I was wrong. I said the Wild Card series against the Marlins would be tough. But as it turned out, the Marlins were not on the Phillies’ level and were easily dismissed.
Things will get tougher from here on out. The Phillies’ next opponent is their divisional rival who won 104 games. If that sounds imposing, that’s because it’s supposed to. There are very few “easy” opponents come the NLDS, and if you want to hoist that trophy, you’re going to have to beat some good teams.
The good news for the Phillies is that all those 104 wins have earned the Braves is an additional home game in this series, as well as additional pressure not to waste such an impressive season. The Braves have proven themselves superior over a 162-game season, but that superiority won’t mean anything once the first pitch is thrown.
Record: 104-58, First place in National League East
How they got here
The Braves had the NL’s best record and earned a bye in the Wild Card round. There’s been a bit of complaining by some Braves fans that the MLB playoffs do not re-seed, and the Braves will face the fourth-seeded Phillies instead of the sixth seeded Diamondbacks.
You’d think that fans of the supposed best team in the league wouldn’t care who they have to face.
The last time they met
In the middle of September, the Phillies went to Truist Park and took two out of three games. That gave the Phillies a 4-3 record in
Cobb County Atlanta this season, which isn’t good news for a Braves team hoping that homefield advantage will provide them an edge.
The last time they met...in the playoffs
The Phillies and Braves also met in the NLDS in 2022. The Phillies bludgeoned the Braves pitching staff en route to a 3-1 series win. You probably remember most of the highlights, but my favorite might be when J.T. Realmuto hit an inside-the-park home run partly because the Braves’ star right fielder couldn’t be bothered to back the play up.
Ronald Acuña Jr. never moved on J.T. Realmuto's inside-the-park home run.— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) October 15, 2022
"What a shame" - LA pic.twitter.com/heU3T4UeOe
Older fans will recognize that 2022 wasn’t the only time the Phillies defeated the Braves in a playoff series. The first postseason meeting between the squads came when Kim Batiste, Lenny Dykstra, and the rest of the 1993 Phillies sent the favored Braves to inglorious defeat.
Speaking of Batiste, I maintain that no Philadelphia athlete is as associated with a single game. If someone mentions “The Kim Batiste Game,” you know exactly what they’re talking about.
CBP vs. Truist: The biggest mismatch in the series
After seeing the insanity that is Citizens Bank Park, some Braves fans decided to chime in that “Truist gets just as loud.” I’m sure like any stadium, the Braves’ stadium has its moments of loudness. But it seems like the only time the crowd really gets into it is when they do their coordinated racism.
41,000 doing the chop brother https://t.co/xhqr89yHcC— Greg Always #FortheA (@gpphipps10) October 4, 2023
A must win?
It’s tough to declare game one of a five-game series a “must win,” but the Braves have A LOT of pressure on them to win the opener. No disrespect to Ranger Suarez who is expected to start game one for the Phils, but when he goes against Spencer Strider, that may be the only time the Braves have a definitive advantage in the starting pitching matchup.
After Strider, the rotation consists of Max Fried and his blister, and some combination of Bryce Elder (5.11 ERA in the second half), Jared Shuster (rookie with a 5.81 ERA for the year), or Kyle Wright (Roughed up twice by the Phillies in September). That doesn’t sound like the rotation of a 104-win juggernaut, does it?
If the Braves don’t take both games at home, they will have to win one at Citizens Bank Park. I’m not sure any of the Braves’ pitchers are looking forward to pitching there, and that includes the staff ace.
Don’t like the fans, huh?
It can’t fill Braves fans with a lot of confidence to hear their top starting pitcher say this.
Spencer Strider: not a fan of fans pic.twitter.com/E9o2XuRm96— BetOnline.ag (@betonline_ag) September 27, 2023
Can you imagine Roy Halladay saying that? Heck, can you imagine any star pitcher saying anything like that. Does this seem like the type of guy you’d want on the mound in a crucial game four at Citizens Bank Park?
I wonder if there is anything from Strider’s past that might make him not want to pitch in a raucous environment?
I’ll give credit where it’s due: Strider dominated the Phillies in the regular season. But baseball history is littered with great regular season pitchers who come up small in the postseason. (Looking at you, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander!)
It’s also worth noting that in the four starts he’s made against the Phillies this year, the Braves’ offense has scored eleven, four, four, and nine runs, so he’s had plenty of run support. In fact, Strider ranks second in the entire league in runs scored per nine innings behind only teammate Charlie Morton.
