Phillies bear down on Braves thanks to bullpen, Asdrubal Cabrera's walk-off homer

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Phillies bear down on Braves thanks to bullpen, Asdrubal Cabrera's walk-off homer


The Phillies acquired Asdrubal Cabrera at the trade deadline for one reason.

His bat.

The acquisition paid dividends Friday night when the Phillies went out and beat the best team in the National League, the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, in 10 innings at rainy Citizens Bank Park (see first take).

Cabrera delivered the decisive blow, a solo homer to left-center against Cubs reliever Steve Cishek with one out in the 10th.

“That’s a good feeling when you help the team win,” Cabrera said afterward.

His heroics came just as the Pittsburgh Pirates were finishing off a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies went to bed on Tuesday night trailing the first-place Braves by 4½ games in the NL East.

They went to bed Friday night trailing the Braves by two games. 

The Braves have lost three in a row. The Phillies have won two in a row for just the second time since Aug. 4-5. The calendar flips to September on Saturday. There are 28 games left. It is not the prettiest pennant race you’ve ever seen. But it’s a race, nonetheless, and it’s going to be interesting, especially with the Braves and Phillies slated to play each other seven times over the final 11 games.

“We're paying attention to the scoreboard,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “A lot of us watched the Cubs-Atlanta game [Thursday night]. Certainly, we're thinking about it. We take care of business, we do our part, we kind of feel like we’re in control of our destiny. And we really are. We play great baseball down the stretch, we're going to win the National League East.”

Scoring just two runs in 10 innings might not qualify as playing great baseball, but the Phillies still were able to do a lot of things right in getting this series against the Cubs off on the right foot with Zach Eflin and Aaron Nola slated to pitch the second and third games.

Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta allowed eight base runners in five innings. That’s not good. What was good, however, was his limiting the damage to one run, with a big, bases-loaded strikeout of Anthony Rizzo in the third inning standing tall.

Roman Quinn continued to spark the offense. He doubled in the sixth and scored on a two-out hit by Cesar Hernandez to tie the game.

The bullpen was brilliant. Victor Arano, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez, Hector Neris and Pat Neshek combined on five scoreless innings. Neshek inherited a runner in the 10th and pitched out of trouble with some help from a huge defensive play by first baseman Carlos Santana.

“I cannot dote on our bullpen enough,” Kapler said. “They have just come up so many times. They have not gotten the attention that they deserve. We have ridden them so hard. And we've put them in incredibly difficult, unique, new positions for all of them. They've just answered the bell continually. We're asking them to pitch without their traditional roles. And all they've done is stepped up to the plate and done a tremendous job. Tonight was a perfect indication of that.”

Cabrera was acquired from the Mets a month ago because the Phillies desperately needed offense. But he had hit just .218 with two homers and a .604 OPS in 29 games with the Phils entering Friday night.

“This game is not easy,” Cabrera said. “Up and down. I know that I probably can do better, but I trust myself and I come every day to play.

“We've got a really good team. We've got good talent. The last week we didn't play really good, but we've got talent. I believe in the team and we're going to be fine.”

Cabrera hit a 1-2 sinker from Cishek.

“That's why we traded for him, right?” Kapler said of Cabrera. “Biggest moment. Right-handed pitcher on the mound. The ball is sinking away from him. He has that sweet stroke. Absolutely demolished that ball to left-center field.”

The home run earned Cabrera a Gatorade shower and Kapler loved it.

“That was a really good celebration in the dugout,” he said. “We had a lot of fun tonight. One of the things we've stressed recently is in these times, they kind of get a little bit stressful, but we're going to have fun. We're going to smile. We're going to laugh.”

And they're going into the month of September in a race.

More on the Phillies

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news


At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies