Red October is back! After waiting almost a year, the Phillies are back in the playoffs and poised to go on yet another deep run. As always, the season was a roller coaster but over 162 games and 6 months, which one isn’t? The highs have far outweighed the lows in 2023 and it led to a playoff berth and their first 90-win season since 2011.
The playoffs start right here in South Philly for a 3 game Wild Card Series on Tuesday night. Standing in the Phillies’ way however is an old nemesis, the Miami Marlins.
Almost every Phillies fan has experienced some sort of Marlins-related trauma. Whether it was 20 years ago when rookie Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine beat them for a wild card spot in 2003, or from the numerous frustrating, and embarrassing losses (that I will not list to keep the positive vibes) over the last half-decade that have prevented the Phillies from reaching the postseason. Philadelphia has played Miami better this season but can truly exercise some past demons this week.
The Phillies won 90 games in 2023, improving upon last season by 3 wins. They went 49-32 at home and 41-40 on the road, their first winning road record since 2012. The team was top 4 in the National League in both runs scored and runs allowed, making for a balanced all-around attack. They finished 2nd in the NL East, and on September 26, clinched their second straight Wild Card spot.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Phillies and the Marlins is their offense. The Phillies are built to smash the bell while the Marlins have a difficult time scoring runs in general. On the Philadelphia side, they have 6 players who hit 20 or more runs and 9 who had at least double digits, led by Kyle Schwarber’s 47.
While it took a few months for them to click as an offense, they have been as dominant as any team since August 4th, the day of the Trea Turner ovation. The Phillies offense isn’t conventional but it works for them. Schwarber has had an extremely weird yet productive season out of the lead-off spot, Castellanos has returned to his All-Star form and Turner is playing like the star he was paid to be.
Harper started slow after recovering from Tommy John surgery but since he started playing 1st base, has found his power stroke again. If he had played the whole season there’s no doubt he would’ve ended up in the MVP conversation.
The daycare kids all took another step forward, as Marsh, Stott, and Bohm have all become integral contributors to the team. The Phillies have the deepest bench they’ve had in quite some time as well, with guys like Johan Rojas, Christian Pache, Jake Cave, Weston Wilson, Garrett Stubbs, and Edmundo Sosa. The Phillies are never truly out of a game with this unit and can carry the team to wins.
This Phillies offense is extremely deep and is a definitive advantage over the Marlins in this series. Offense in the postseason can sometimes be difficult but it will be even harder to suppress this lineup for a full 9 innings. The Marlins have a very good pitching staff but have never experienced a lineup like this in a high-stress postseason environment.
The bigger question mark on the Phillies is their pitching staff. Zach Wheeler looks poised to have another dominant October but the starters behind him all have some level of worry. Aaron Nola, for lack of a better term, is just Aaron Nola. Incredibly talented but extremely inconsistent and frustrating to watch. 2023 has been his worst season to date but he does have a chance to rewrite that narrative in the postseason.
In his last 2 starts of the season, he has gone 12 2/3 innings and allowed only 3 runs to 16 strikeouts. The stuff is always there with him but it depends on his ability to bear down and battle through adversity. If he can unlock himself for this run, the ceiling of the Phillies is almost limitless.
Ranger Suarez has had an okay year, but there is not as much worry around him as he had significantly more flashes of excellence than other pitchers on the roster like Nola.
Christopher Sanchez most likely will not get a playoff start but maybe deserves one, after coming up from Triple-A midseason and stabilizing the rotation. He has far outperformed Taijian Walker who just cannot be trusted with big innings as he’s too unreliable and at times, seems incapable of getting outs in the 1st or 2nd innings.
After these starters eventually exit their games, they hand the ball over to the high-octane bullpen. The Phillies have quietly built a good pen and have acquired a lot of guys with really good velocity or movement on their pitches.
They signed Jeff Hoffman, who went from a first-round bust and journeyman to maybe the Phillies 3rd or 4th option in late-game, high-leverage situations.
Matthew Strahm has been a great addition as a swingman, transitioning between starter and reliever throughout the season. Craig Kimbrel has had a resurgent year but has been a little shaky down the stretch. He does have a good amount of postseason experience and manager Rob Thompson trusts him, so Kimbrel will see some innings at the end of games.
Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado carried the bullpen last year and hopefully can stay fresh with more options around them this year. And of course, there’s the rookie Orion Kerkering, who could be a potential weapon. He started the year in Low-A ball and has risen to the major leagues after just 5 months. He throws gas, up to 100 mph in his MLB debut, and has nasty movement on his slider. In a season full of great storylines, he could end up being one of the greatest.
Phillies vs Marlins: Final Verdict
The 2023 Phillies are an improvement over the 2022 team in just about every aspect. They have a deeper lineup, a deeper rotation, and a deeper bullpen than last year, which translated to a higher seed and home-field advantage in the first round.
However, that does not guarantee postseason success. The Phillies are a better team than the Marlins on paper but the games are not played on paper. They need to be ready to play with everything they have because these Marlins will not go down without a fight, as we’ve seen all season and in past years. The Phils need to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them to further establish themselves as a power in the National League.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum