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SAD NEWS: Thomson head coach the Phillies reds under pressure management threat

One night after getting blown out by a touchdown in Cincinnati, the Phillies lost another game to the Reds on Wednesday. This one somehow felt worse.

There’s a lot to like about the 2024 Phillies. Their starting pitching has been incredible. Several players are hitting well. They are just two games removed from a seven-game winning streak.

But three of their biggest flaws were on full display in this loss, a game they led 3-1 in the top of the sixth inning:

1) Back of the bullpen woes– As a staff, Phillies pitchers have one of the best ERAs in the National League (3.50). The combined ERA of the starters is the best in the NL (2.20). And the relievers the team will rely on in its highest-leverage situations are performing admirably: Jose Alvarado allowed five earned runs on Opening Day, but has a 1.00 ERA in ten appearances since; Jeff Hoffman and Matt Strahm have identical 1.80 ERAs; Orion Kerkering hasn’t allowed a run or a hit in the three innings he has pitched.

The drop-off from those relievers to the next tier of bullpen guys, however, wasn’t supposed to be this steep. Seranthony Dominguez (9.72 ERA) and Gregory Soto (8.22 ERA) are pitchers with closer-level talent. When they’re playing well, the ability to deploy them in the middle innings could be a luxury.

That’s not how things played out on Wednesday, however, as Dominguez served up four runs in the sixth and Soto allowed another run in the seventh. Righthander Yunior Marte, with a 2.31 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11.1 innings pitched, may be utilized more often in spots thought to be Dominguez’s if Dominguez continues to struggle.

2) Nick Castellanos– Castellanos is hitting .174/.232/.196 (.428 OPS) in 25 games this season. He’s a streaky hitter, always one day and a couple swings away from turning things around. But it’s, uh… been a lot of days and a lot of swings now, and Castellanos has some of the worst numbers in baseball.

On April 20, the rightfielder reached base five times via three hits and two walks. There was some hope he was turning a corner. But in four games since, he has two hits and no walks in 17 plate appearances.

Up against pitchers notoriously tough on left-handed bats, such as Wednesday’s Reds starter LHP Nick Lodolo, the Phillies need Castellanos and their other right-handed bats to come through.

3) Struggles against lefty starters- Partly due to Castellanos’ troubles, the Phillies have a 5-6 record against left-handed starters (and a 10-4 record against righties). Alec Bohm (.337 with a .988 OPS) and Trea Turner (.324 with an .839 OPS) are hitting well. JT Realmuto, who sat yesterday despite the righty-heavy lineup, hasn’t been too bad. But as a team, they’re hitting .237 with a .686 OPS vs lefty starters, compared to .254 with a .727 OPS against righty starters.

Manager Rob Thomson doesn’t seem to trust outfielder Brandon Marsh (hitting .167 with a .460 OPS in 21 PAs vs LHP this season) or second baseman Bryson Stott against lefthanders, sitting both for two consecutive games this week. The decision with Stott is peculiar, because he has reverse splits both this season (.663 OPS vs LHP, .536 OPS vs RHP) and over the course of his career (.733 OPS vs LHP, .687 OPS vs RHP).

And to sit Marsh and Stott, Thomson is forced to start right-handed batters who haven’t hit particularly well this season (Whit Merrifield is hitting .179) or in their careers (Cristian Pache is a career .172 Edmundo Sosa is a career .254 hitter with a .502 OPS). Merrifield, Pache, and Sosa are terrific players to have on your bench, but not guys you want to rely on against left-handed starters over the course of a full season.

There’s reason to believe this will all work itself out. Spencer Turnbull, who has excelled as a starter, may be added to the relief pitcher mix when Taijuan Walker returns. The struggling bullpen arms have track records that say they’re better than their current numbers. Same goes for Castellanos’ track record. And among Marsh/Stott/Merrifield/Pache/Sosa, Thomson should be able to find ways to supplement his biggest right-handed bats against lefty starters.

But if the Phillies truly want to keep pace with the Atlanta Braves for a division title this season, they’ll have to solve some of these issues very quickly.

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