It’s been one year since the Philadelphia Phillies were the wedding crashers in the MLB postseason.
This time, they were the guests of honor.
The Miami Marlins were lucky to have the Phillies as their opponent; for the Phils, they’re heavily favored to win. It’s also the fourth time in franchise history and the Marlins find themselves back in playoffs for the first time since 2020. They made THAT season because it was only 60 games long, and they expanded the number of teams to make the field.
Miami played Philadelphia back at Citizens Bank Park at the beginning of September with the Marlins taking two out of three games. Now they have a home-field advantage and it already feels like they’re in a better position to make a deep run in Red October.
Things weren’t always poised to work out for the Phils. Outfielder Bryce Harper recovered from Tommy John surgery to create another excellent season after returning earlier than expected. Shortstop Trea Turner came alive in the second half (remember the standing ovations?) and showed why Philadelphia shoveled over $300 million for him this past winter.
Philadelphia’s lineup should incite fear
The Phillies are not marathoners when it comes to postseason runs. Yes, they made the World Series last year but they’re good taking things in chunks as they come. This time they have a well-tested lineup and now they deeper bullpen in case of injury. Philadelphia also didn’t lose a postseason game at home last year until the World Series.
Homers will be the name of the game and for guys like Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos to pad their lineup. Philly has six different players reach the 20-homer mark for the first time in club history. Harper posted a .900 OPS with 21 homers in 126 games. Turner also had 26 home runs with 30 steals and a .778 OPS in 155 games. And the Phillies wouldn’t have made the Wild Card without Schwarber’s 47 home runs, 104 RBIs, 126 walks, and a .817 OPS.
Miami also doesn’t scare the Phillies. They’re 40-42 against them since 2019 and have lost the season series four of the last five years. The Marlins have second baseman Luis Arraez. He had people talking about him becoming the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to hit .400 for a season, instead, he had to settle for a .354 average. They’re not going to allow themselves to be hooked and reeled in but they’re not coming in as the upset.
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Phillies vs. Marlins Pitching Matchups
Here is how it stands for projected pitching for the series:
- Game 1: RHP Zack Wheeler (13-6, 3.61 ERA) vs. LHP Jesús Luzardo (10-9, 3.63 ERA)
- Game 2: RHP Aaron Nola (12-9, 4.46) vs. LHP Braxton Garrett (10-9, 3.63 ERA)
- Game 3: LHP Ranger Suárez (4-6, 4.18 ERA) vs. RHP Edward Cabrera (7-7, 4.24 ERA)
There’s a strong lineup here…one that could propel their team further to the World Series.
Hint: it’s not Miami.
Miami is dealing with injuries to their rotation. Both Sandy Alcantara and Eury Pérez, the Marlins’ top starting pitchers, will miss the series due to injury. Luzardo went 10-9 this season with a 3.63 ERA. He has made three postseason appearances before (with the 2019 and 2020 A’s), and owns a 5.91 ERA through 10.2 playoff innings.
He’s up against Wheeler and that in Game 1 should be a concern for Miami. The righty went 13-6 this season for the Phillies with a 3.61 ERA. He struck out 212 batters in 192.0 innings. Wheeler is the best pitcher in the rotation and according to Baseball Reference, Wheeler’s 19.6 WAR from 2020-23 is the best among all pitchers in baseball.
Wheeler is the best guy on the mound for the Phils but behind him is where there is a small bit of pause.
Game 2 starter Garrett is a lefty and the Phillies have struggled against them this season. He has a .600 OPS against left-handed batters. He had a breakout season and logged a 2.10 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 21 strikeouts in 25.2 innings over his final five starts. The man on the opposite mound for him will be Nola and that’s a tall order.
While this might be the twilight ride for Nola and the Phillies, it also wasn’t his pitched his best in 2023. His two September starts, including the clincher last week, were better. He didn’t walk a batter in 12 2/3 innings. He kept the ball down. Nola did so well in the No. 2 slot behind Zack Wheeler during the early portion of the 2022 postseason, tossing quality starts in his first two outings. Both of those ended up being Phillies wins.
Should Game 3 be needed, Suárez will be the likely choice for manager Rob Thomson. Hopefully, that won’t be needed but he’s prepared. Suárez struggled in May and July, but besides that, he’s been great for the Phillies. He also provides them with a lefty arm that has bested superstar lefties like Freddie Freeman, Matt Olson, and Cody Bellinger in the National League.
Bullpen power is the secret weapon
The one X factor for the Phillies to win and advance is their bullpen strength. It’s not WILDLY different. Yet it’s improved in ways that will assist tired arms. José Alvarado and Craig Kimbrel are strong late-inning options. Recently, Alvarado has found the form that was memorable in the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Kimbrel is a roller coaster ride but the eye test and anecdotal evidence show he can come in clutch on the mound when needed.
Jeff Hoffman can handle righties and Matt Strahm is a pitching Swiss army knife. Don’t forget newbie Orion Kerkering who started in Low-A is now a solid option. Strahm opened the season as a starter out of necessity, did an admirable job, and then went to the bullpen where he has been even better. He’s got the confidence to attack and challenge hitters in the strike zone.
Game 1 and 2 will go to the Phillies. It’s not that Miami can’t push the Wild Card series to three games but the Phillies have the right formula to advance to the NLDS.
The Phillies win Game 1 by a score of 2-0. The Phillies win Game 2 by a score of 4-3.
AP Photo/Derik Hamilton