The Philadelphia Phillies are in San Francisco Thursday for game one of a four-game series against the Giants. The Phillies come into this series in need of a spark as they are having a lot of trouble closing the gap on the Atlanta Braves for first place in the NL East Division. Philly trails the Braves by eight games for first place, but they are very much in the mix for the wild card as they are currently tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the final playoff spot in the league.
The San Francisco Giants made the bold move to keep the majority of their top-line talent at the July 31st trade deadline. While they did make several moves, some of which were clearly aimed at building towards the future, and they moved a bunch of their bullpen, they kept key guys like Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, that many thought would be traded. And they even picked up some impact players like Scooter Gennett to bolster the lineup.
It wasn’t an all-in push for the playoffs, but it also wasn’t them throwing in the white flag of surrender either. So, it has likely been very disappointing for Giants fans and management that they have been dreadful post-trade deadline as they are 1-6 in August. The Giants have now fallen to three and a half games back of the wild card in the NL, with six teams ahead of them. They are going to have to snap out of this funk soon or they will be deeply regretting not making the right moves at the deadline.
Starting tonight for the Giants is Madison Bumgarner (6-7 3.92 ERA), and for the Phillies, it is Aaron Nola (10-2 3.60 ERA). The game total over-under is set at seven and a half runs. The Giants are -114 road favorites. First pitch is scheduled for 6:45 PM PST from Oracle Park in San Francisco.
Most expected Giants ace Madison Bumgarner to be traded away at the trade deadline this year. The market was a great one for starters as we saw several top of the rotation type guys get moved, such as Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, and Zach Greinke. But after spending weeks shopping Bumgarner, the Giants had a blazing hot month of July and changed course at the last minute and decided to stand pat rather than move their former World Series hero.
A week later that decision is starting to look like a mistake as the Giants have stopped hitting the ball and are quickly falling out of contention. Even Bumgarner has struggled recently. After a five start stretch in late June and July where he gave up, on average, just one run per game, Bumgarner seems to be running out of gas as of late.
In his last three starts, he has pitched a combined nineteen innings and has allowed twelve earned runs. After not allowing a home run in five consecutive starts, he has seen three balls leave the stadium in his last two games. One of those games was at Coors Field, so it is hard to fault him too much, but there is no denying that both Bumgarner and his Giants seem to have lost that swagger that took then from last place to in contention in July.
One guy that certainly has not lost his swagger as of late in Phillies starter Aaron Nola. Nola was a bit shaky to start the season and had an ERA of nearly five runs in mid-June. But he has really picked things up recently as he has allowed one run or fewer in seven out of his last nine starts. And he has been getting deep into games as well as he has pitched into the seventh inning or later seven times during that stretch. In his last start, he was nearly unhittable as he pitched seven innings of one-run ball with ten punchouts in a win over the Chicago White Sox.
As a general rule, I always love taking home underdogs. And I especially like taking Madison Bumgarner at home as the guy has always been a great pitcher in the bay. And when you look at his home and away splits this season, his home ERA is a full run lower than his road numbers. But something tells me that this Giants team is at the front end of what could end up being a nasty slump.
Just as quickly as this hot streak that nobody saw coming started, it has ended. The Giants were second in the majors in runs scored in July, and that carried them to a great record. But in August, the bats have turned off. So far this month, the Giants are 27th in the game in runs scored, averaging just three runs a game. They are hitting .249 as a team this month.
And the last guy you are ever going to want to face when you are struggling is a guy like Aaron Nola. Nola has elite stuff, and he can really rack up the strikeouts. His only slip-ups in his last ten starts were against the Cubs and Braves, both teams with heavy-hitting lineups. I see Nola completely shutting down the Giants tonight. So, even if Bumgarner finds a way to get back on track after his recent struggles, it may not matter as the Giants just can’t hit the baseball right now.
I think this ends up being somewhat of a pitcher’s duel. Nola gets you seven innings of stellar work, and Bumgarner may be just as good. But in the end, I think the overall strength of this Phillies team will be enough to get them into the win column. I hate to bet against MaddyBums at home, but this team is in freefall, and I think Nola kicks them while they are down tonight. Give me the Philadelphia Phillies as small road favorites tonight in game one at -114!