The Phillies are singing and dancing on their own into the National League Championship Series
Boy, what an NLDS it was between them and the Atlanta Braves, and now, all of this feels familiar.
With a small exception: Nick Castellanos made history in front of 45,831 fans.
It was another epic battle between the NL East rivals as the Phillies dispatched the 104-win Braves for the second consecutive year. Citizens Bank Park was rocking as the Phillies went 26-11 in the postseason at The Bank – the best postseason record for any team at a home venue (min: 20 games).
Philadelphia won on the exact 3-1 count they did in 2022 and now they move on to face the Arizona Diamondback in the NL Championship Series.
(Almost) everything Philadelphia touched was gold
This wasn’t a 10-2 win like Game 3 but it was a strong start for Philadelphia from the start. The Phillies made life uncomfortable for Atlanta ace Spencer Strider from the jump, with two baserunners in each of the first three innings.
Sure, Atlanta made it 1-0 after Austin Riley hit a solo homer against Phillies left-hander Ranger Suárez, and CBP fell silent for the first time all postseason. Yet that was the lone moment for Atlanta’s evening.
Then came the man of the game: Mr. Nick Castellanos.
He smashed a first-pitch hanging slider from Strider with one out in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game. Make that home one number one of the game. Castellanos cooking with fire.
His son Liam was in attendance and he’s become a fixture at The Bank. But a 1-1 game was nothing to get comfortable about and in the fifth inning, Trea Turner fixed that. It was another solo dinger from the Phillies to make it a 2-1 ballgame. He had four hits on the night.
Insurance never hurts and for Philadelphia, putting more distance between them and Atlantal. Chef Castellanos made sure of that. He walloped his second dinger. It came with two outs in the sixth and finished Strider for the evening. The second historic homer was a 415-foot shot off a 100-mph fastball, leaving his bat at 112.4 mph.
Castellanos became the first player in major league history to hit two home runs in consecutive playoff games. It also added to the ever-growing legend of a man who has gained a cult following here, a baseball “himbo.” A big, brawny baseball bro known for his unexpected tendency to offer wisdom to those around him. In this case, it’s his fellow Phillies teammates.
The final run of the game came off center fielder Johan Rojas to make it a 4-1 game.
In pitching, swingman Ranger Suárez was lined up against Strider and performed manager Rob Thomson’s work. Yet the weak spot for the Phils tonight was the bullpen. Lefty reliever Jose Alvarado lost control at the worst time. He walked hitters Kevin Pillar and Orlando Arcia with two outs in the seventh. Closer Craig Kimbrel, summoned in this spot to take down right-handed pinch-hitter Travis d’Arnaud, also issued a walk.
Philly got as close as it could to losing the momentum when Ronald Acuña Jr. sent the ball into the left-center field gap. Another scary moment came when Bryce Harper’s surgically fixed elbow made contact with Matt Olson’s knee at first base. Time will tell if it’s something to be concerned about. For now, all’s well that ends well as the Phillies sent Atlanta back home to keep enjoying Red October from their couches.
Screaming, crying, throwing up (for Atlanta)
Painful enough was watching their 101-win NL East championship team eliminated by the wild-card Phillies in a four-game NLDS a year ago. Swallowing the same pill twice doesn’t feel nice.
So many things that went right for the Braves during the regular season just seemed kaput in the postseason. This team had an MLB record with 307 home runs during the regular season. But that play with the long ball can lead to problems against better pitching in the postseason.
Their stars weren’t living up to expectations. Acuña was 2-for-15 in the series and had six groundouts in the Games 3-4 losses. Olson was a nonstarter, dealing with tough Phillies lefty relievers throughout the series.
Pitching was really where the Braves fell short. Strider was supposed to be the saving grace for Atlanta as a strikeout leader and their best hope. Against the Phils he’s 8-0 with a 1.90 ERA in eight regular-season games including seven starts, but 0-3 in three NLDS starts including losses in the first and last games of this series. They had injury issues too, mainly Charlie Morton missing time with a finger injury.
There’s always 2024, right?
What’s next for Philadelphia
Clinching their second straight NLCS berth is a massive accomplishment. Now they face the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The upstart D-backs await the Phillies in the championship series, which starts on Monday in Philadelphia. Neither team has announced a Game 1 starter but it could be Philly local Zac Gallen will throw for the D-Backs, and the Phillies will counter with their ace Zack Wheeler.
Philadelphia is emerging as a playoff force bigger than the sum of their regular season parts again, just like they did last year. They’re also ramping up their odds of winning the World Series.
NLCS Game 1 will see the first pitch between the Phillies vs. Diamondbacks at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS.
AP Photo/Chris Szagola