez pitched 6.1 innings while allowing just one run and struck out nine. Wheeler, on the other hand, struggled while throwing just five innings and allowing five runs (four earned), walking three, and striking out three. Most concerning, Wheeler’s arm seems to be slowing down. In Game 2, the righty’s fastball averaged just 95.6 mph––significantly down from his previous start where his fastball averaged 97.2, a number he hit just three times in Game 2. While the Phillies are calling the drop in velocity “fatigue” rather than an arm injury, it is still worrisome that Wheeler likely won’t be at full strength tonight. If Wheeler’s velocity continues to drop and his command is off, look for Rob Thomson to manage with a short leash for his ace.

If Wheeler can’t go deep into the game, the Phillies bullpen will undoubtedly be rested and ready. The group, especially the top guys, had relatively minimal work during the home stand. Seranthony Dominguez only threw one inning during the stretch while Jose Alvarado, Zach Eflin, and David Robertson threw two innings a piece. If there’s any positive from the past couple of games, it’s that the bullpen was not severely taxed and should be in good shape for the remainder of the series. For a ‘pen that has allowed just three runs in 23.2 innings of work during the World Series, Thomson can find some security knowing he can go to a fresh arm at any time. Though the Astros bullpen will also be at full strength, if the series were to come down to a battle of the bullpens, the Phillies would not be at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, it is imperative the bats wake up if the Phils have a chance in Houston.

The 2022 Phillies were made to smash the bell, no matter the defensive cost. We have heard this for the past seven months and have witnessed it sometimes in excruciating fashion. Other than the home run barrage we saw in Game 3, though, the offense has been stone cold for the majority of the series––especially with runners on. After going 4-10 with runners in scoring position in Game 1, the Phillies have gone 1-19 since. Obviously, that’s not going to cut it. Not to mention, Rhys Hoskins, JT Realmuto, and Nick Castellanos––the trio supposed to protect Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber in the lineup––went a combined 2-37 with 18 strikeouts over the last three games. It doesn’t help that bottom of the lineup hasn’t produced much either, but the Phils will not win if this continues. They need those three to find a way to get on base, move a runner, drive someone in––really, anything to have a chance. 

With their backs against the wall, the Phillies need a spark to force something they’ve never played in: Game 7. Maybe Kyle Schwarber can kindle the dimming flame of the Phils postseason run. After all, he did help the Chicago Cubs come back down 3-1 in the 2016 World Series to win their first championship in 108 years. He’s been there before––he knows it can be done. For a clubhouse that is relatively inexperienced in the postseason, with Jean Segura and Realmuto snapping two of the longest player droughts this year, having Schwarber being the voice to calm the storm is immeasurably massive. Game 6 begins tonight at 8:03. In just a few short hours, we’ll see if the Fightins can create a little bedlam and force a Game 7.

Photo: Miles Kennedy/Phillies Team Photographer

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