Who should the Phillies start in game 4 of the NLCS?

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Philadelphia Phillies
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

So far this postseason, the Philadelphia Phillies‘ three-person starting pitcher carousel has gone perfectly to plan. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Ranger Suarez have combined to earn six of the Phillies’ seven postseason wins thus far. The only other player with a decision so far this postseason is Jeff Hoffman, who is 1-1 after taking the decision in both of the Phillies’ games played in Atlanta during the National League Division Series.

Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola pitched marvelously in Games One and Two against Arizona, combining to throw 12.0 innings while allowing two runs on six hits. Walks? None. Strikeouts? Fifteen. Philadelphia’s twin aces have proven themselves October-ready this year following a late-postseason collapse from both of them in 2022.

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) aims a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Friday, July 7, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

With Ranger Suarez set to face Diamondbacks rookie Brandon Pfaadt on Thursday in Game Three of the National League Championship Series, the Phillies have finally reached a bit of a fork in the road: who starts Game Four?

Do the Phillies Continue with the Three-Man Rotation?

An argument can be made for not using a fourth starting pitcher altogether. After all, Suarez pitched both Game One and Game Four of the NLDS against the Braves just last week, and did so with success allowing just one run in 8.2 innings.

But, there was an extra day of rest in the mix for the Phillies then. There was an additional day of rest built into the NLDS calendar, meaning a starting pitcher could throw both Games One and Four on full rest.

Zack Wheeler could pitch Game Four, sure, but it would better work in the Phillies’ favor to give Wheeler, Nola, and Suarez all full rest in between starts and to pitch someone else in Game Four. After all, they have three starting pitching options to choose from.

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Ranger Suarez (55) delivers during the first inning of Game 1 of a baseball NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Which Starter Do You Choose?

And so just like a 10-year old kid about to choose between a fire-type, water-type, or grass-type Pokemon (water is the correct answer, by the way), the Phillies must choose a starter.

The Phillies’ three choices for starting Game Three are Taijuan Walker, Cristopher Sanchez, and Michael Lorenzen. NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman believes the list can be narrowed down to Walker and Sanchez.

Which is fair. Given Lorenzen’s regular-season ERA with the Phillies is 5.51 (and that’s including the no-hitter), it’s natural to focus in on the better starters in Walker and Sanchez. Neither has faced the Diamondbacks this season and while Sanchez’s lower ERA at 3.44 may give him the edge, Walker has more major league experience and may prove the more sure arm in Arizona.

Who would you choose? While we will need to wait until likely the postgame press conference after Game Three, I already know who I would pick…

I Would Start All Three of Them

Yes, that’s right. I’m choosing to have my cake, eat it too, and have some leftovers for tomorrow too!

Here’s what I would do:

You start Sanchez as the official starter of Game Four, but with a catch. Sanchez will face nine batters. No more. No less. If he throws three perfect frames, perfect. If not, once he faces the entire Diamondbacks lineup, you take him out of the game.

Philadelphia Phillies starter Cristopher Sanchez pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, July 6, 2023, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

Then, at the start of the next inning, bring in Walker and give him the same instructions. Nine up, then sit down. Then, whatever point at the game this finds us, do the same with Lorenzen, bringing him in to start the next inning.

This strategy ensures that the Diamondbacks’ lineup never gets into a groove against any of these pitchers for the Phillies as they are only seeing them once each. It also gives all three pitchers a chance to get stretched out in a postseason environment given that Lorenzen is the only one to have thrown an inning out of the bullpen thus far.

And in the scenario that one of the pitchers comes out in the middle of an inning, the Phillies go to the bullpen to finish the inning (likely either Matt Strahm, Jeff Hoffman, or Orion Kerkering). Then, to start the next inning, the following starter in line comes out.

Starting pitchers are generally not used to entering a game in the middle of an inning with runners on base while relievers are. Using relievers to finish innings as such allows the starters to know when they are coming into the game and allows them to prepare as such in their warm-ups.

The Phillies are in Great Shape

One thing is for certain: regardless who starts on Friday night in Game Four, the Phillies are in great shape with their rotation. Assuming the Phillies do not start Wheeler on Friday, Wheeler would get the ball in a potential Game Five on Saturday, with Nola and Suarez getting Games Six and Seven, respectively.

Either way, it leaves a fully rested Zack Wheeler ready to open the World Series, whether in Philadelphia or in Arlington, on Friday, October 27th.

AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson