By beating the Braves in four games instead of five, the Phillies positioned themselves better for the NLCS than they did in the NLDS.
They will have their ace, Zach Wheeler, on the mound for the first game after two days of extra rest.
Aaron Nola will start Game 2 with one day of extra rest.
Goalkeeper Suarez lines up for the third match after having two extra days of rest.
Then the Phillies will need a No. 4 starter for the first time in the 2023 season. They listed Taijuan Walker and Christopher Sanchez in both the wild-card rounds and the divisional rounds but did not use either pitcher.
Walker has not played since Sept. 30 at Citi Field. Sanchez pitched in relief that day but has not started a game since September 24. When someone starts in the NLCS, it will have been three weeks since their last outing.
“We had something ready for (them) today but we won’t be able to get on the field, so we’ll have to do something shorter tomorrow,” head coach Rob Thompson said Saturday before the team’s optional practice.
NLCS is best of 7. The Phils could use Wheeler in Games 1 and 5. They can use Nola in Games 2 and 6. They could use Suarez in Games 3 and 7, and everyone on the staff, except for the starter in Game 6, would likely be available for that theoretical win. Game.
The Diamondbacks will use their ace, Zac Gallen, in Game 1 and they could use him the same way the Phillies use Wheeler. Merrill Kelly will start Game 2 and can be used the same way the Phils use Nola.
Arizona’s pitching staff outside of those two is its weak point. The D-backs used rookie Brandon Pfaadt in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series and he gave up three runs on seven hits over two innings. Pfaadt had a 5.72 ERA in the regular season and batted .282 with an 0.862 OPS. He was even better in the NLDS against the Dodgers, pitching 4⅓ scoreless innings.
The Phillies will have a pitching advantage with Suarez against Pvadt, if that is indeed the matchup.
“Our top three, I’ll put them up against everyone, to tell you the truth, especially now,” Thompson said Saturday. “I feel really good about Ranger playing against anyone.”
Neither Walker nor Sanchez faced the Diamondbacks in the regular season. Thompson did not say which pitcher would start in the NLCS. Either one will likely have a short leash. Sanchez posted a 3.44 ERA in 99⅓ innings in the majors this season and had his best September, striking out 10 in two of his last three starts against the Braves and Mets.
Walker went 15-6 with a 4.38 ERA in 31 starts, striking out a career-high 172⅔ innings. He fits the description of an “innings eater,” but you don’t need to eat a ton of innings in the playoffs when you deploy high-leverage relievers early in games. The first innings were a major problem for Walker all year – he allowed 24 runs for a 7.04 ERA. He allowed no more than 15 runs in any other frame. How will three weeks of rest play a role?
After Pfaadt, Arizona doesn’t really have a No. 4 starter and could end up using the opener in the bullpen.
The D-backs’ most dangerous hitters are lefty Corbin Carroll, righties Christian Walker, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and switch-hitter Ketil Marte. Their catcher, Gabriel Moreno, has homered three times in five playoff games.
“Their whole team, during the Dodgers series, was hot. We have to realize that,” Thompson said.
The Diamondbacks love to run and use their athleticism. Carroll stole 54 bases in 59 attempts. Outfielder Jake McCarthy, a nine-hole hitter against righties, stole 26. Even Walker went 11-for-11.
“I didn’t have to read the reports to know they were really athletic and had a lot of speed,” Thompson said. “They play great defence, they cover a lot of ground, they run, and just when you think they’re done running, they’ll run some more. They’ve got some solid hitting in the middle of their lineup, and good pitching. This is a really good club. “It is no coincidence that they ranked first in the West.”
The Phillies have handled their running game well in both playoff series, better than their opponents. Some of that was JT Realmuto with his quick exchanges and tough throws. Some of them were a Phillies pitching staff that was simply limiting key players.
A big part of it is that their pitchers are quicker to get to the plate. Nola has incorporated the slide step over the past month and not only has it helped control base stealers, it has also disrupted hitters’ timing. He felt for years that the slip step negatively affected his stuff, but that’s not the case now. Closer Craig Kimbrel, who led the majors in pitch clock violations in 2023, also tried to speed things up.
“I feel good about it now. If you had asked me that question a month ago, I would have gotten a different answer,” Thompson said. “But our guys were aware of that, and they tried to hurry up to give JT a chance.
“The coaching staff, we got together and talked to some of the guys about we need to step up a little bit. And Aaron certainly did a tremendous job on that. It’s been a conscious effort throughout the coaching staff.”
The Phillies will be at full strength for Game 1 Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. They had a scare with Bryce Harper in the eighth inning of the NLDS clincher when Braves first baseman Matt Olson inadvertently hit the elbow that Harper had surgically repaired last Thanksgiving.
Harper immediately grabbed his arm as silence fell over the noisy crowd. But he returned for the ninth game 10 minutes later and said afterwards it was just a funny bone.
“He’s good, he’s ready to go,” Thompson said. “He was here today and it’s good to leave.”
“Beer enthusiast. Subtly charming alcohol junkie. Wannabe internet buff. Typical pop culture lover.”