No one should have been surprised that the Phillies beat the Marlins 4-1 in Game 1 of their National League Wild Card series last night, simply because the Phillies never lose Game 1s.
It was their sixth straight Game 1 victory and, since the 2008 playoffs, the Phils have gone 13-1 in the first game of a postseason series. The only game in the fourteen series they’ve played in which they’ve lost Game 1 was the 2010 NLCS.
2008:— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) October 4, 2023
NLDS vs Brewers (W)
NLCS vs Dodgers (W)
WS vs Rays (W)
NLDS vs Rockies (W)
NLCS vs Dodgers (W)
WS vs Yankees (W)
NLDS vs Reds (W)
NLCS vs Giants (L)
NLDS vs Cardinals (W)
NLWCS vs Cardinals (W)
NLDS vs Braves (W)
NLCS vs Padres (W)
WS vs Astros (W)
That’s remarkable. Winning the first game of a postseason series, especially in a three-game series, is historically around 75%, and in the brief history in which we’ve played three-game postseason series (2020 and ‘22), teams that win the first game have won 10 of 12 times (83%).
So winning Game 1 is enormous, and after Zack Wheeler’s incredible performance last night, the Phillies are in great shape to move on to the NL Divisional round against the Braves this weekend.
However, there is still the matter of winning that second game, and the Phils’ record in Game 2s over that same stretch is just 5-8, including losses in last year’s NLDS against Atlanta, the NLCS against San Diego and the World Series against Houston.
2008 NLDS vs Brewers (W)— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) October 4, 2023
'08 NLCS vs Dodgers (W)
'08 WS vs Rays (L)
2009 NLDS vs Rockies (L)
'09 NLCS vs Dodgers (L)
'09 WS vs Yankees (L)
2010 NLDS vs Reds (W)
'10 NLCS vs Giants (W)
2011 NLDS vs Cardinals (L)
2022 NLWCS vs Cards (W)
'22 NLDS vs Braves (L)
'22 NLCS vs Padres (L)…
Thankfully, most of those losses came in series in which the Phillies won, as they took care of business in Games 3-6. However, there are a couple stinkers that stand out.
Remember the stupid A.J. Burnett World Series Game 2 in 2009, when he outdueled Pedro Martinez and pitched the game of his life? Annoying. And how about Cliff Lee’s blown 4-0 lead against the Cardinals in Game 2? That was the difference in the 2011 NLDS, a catastrophic turn of events that still gives Phils fans hives.
Last year, the Phils blitzed the Braves in Games 3 and 4 at home in the NLDS and took care of the Padres in Games 3, 4 and 5 at Citizens Bank Park in the NLCS. The World Series, well, that didn’t turn out as well, but it should be noted that only two of those Game 2 losses occurred at home, the largely forgotten 2009 NLDS loss to the Rockies and the ‘11 NLDS defeat to the Cardinals.
In last year’s wild card round, the Phils did win Game 2 against St. Louis, thanks to a magical performance from Aaron Nola, who will also take the ball for them tonight against a Marlins team trying to keep their season alive.
Nola’s 2023 season has had more downs than ups, but over his last two starts he’s been very effective, going six innings against the Braves, giving up just two runs, and 6 2⁄3 innings against the Pirates allowing just one run his last time out. Most importantly, he’s struck out 16 batters and walked none, and says a recent mechanical adjustment may have unlocked something.
Aaron Nola made a tweak to his delivery after his start in St. Louis on Sept. 15. He noticed that he was stepping across his body a little bit. He worked on squaring his shoulders up, which has helped his command.— Alex Coffey (@byalexcoffey) October 3, 2023
"He’s pitching freer. That’s what I see." https://t.co/829Z25eP4y pic.twitter.com/vpB3B6SGr5
Winning Game 1 makes it so that Game 2 is not a must win for the Phils, but they certainly don’t want to put themselves into a position to have to win a do-or-die Game 3 on Thursday. And while Game 2s have not been kind to the Phillies in recent years, my guess is Nola will twirl a good one and the Phillies will send Miami back to the beach on Thursday.