With the Phillies finally ending their eleven year stretch of looking for something else to do in October that is the opposite of playing baseball, we can now comfortably discuss the playoffs. There is no fear of reprisal from the baseball gods. No, we are allowed to think about what is going to happen starting Friday.
Now that we are looking at playing the Cardinals (it’s definite right?), our focus shifts to who is going to be on the playoff roster. Without a pitcher to worry about having to hit for, there is a modicum of strategy that has been removed, but it also means that the strength of this team - its starting pitching - doesn’t have to be neutralized by the need for run creation. Rob Thomson can simply worry about trying to put the best offense he can on the lineup card he exchanges at home plate come Friday.
With all that being said, what does the initial playoff roster look like? Remember, each round a team advances, they can change their roster as they see fit. Someone who maybe works matchup wise against the Cardinals may not work as much in the next round should they advance. Let’s take a stab at what Thomson is thinking.
Infield - Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm, Edmundo Sosa, Nick Maton
The components of the infield are pretty easy. We know who the starters are going to be. It’s the backups that are interesting. Sosa hasn’t played a game since September 15 and with the minors league season complete, there isn’t anywhere really for him to go get some live at bats. Much like Nick Castellanos did, if the team were to activate him in time for the Cardinals’ series, he would just face a lot of live, ramped up batting practice prior to Friday’s game. It’s not his bat, though, that the team is after. Even with Bohm having a much better defensive season, there is still an upgrade from him to Sosa in the field. With even the smallest advantage highlighted in the course of a short series, if the Phillies can get an upgrade from Bohm to Sosa in the field, they should take it.
Maton is really only here in case of injury. He’s a good guy to have in the clubhouse and by all accounts, the team loves having his energy on the team. But if Maton is seeing any kind of meaningful at bats this weekend, something has gone horribly wrong.
Outfield - Nick Castellanos, Brandon Marsh, Kyle Schwarber, Matt Vierling
The outfield is much the same, at least as far as the corners are concerned. You know Schwarber and Castellanos are going to be there, regardless of their lack of batting average (Schwarber) or lack of power (Castellanos).
It’s center field that is a question.
We aren’t really sure who the Cardinals are going to line up as far as their rotation goes, but is Thomson going to play the platoons here? If the choice is one of Adam Wainwright or Miles Mikolas, you can be certain that Marsh is going to be in the middle of the outfield. But what if St. Louis decides to play the hot hand in Jose Quintana? It’s not completely out of the question as he has been outstanding in his last five non-tuneup starts (30 1⁄3 IP, 0.89 ERA (1.66 FIP), .454 OPS, 28:3 BB:K). If that is the direction the Cardinals lean, does Thomson start Vierling in the field even if it is a bit of a defensive hit? He hasn’t exactly lit up left handers this season (.756 OPS v. LHP), but compared to Marsh’s .486 OPS against lefties, it’s really a no contest.
Doing the whole platoon thing also lessens the team’s options on the depth chart. If one of the two center fielders were get a start in the beginning of the game, then get substituted in the middle innings, then the team is a little thin in case injury happens. It’s scary to think about, but these are the decisions the team is going to have to make when choosing it’s best combination of offensive options.
Catcher - J.T. Realmuto, Garrett Stubbs
DH - Bryce Harper
Starters - Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Bailey Falter
The chess match starts here.
It’s only a three game series to start, so there is no need to worry about having all five starters available. So why have Falter here?
Let’s say that there is a small likelihood Wheeler gets knocked around a bit in the first game, giving up, say, 5 runs in the first three innings. Thomson will have a decision to make. Does he let Wheeler continue to throw, soaking up innings and conceding the game, does he start using his better relievers in shorter bursts to try and keep the game close into the final frames, or does he put someone like Falter out there to save those relievers? The same thing can be said if the Phillies win the first game and Nola finds himself getting batted around in game two. In a short, three game series, there really is no option of simply conceding a game and waiting until tomorrow. Even in there is a blowout, there has to be every option exhausted trying to get that victory, even if it means using relievers three days in a row. Keeping Falter on the roster would help soften that blow as he would be able to give the team effective length out of the bullpen. He’s been able to get up quickly before, something that maybe can’t be said about Noah Syndergaard, who we’ll talk about in a bit.
Relievers - Seranthony Dominguez, Zach Eflin, David Robertson, Jose Alvarado, Andrew Bellatti, Connor Brogdon, Nick Nelson, Chris Devenski, Noah Syndergaard
The first four relievers here are the ones that are going to be ridden this postseason. They are the ones that Thomson will be leaning on whenever the game is close, be it in their favor or needing to keep it close enough for the offense to fight back. It’s the final five that present an issue.
Thomson has shown remarkable belief in all of his relievers, even to the point of us questioning his sanity. When Brogdon was going through a rough stretch, Thomson still sent him out to the mound in higher leverage situations.
9/7 - 9/20: 5 G, 5 IP, 9.00 ERA, 1.139 OPS, 1.13 aLI
Should the starter look like he is tiring early in the game thanks to the higher stress situations playing a part in fatigue, Thomson might be forced to go to relievers earlier than he might like to. It’s doubtful that someone like Alvarado or Dominguez is coming in in the fifth inning, so someone will be needed to get those outs. We don’t know who Thomson has complete trust in just yet, but the options here present him with at something he can hang his hat on comfortably.
Brad Hand might be an option for the bullpen as well, but as of now, he’s still injured. Should he show anything in a bullpen session, he’s probably got the spot over Syndergaard.
Putting Syndergaard on the roster is kind of a white flag. The only real chance we’d have of seeing Syndergaard on the mound is in game one, when tomorrow is at least guaranteed. Should we see him warming in the bullpen, it’s similar to Thomson saying, “I tried my best! Let’s get ‘em in the next game!” They would need someone to start the first game of a potential division series game, so he might be saved for that.
In the end, names like Nelson, Syndergaard and Hand, while meaning no offense to them, we hope to not see them in a game. They have been successful at various points in the season, but now that we’re discussing playoffs, we’d all much rather see Thomson decide between his top four relievers since that likely means the Phillies are winning the game. It should be interesting to watch once the rosters are released.