Series Preview: Phillies splash down in San Diego in hopes to bolster 2023 Wild Card lead

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Philadelphia Phillies’ Bryce Harper rounds the bases after a two-run home run during the eighth inning in Game 5 of the baseball NL Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

An odd road trip has taken the Phillies from the middle of America to the West Coast.

With their season series against the Milwaukee Brewers concluded, the Phillies now head to California to finish things off with the San Diego Padres.

The Phils took 3 of 4 against the Padres back at home earlier this season and needed just one win in this series to take the season matchup between the two clubs.

This will be the first time the Phillies are back in San Diego since the NLCS last season, where they split a pair of games before eventually heading home to win the pennant in Philadelphia.

Before the season began, this matchup could have potentially held playoff implications. Now, the Phillies are just looking to stay the course en route to back-to-back post-season appearances, while the Padres are looking to the heavens for a miracle.

San Diego Padres’ Juan Soto reacts after striking out during the fourth inning in Game 1 of the baseball NL Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Phillies had a weekend wake up call

In my opinion, the Phillies dropped a critical series this past weekend in Milwaukee.

While the Brewers are looking like they will hang onto the NL Central division, I looked at the weekend’s matchup as a measuring stick series.

The Brew Crew are almost the complete opposites of the Phillies. They rely on dominant pitching and defense and hope to see their offense produce just enough to win games. The Phillies have relied on a potent offense to overcome their average-at-best defense, as well as their struggling pitching staff.

A better performance by the bullpen on Friday was the difference in winning the series for these teams, but the Phillies can bounce back with a strong series in San Diego.

Phillies Matt Strahm
Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Matt Strahm works against the Toronto Blue Jays during the seventh inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, in Toronto. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Padres are not a playoff team and unless they win out, have little to no hope left.

Despite San Diego not having a good record, the talent on their club is undeniable. Led by Juan Soto, Manny Machado, and Fernando Tatis Jr., this club can easily rally together for a series win if things fall correctly. The Phillies cannot afford to drop another series if they want to hold onto the top Wild Card spot.

Bouncing back from a bad series in Milwaukee and taking two of three on the road in San Diego would be a nice recovery on the road before heading home to host the Miami Marlins in a playoff-dependent matchup.

Pitching Advantage

The Phillies will be sending Taijuan Walker, Michael Lorenzen, and Zack Wheeler to the mound in this upcoming series against the Padres.

They will face Rich Hill, Pedro Avila, and Michael Wacha in those respective games.

Starting pitching will favor the Phils in all three games, but their starters have to go out and get the job done. This unit was one of the very best in baseball through the month of July, but recent struggles in August have brought them back down to Earth.

Phillies Greg Soto
Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Gregory Soto (30) works against the Toronto Blue Jays during the ninth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023, in Toronto. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press via AP)

With a struggling bullpen as well, if Walker, Lorenzen, and Wheeler can each go 6 innings at least in their starts, it could go a long way in helping this team find their groove.

By facing poor starting pitching, there is no reason why the Phillies can’t give their starters leads. They have been trailing in practically every game over the last month, and while this team lives for comeback moments, it is not a recipe for success.

Winning the starting pitching matchups will be key to winning this upcoming series.

Wild Card Outlook

As we head into Monday’s series opener with the Padres, the Phillies have a 5.5-game lead in the Wild Card. They lead the second-place team Chicago Cubs by 2.5 games, and with the head-to-head tiebreaker, it is a 3.5-game lead.

With 26 games to go, the Phillies would need to go 15-11 to reach the 90-win mark. With 7 games against the Mets and 3 games against the Pirates at the end of the season, a .500 record against the Padres, Marlins, and Braves could be enough to coast into the 4 seed.

Winning each series would certainly be a confidence booster for the club and fan base but in terms of locking in that top Wild Card spot, they just have to play slightly above-average ball the rest of the way.

Their games against the Braves will be challenging, but the Phillies have played Atlanta better than more clubs in the last few seasons. (Check the 2022 NLDS)

Another good week of baseball could start to lock the playoffs into form, and I have faith that the Phillies will be hosting the first round of the playoffs come October.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke