Grading the Phillies after stunning NLDS win over Braves

Philadelphia Phillies vs diamondbacks
The Philadelphia Phillies pose for a picture after Game 4 of a baseball NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in Philadelphia. The Phillies won 3-1 to win the series. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Good morning, Philadelphia! The 2023 Phillies did it again on Thursday night as they eliminated the National League East Champion Atlanta Braves for the second consecutive year in the National League Division Series.

From Blooper getting annihilated on social media to the Braves’ supposed historic offense running dry, the Braves did just about everything they could to lose this year’s matchup. But since the Braves don’t like anything negative being said about them, especially if it’s just something that came out of Orlando Arcia’s mouth, let’s take a moment to look at the Phillies, who did well, and who needs to step it up in the National League Championship Series.

Phillies’ Standouts Versus the Braves

Nick Castellanos (A+)

Last month, Nick Castellanos stood on the steps of the Phillies’ dugout, looking out to the infield as the Braves celebrated clinching the NL East in Philadelphia. He seemed to take that quite personally.

After a quiet Game One in which he went 0-for-4, Castellanos turned up the heat, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and a walk in Games 2’s loss.

Once he hopped on the plane to return home, however, Casty started cooking. Coming up to the plate to start the bottom of the third, Castellanos faced Bryce Elder, who dispatched the top six of the Phillies’ order with relative ease in the first two innings. On a 1-0 count, Castellanos connected on a sinker running inside, sending it into section 142. This would be Castellanos’ first of four he would hit over the next 30 hours.

Phillies
Philadelphia Phillies’ Nick Castellanos flips his bat after hitting a home run during the sixth inning of Game 4 of a baseball NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in Philadelphia.(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Overall on the series, Castellanos went 7-for-15 with a ridiculous 1.796 OPS. He scored five runs with four solo homers and two walks. As the team celebrated on the field, erasing the stain left by the Braves a month prior, Castellanos found his 10-year old son and beloved Philadelphia icon, Liam Castellanos.

Hours later, well past what would be a typical bed time for a 10-year old, Liam was singing out AOK right next to Bryson Stott. But it’s okay, he’s home-schooled!

Bryce Harper (A)

Okay, look. This would absolutely be an A+, but Harper’s gamble in Game Two just did not pay off and the Phillies could have won if that didn’t happen.

With that out of the way, Harper was every bit as productive this series as Castellanos. 6-for-13, five walks, three home runs, five runs, five RBI. A 1.765 OPS. There is a reason Harper is so beloved in Philadelphia.

Harper recorded a hit in every game throughout the series, scoring two of the Phillies’ three runs in Game One. Then all of the fun came at the end of Game Two.

Down by one run in the top of the ninth, Harper reached base on a walk. With one out, Castellanos stepped up, smacking a ball to the center field wall. Harper, determined to go from first to home on the play, rounded second as center field Michael Harris II made a fantastic play to cut off what would have been an extra-base hit for Castellanos. Despite Harper’s best efforts, Harris got the ball in to first before Harper could tag back up, pulling a game-ending double play

Atta-boy Harper.

Phillies
Philadelphia Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper (3) hits a solo homer against the Atlanta Braves during the sixth inning of Game 1 of a baseball NL Division Series, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Harper returned to Philadelphia and chose violence. Wednesday night, Harper slugged two home runs off of Bryce Elder and former teammate Brad Hand, recording four RBI as the Phillies trounced the Braves 10-2. Orlando Arcia will be seeing that staredown from Harper in his sleep for weeks to come.

Manager Brian Snitker of the Braves admitted to not wanting to pitch to Harper on Thursday night, resulting in two intentional walks for Harper. He still managed to go 1-for-2 on the night, reaching base three times, despite Snitker’s efforts to eliminate Harper from the game.

The Pitchers (A)

The Phillies’ entire pitching staff gave exactly what you wanted to see over the course of the four-game series. Ranger Suarez allowed only one run across two outings while Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola kept the Braves to two earned runs apiece over their starts. Keeping the Atlanta Braves, who had the best offense in baseball over the regular season, to only five earned runs off of the starting pitchers is an amazing feat.

But we can’t ignore the bullpen either in this conversation. Over 14 1/3 innings, the Phillies’ bullpen allowed only two runs to cross the plate for the Braves, both coming in Jeff Hoffman’s blow-up inning during Game Two. While there were one or two scary moments along the way, it would be more shocking if those moments did not come. The entire staff combined to pitch an elite 1.80 ERA against the Braves, shutting down their explosive offense.

Turn-Around Candidates

Johan Rojas (C)

Look, we’re going to be nice to the kid. Johan Rojas has done an amazing job since making his MLB debut on July 15th. His defense in center field is sublime and he is a clear part of the Phillies’ clubhouse.

But.

In 16 plate appearances against the Braves, Rojas reached base once via a walk. As much of a defensive giant he is, Rojas was nothing but a liability offensively. If he wants to keep his job long-term, Rojas will need to work out how to hit at least the Mendoza line in the postseason as a speedy center fielder.

Phillies
Philadelphia Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber center, celebrates after the Phillies won an NL wild-card baseball playoff series against the Miami Marlins, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Kyle Schwarber (C-)

Speaking of the Mendoza line. The Phillies’ regular season leader in both home runs and walks found himself cold against the Braves. Schwarber went 2-for-17 against the Braves with one walk, scoring zero runs out of the leadoff position.

Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Schwarber batting leadoff. But it’s worked for Topper. Unfortunately, it means there is nowhere for Schwarber to hide when he finds himself in cold streaks.

Moving on to Arizona

The truth is, the Phillies have a deep lineup. Not everyone needs to contribute in order for the Phillies to find success. The deeper the Phillies get into the playoffs, however, the more value they will need to find from every plate appearance, from every inning pitched.

Now, the Phillies have a weekend of rest ahead of them before they host the Arizona Diamondbacks to begin the NLCS on Monday night.

AP Photo/Chris Szagola