It’s finally here.
Red October is back, beginning tonight at Citizens Bank Park, where 40,000+ maniacs will fill the seats creating a sea of red shirt-wearing, rally-towel waving pandemonium as the 2023 Phillies prepare to defend their National League pennant and try to go one step further than they did a year ago.
This year’s Phillies are better than last year’s, but as we’ve all seen in postseasons past, that means little. Upstarts lose to favorites all the time in the postseason, just ask last year’s Phillies. The same could happen this week, with the 84-win Marlins winning two out of three in Philadelphia, much like they did twice already this season.
But we cannot live life in fear, nor can we worry about such things as we await playoff baseball to inject itself into our veins once again. What will happen, will happen. All we can do is look at the information in front of us, make our best guesses, and hope for the best.
With that in mind, here are 10 reasons why the Phillies will WIN the World Series this time around.
1) Postseason Experience
We’ll see how much playoff experience benefits the Phillies in this opening-round match-up against a Marlins team that has not made the postseason in a non pandemic-shortened season since 2003. Last year’s Phillies broke an 11-year postseason drought and then went all the way as the last team into the dance, a scary thought as they are now the heavy favorites to beat the No. 2 wild card team in a home series. That said, these Phils gained confidence and swagger after last year’s postseason run, and hopefully that will come through in this year’s tournament as well.
You don’t win playoff games with small ball anymore. The 1985 Cardinals are not walking through that clubhouse door. No, you win games with dingers, and after a dreadfully slow start in that department over the season’s first three months, no team in baseball, none, has been better than the Phillies at going yard. Since August 1, both the Phils and Braves led baseball with 107 home runs, and for the first time in franchise history, six Phillies players hit at least 20 (Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Trea Turner, J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Alec Bohm).
3) Bryce Harper
They say hitting in the clutch isn’t a repeatable skill. Tell that to Bryce Harper.
Time and time again, the Phillies’ MVP comes through when it matters most. Sure, the bullpen blew many of those late inning game-tying or go-ahead home runs in August and September, but he still hit them. And who can forget last year’s iconic blast in the 8th inning of Game 5 of the NLCS?
I won’t let you.
4) Two “Aces”
The main reason the Phillies managed to squeak past the Cardinals in the wild card round last year was Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola shutting them down in St. Louis. They continued that trend in the NLDS against Atlanta. Wheeler was great in the NLCS and in Game 6 of the World Series, while Nola seemed to run out of gas in the final two rounds of the playoffs.
That said, if Nola is right, these are two top-of-the-rotation starters who can get you deep into the postseason, as they did last year. We’re hoping Nola’s last two starts are indicative of a playoff run that we all know he’s capable of.
Aaron Nola’s last two starts:— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) September 27, 2023
Back-to-back starts without a walk. He’s ready for October. pic.twitter.com/xVHqhx4DNk
5) A Better Game 4 Starter
Last year, the Phillies had to throw Noah Syndergaard out there in Game 4s, hope to get three innings from him and then get the last 18 outs from the bullpen. This time around, they have either Taijuan Walker or Cristopher Sanchez to turn to for a Game 4 in a playoff series. Walker was signed this winter to pitch those games, but he was out-pitched by Sanchez in the regular season. Sure, Walker went 15-6, but his 4.38 ERA and penchant for giving up early runs could spell doom in a playoff game, whereas Sanchez put up a 3.44 ERA and has a change-up that has turned into a true strikeout pitch.
Whomever they choose, it’s going to be better than last year’s “Synderpen”.
6) Bullpen Stuff
OK, to be honest, I’m not as confident in this bullpen’s ability to get out of jams and author shutdown innings as I’d like to be, but there’s no doubt the pure “stuff” among Phillies relievers is far better than last year. Their Wins Probability Added of 5.01 was 8th best in baseball and only the Dodgers, Reds and Brewers were better in the National League. They finished with the third-best fWAR, the 5th-best FIP (3.88), 6th-best ERA (3.56) and 6th-best K/9 rate (9.77) in the league. Craig Kimbrel, Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarado, Jeff Hoffman, Gregory Soto and Matt Strahm can scare you sometimes, but they also miss a ton of bats. The key will be avoiding the free passes (and pitch timer violations, CRAIG).
7) Vulnerable Braves & Other NL Teams?
Atlanta was a runaway machine this season, especially offensively, where they essentially became the 1927 Yankees reborn. That said, they enter the playoffs with some issues in the starting rotaton.
Max Fried is dealing with a blister on his finger and it will have been 17 days since he last pitched when he takes the mound for Game 2 in the NLDS. They also will be without Charlie Morton until the NLCS, thanks to an injury, and starter Bryce Elder has struggled mightily over the last month. They do still have Spencer Strider, who would likely start Game 1 and 4 of a playoff series.
Last year, the Braves entered the playoffs with a banged-up rotation, and it cost them against the Phillies. Will history repeat itself this time? It’s certainly not ideal for Atlanta. Meanwhile, the Dodgers essentially have two healthy starting pitchers, with their best guy, Julio Urias, off the time following another domestic violence arrest, and Milwaukee will be without their perennial Cy Young contender Brandon Woodruff in the wild card round and could be without him for the entirety of the playoffs.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Phillies are as healthy as any team can be entering the playoffs. The only guy they’re missing is Rhys Hoskins, who was lost for the season with an ACL tear in spring training. All of their starting pitchers are healthy, they have the full complement of their bullpen, and everyone else in the starting lineup, plus all the important bench pieces, are 100% and ready to go.
While it’s difficult for a team that loses the World Series to get back there the following year, it has happened a number of times in recent history.
Last year’s Astros did it, falling short against the Braves in 2021 and then beating the Phils to win it all in ‘22. The Dodgers went back-to-back in 2017-18, but lost in the following season. The Royals lost to the Giants in 2014 then beat the Mets in ‘15, and the Rangers made two straight trips to the Fall Classic, losing both in 2010 and 2011.
10) Four Hours of Hell
There is simply no better home field advantage in the postseason in professional sports than Citizens Bank Park in October.
Phillies start Red October tomorrow night 8pm at CBP against the Marlins— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) October 2, 2023
Zack Wheeler vs Jesus Luzardo & Aaron Nola vs Braxton Garrett
Phillies are 22-11 in playoffs at CBP, tied for the best home winning % at any ballpark in baseball history (minimum 30 playoff games) pic.twitter.com/Tp7kToWmQm
Opposing coaches have called playing in Philadelphia in the postseason “four hours in hell.” It sure as heck seemed to get the best of Strider in Game 3 last season, didn’t it?
Unfortunately, that home field magic ran out in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series, two losses I still can’t adequately explain. No, it’s not automatic that the Phillies will win every game at home, but it does put something in the minds of opponents when they walk into CBP and see those screaming maniacs in a sea of red.