The Philadelphia Phillies begin their next playoff series today as they travel to Atlanta to take on the NL East Champion Braves in the NLDS. Every game from here on out will continue to be the biggest game in the past decade for the Phils, and the pressure mounts with every round. So too does the competition, though. The Braves are an absolute wagon; they’re the defending World Series Champions, they were the hottest team in baseball in the 2nd half of the regular season, and they are littered with young stars that are perfectly capable of repeating. All of that being said, though, the Phillies are also perfectly capable of ousting Atlanta and pulling off their 2nd straight series upset. It will take a lot of things going right to realize that goal, and here are the major keys that need to be focused on to make sure it happens.
The first key to this series is the big Phillies’ bats playing like their paychecks, something that we haven’t seen at points this season and aren’t really seeing now. The usual top 5 batters in the Phils’ lineup are Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, JT Realmuto, Bryce Harper, and Nick Castellanos. In the NL Wild Card Series against the Cardinals, those 5 players combined to go 3 for 37, good for a batting average of .083. That is AWFUL. If that happens against Atlanta, the Philadelphia Phillies will be on a golf course by next Monday. The pitching isn’t getting any easier against the Braves, so there’s no relief coming from a competition stand point. One or a few of those top 5 guys have to knuckle up and produce highly in the NLDS if the Phillies are to have a chance.
The next key to taking down Atlanta falls on the rotation, but not Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Those two can throw back to back perfect games and it might not matter in the grand scheme of the NLDS. In a 5 game series, a strange combination is created of “every game is hugely important” and “you can’t throw your best arms every game”. That means that a couple players will have to step up for the Phillies, starting with Ranger Suarez and Bailey Falter. Suarez will start game 1, and Falter could potentially start game 4 or piggyback off of a shorter start from either Suarez, Wheeler, or Nola. Those are big roles for two young players who have never pitched in the MLB Playoffs. The good news is that both of those guys have shown flashes of being very capable pitchers at this level, Suarez in 2021 and Falter this season, but they are still not Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. They’ll have to rise to the moment, or the Braves proven lineup will take advantage.
The last key to an NLDS win for the Fightins rests on other arms, but not in the starting rotation. The bullpen was exceptional in the Wild Card series, and frankly they have been impressive for the large majority of the 2022 campaign. Jose Alvarado is a force, Zach Eflin is a pleasant surprise in clutch moments, and David Robertson is a veteran who has been here before… And then, who else do you have? Seranthony Dominguez was great in his appearance in the Wild Card series, but that’s probably where the list ends. In a 5 game series, there’s a good chance that you won’t get through without having to employ Brad Hand or Connor Brogdon. I don’t feel very comfortable with those two at all, and they could have to pitch an incredibly high leverage inning or two. Yes, those top bullpen arms will have to do their jobs as well, but the depth of the bullpen will have to prove sturdy enough to neutralize some good Braves hitters. It will take depth and production in just about every facet, though, for the Phillies to take down the champs. It won’t be easy, but playoff series rarely are.