This shouldn’t be surprising considering the strength of the Braves’ lineup, and there’s something to be said to holding leads that the offense gives you. But that may work against him in the playoffs. In the regular season, a pitcher might get the benefit of his lineup crushing an overmatched Dylan Covey but runs will likely be harder to come by in this series.
If Strider going to be as dominant if he doesn’t have a multi-run cushion to play with?
Spencer Strider if he just got slightly average run support pic.twitter.com/SMbiVLxlg7— José Alvarado Enjoyer (@Radish1555) September 20, 2023
But what about the Braves’ lineup?
The Braves put up impressive offensive numbers in the regular season. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you had a lineup of good hitters and they all stayed healthy and performed at their 90th percentile (or better!) outcome all season? You’d get the 2023 Braves.
But here’s the thing: All those hits, all those home runs, all those runs - they mean nothing now. Everyone’s been reset to zero. Matt Olson doesn’t get an automatic home run just because he led the league in them. Ronald Acuna doesn’t get a free pass to second base due to how many he stole during the season.
Over the course of a 162 season, the Braves are going to score a ton of runs. But when you condense the action into a five-game series against a good pitching staff, it might not be so easy. Wouldn’t it be something if hitters like Olson, Acuna, Austin Riley, and Marcell Ozuna avoided lengthy slumps all season only to come up small when it really matters?
That doesn’t even factor in that the Braves had almost an entire week off, and by the time game one rolls around, it will have been almost two weeks since they played a game that truly mattered to them in the standings. They can play all the simulated games they want, but once you get out of rhythm, it’s not always easy to get it back.
The secret weapon?
The Phillies already had a formidable bullpen. So, it seems almost unfair that they were able to add this guy at the end of the season.
Orion Kerkering, Disgusting 88mph Sweeper. pic.twitter.com/scbeyokKHD— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 5, 2023
That sound you hear is Braves scouts desperately trying to dig up minor league video of him. It was suggested that Kerkering be used as the game one opener, and I don’t hate the idea.
As for the Braves’ bullpen
The Braves have a solid enough relief corps, but I suspect if manager Brian Snitker had his preference, he’d have another lefty reliever on hand to go against Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and Bryson Stott. (Then again, the Marlins threw a ton of lefties against the Phillies, and it didn’t matter.) Brad Hand pitched well against the Phillies in the regular season, but we all remember Hand trying to get key outs during the 2022 playoffs, and I think just about every Phillies fan is glad he’s trying to do that for the team they’re facing instead.
Assuming the Braves can get a lead into the ninth inning, they’ll likely call on closer Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias’ season looks even strong...as long as you ignore the month of September when opposing hitters had a .905 OPS against him. Much of that was due to him giving up save-blowing home runs in two straight appearances against the Phillies.
Maybe giving up ninth-inning home runs to the Phillies is just his thing, considering he did the same when he was on the Angels in 2022? Either way, I can’t imagine Braves fans feeling comfortable with him on the mound in the ninth. He’s got strong “Next Jonathan Broxton” vibes about him.
Final trivia answer
I never answered the final trivia question of the season, and I’m sure you were all on the edges of your seats wondering about the answer. Gregory Polanco is the only Pirate to ever record a four-hit game at Citizens Bank Park. Andy from BL was the first to answer correctly.
As always, thanks to everyone for playing along.
As expected, I didn’t hear from any Marlins fans regarding my series preview. They’re all busy whining about the umpires (as if a few bad calls led to a composite 11-2 score) or why the fifth seed didn’t get to host a playoff game.
As for the Marlins themselves, there is some good, young talent on the roster, and I’d say that the Marlins have a bright future ahead of them, but Marlins history is measured in ownership sell-offs.
Braves fans are talking a big game on social media, but when it comes down to it, they aren’t happy about having to play the Phillies. And I don’t really blame them.
In 2011, the Phillies had one of the best pitching rotations ever but all that got them come playoff time was a first round loss. It was a fun season, but ultimately that much more frustrating because of the wasted opportunity.
Here in 2023, the Braves have a historically good offense. But all that counts for at this point is another divisional championship banner. The Braves know that three bad games against a team quite capable of making them have three bad games, and the season will be regarded as a massive disappointment. But don’t feel bad for Braves fans. After the past thirty years or so, they’re well familiar with disappointing finishes in the playoffs, and if any fanbase deserves that feeling, it’s them.
It’s time for the Phillies to add one more disappointment to the Braves’ tally. The Phillies have the talent and the confidence necessary to take down the Braves. Now let’s see them do it.