Sanchez comes back to Earth, Phillies unable to sweep on July 4

Sanchez comes back to Earth, Phillies unable to sweep on July 4 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

CHICAGO — The reigning National League Pitcher of the Month allowed only six earned runs throughout all of June but Cristopher Sanchez unraveled Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field in his first start of July, giving up five in the fourth inning alone and seven total.

Sanchez went 1-2-3 in the first inning, avoided damage by striking out the side in the second and threw just eight pitches in a perfect third before the Cubs batted around in the bottom of the fourth. Sanchez walked Cody Bellinger and gave up a single to Seiya Suzuki, setting the table for Ian Happ’s three-run homer which turned a two-run Phillies lead into a deficit the rest of the way.

Three more Cubs reached base in the fourth inning and two scored. Rob Thomson sent Sanchez back out for the fifth and the lefty put Bellinger and Suzuki on again before being relieved by Seranthony Dominguez, who allowed Happ’s second three-run shot in as many innings.

The Phillies lost, 10-2. The only other time they’d allowed double-digit runs was March 30, the second day of the season. Sanchez was coming off of the first shutout of his career. He entered with the second-lowest ERA in the NL at 2.41 and exited at 2.96, which is still good for sixth in the league.

“I attribute it to the complete game, really,” Thomson said. “It takes its toll on you to throw a complete game, especially a guy who’s never been in a ninth inning before. He gets an extra day the next time and he’ll be good to go.

“He wasn’t getting ahead like he normally does. He did throw some good changeups but it wasn’t as consistent as it normally is. He’ll be fine.”

You knew that eventually, one of his pitches would catch the sweet spot and travel 400 feet. Sanchez had been taken deep just one time all season in 96⅓ innings before Happ launched one to left-center. Last season, he allowed 16 home runs in 99⅓ innings. Nobody avoids longballs at the rate Sanchez has in 2024.

He still warrants All-Star consideration. Pitchers and reserves are announced Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET, and even if Sanchez doesn’t make the team then, he would be a logical replacement for any pitcher who starts Sunday, July 14 in the final game before the All-Star break. Zack Wheeler, for example, is lined up to pitch next Sunday for the Phillies, which would deem him ineligible for the All-Star Game.

Part of being a manager is weighing whether to let a guy go complete or exercise caution with the future in mind. Thomson, for example, said the night of Michael Lorenzen’s no-hitter last summer that he was conscious of how the high pitch count might affect him moving forward and it certainly did.

Lorenzen threw 124 pitches in that game, though, compared to the 101 Sanchez threw in his complete game against the Marlins.

“You’ve got to let guys achieve some goals as long as it’s within reason and I thought it was last time, 101 pitches, not a big pitch count,” Thomson said. “But the nine ups takes its toll on you.”

Sanchez did not agree that his poor outing was a result of going complete last time, though you’d have a hard time finding a pitcher who complains about being given more innings.

“It was not that,” he said. “I just think that I missed some pitches that I shouldn’t have missed. I felt normal during the first time through the lineup but I started missing my spots the second time and they started executing.

“It’s just a part of the game. There’s going to be good days and bad days but we just have to remain focused and use the ‘pen when we have to.”

The Phillies opened the scoring on July 4 with a first-inning RBI single by Brandon Marsh after Trea Turner stole second with two outs. It marked the third straight plate appearance from Wednesday night into Thursday that Turner’s speed enabled the Phillies to manufacture a run. He legged out an infield single in his penultimate at-bat Wednesday and scored on an Alec Bohm homer. Then he scored the game-winning run on a sacrifice fly to very shallow center. On Thursday, he got a great jump on Jameson Taillon to set up Marsh’s knock.

Nick Castellanos hit a solo homer to extend the Phillies’ lead before Sanchez encountered problems. Castellanos has really come on, hitting .298 over his last 31 games with 11 doubles, a triple, six homers and 21 RBI.

The Cubs followed with 10 unanswered runs to prevent a Phillies sweep. The Phils still won the series and are 57-30 as they depart for a three-game weekend series in Atlanta.

It’s a big series but there won’t be nearly as much star-power as either side would have expected after last meeting on opening weekend. The Phillies will be without Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto while the Braves won’t have Ronald Acuña Jr., Michael Harris II or Spencer Strider.

In reality, all the Phillies need to do to maintain a comfortable division lead is win one of three games in Atlanta, which would ensure they return home up by at least seven games.

“It’s like any series, you’re looking to go in and win a series just like we did here,” Thomson said. “They’re a good club. They’ve got good pitching, and I know that everybody talks about how their offense hasn’t clicked yet but they’ve got a powerful team. We’ve got our hands full. Just go get ’em.”

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