A given scenario supports the team playing the best baseball down the stretch has a better than even chance to reign as champions. While fans and pundits argue that the 162-game season can be a prelude to the true season, those clubs with dominating grips during the final stages of the season are likely to advance.
Take the Philadelphia Phillies.
Last season, the Phillies, with a mark of 87-75, squeezed into the post-season and became a dominating team in October. This time, they improved to 90-72 but ran into a buzz-saw called the Atlanta Braves. With a mark of 104-58, Atlanta cruised into the post-season, but it was the Phillies’ stretch run that made them a formidable opponent.
In this post-season, the Phillies have reached the zenith with convincing series wins over the Marlins and division-rivals Braves. Now, they are taking their ability to dominate pitching and offense to another level.
This time, it’s the Arizona Diamondbacks who are attempting to put up roadblocks but the Phillies’ thunderous bats in the opening two games of this NLCS represent the catalyst to a dominating 2-0 series lead over Arizona.
Considering a few factors down the stretch, it is not surprising to understand how the Phillies reached this point. Granted, the Braves manufactured one of the most successful seasons in recent history, but the Phillies’ run through the final weeks proved this could be a scary team to face in post-season play.
With a 10-0 victory over Arizona in game two Tuesday night, Nola raised his 2023 post-season record to 3-0 and a 0.96. He was aided by two homers from Kyle Schwarber and a solo shot off the bat of Trey Turner.
“Another great outing,” Schwarber told a national television audience on the field after game two. “The way that (Nola) composes himself, he’s solidifying himself as a true ace. We’re really lucky to have that guy in our rotation. [Aaron and Wheeler] and our other horses, we ride those guys throughout the whole year, and they’re really showing how valuable they are for us in this post-season.”
Down the stretch, the Phillies went 17-10 in August and 15-13 the rest of the way. Yet, a significant reason for post-season qualification was the bat of Turner.
For the first half of this season, Turner, who signed an 11-year, $300 million free agent deal with the Phillies, turned in a near Jekyll and Hyde season. Over the first half, he hit. .247 and then hit .292 over the second half. For the year, he finished at .266 with 35 doubles, 26 homers, and knocked in 76 runs.
Overall, Turner represents a segment of the Philly bombardment and a significant reason why the Diamondbacks are on the ropes. Along with Schwarber, with 47 homers, Bryce Happer contributed 21 bombs and Nick Castellanos (.272, 29 homers, 106 RBIs) aided the offense. This firepower, along with poor pitch location from Arizona starters Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly in the first two games of this series, clearly shows why no team would want to play the Phillies at present.
If the “rockets red glare” is flying over Citizens Bank Park these days, the pitching seems an equal complement. The stellar efforts from Wheeler and Nola’s effort behind him could signal the demise of the Diamondbacks. That’s because in game three, Arizona faces lefty Ranger Suarez who is coming off a 4-6, 4.18 ERA this season, Yet, Suarez, in recent weeks, had proved a near equal to the top of the Phillies rotation.
In his last five starts, Suarez is 3-0 and two no-decisions. In two post-season appearances, both against Atlanta, he is 1-0 and one no decision. In the post-season, Suarez allowed one earned run in 8.2 innings.
Opposing Suarez is Arizona righty Brandon Pfaadt (3-9, 5.72 for 18 starts). Game three is slated for Chase Field in Phoenix at 5:07 p.m., Eastern start time.