Starting on Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia will play host to the Miami Marlins for three games of the National League Wild Card Round series.
The Phillies clinched their playoff position and positioning early, locking themselves into the No. 4 seed in the National League Playoff Field. Meanwhile, the Marlins used an unexpected late hot streak and subsequent cold stretch by the Cubs to sneak into the No. 5 seed in their divisional playoff bracket.
FanDuel opened with the Philadelphia Phillies as -200 favorites to advance to the National League Championship Series (NLDS), while road Marlins are +160 underdogs.
The Phillies are almost a carbon copy of last year’s team but are now equipped with more pitching depth and better defense. They played below .500 for the season’s first two months but were one of baseball’s elite from June forward.
Unlike last year, the Phillies didn’t have to grind through September to secure a final playoff spot in the season’s final days. Instead, the Phillies cruised to the No. 4 seed and secured home-field advantage for the Wild Card Round.
It’s been a rollercoaster for the Phillies lineup in 2023. Trea Turner had an OPS below .700 for the first 100 games of the season but transformed into an elite player in August and September. Despite the early struggle, he still finished with north of 25 homers and an above-league-average wRC+. Nick Castellanos has been the Phillies’ most consistent slugger from start to finish, though he had a significant post-All-Star slump. Castellanos is hitting lower in the order now, behind youngsters Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott, who have excellent hit tools and are tough to strikeout.
The Phillies will go as far as Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber can take them. Harper went over a month without a homer as he struggled to lift the ball and find his power stroke. Despite the poor stretch post elbow surgery, by his standards, Harper will still finish the season with a strong slash line. Schwarber is an unconventional leadoff hitter because of his low batting average, but his elite plate discipline means only Juan Soto walked more in MLB. Schwarber’s power and patience are daunting in front of Turner and Harper at the top of the lineup.
Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola will be expected to carry the Phillies in the playoffs. Wheeler has been as good as ever, with a 3.18 xERA and a 21.9 K-BB%. Nola has seen a drop in his strikeout rate and has also struggled to keep the ball in the yard. Nola’s 4.46 ERA and 3.74 xERA are both a full run worse than last season.
One benefit for Nola is that he’ll make his first start at Citizens Bank Park, where he’s been considerably better in his career. He’ll also be on extra rest. Behind the two aces, I’d expect Ranger Suarez to fill the role as the No. 3 starter but to have a short leash because of the Phillies bullpen depth.
The Phillies entered last year with three reliable relievers – Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez and starter Zach Eflin. There’s no bullpen in MLB with better versatility and pure stuff than the Phillies.
There are questions if they’ll throw enough strikes — Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, Alvarado and Dominguez have concerns — but they have three decently reliable lefties. The emergence of Jeff Hoffman Orion and Kerkering (elite Stuff+ metrics) provides manager Rob Thomson with a ton of options to shorten games.
The 2023 Miami Marlins have made it to the postseason by being 33-13 in one-run games and 7-3 in extra innings games, earning them postseason eligibility despite an -56 run differential.
This team had heart, playmakers and an inspiring manager in Skip Schumaker, who led them to victory – winning 17 out of 27 matches to secure the second wild-card spot.
Given Sandy Alcantara’s first-half struggles and Jazz Chisholm Jr.’s absence of 65 games, it’s remarkable that the Fish are back playing baseball in October again.
Miami outhits southpaws (103 wRC+), yet slightly falters against righties (92 wRC+). Overall, they produced an average (.260, third in MLB), yet failed to generate much substance (.147 ISO ISO 26th).
Josh Bell and Jake Burger’s addition at the trade deadline was pivotal to helping address the Marlins’ power woes, while an active Chisholm drastically expanded their ceiling as an offense unit.
Unfortunately, Arraez has an ankle injury, which could cost the team dearly at the top of its lineup.
Miami boasts an elite rotation. Unfortunately, Sandy Alcantara and Eury Perez have hit the IL recently, and we should not expect either back for the Wild Card Round.
Jesus Luzardo, Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garrett will be the three leading contenders in the postseason.
There’s plenty of raw talent among that three-man rotation, particularly from a strikeout/stuff perspective. Unfortunately, they’re all younger and potentially unpredictable pitchers; I anticipate dominant performances with near shutout results, or total meltdowns.
Great relief pitching in high-leverage situations.
The Marlins bullpen exceeded all expectations this season, led by AJ Puk, Tanner Scott and Andrew Nardi, who all stood out with excellent performances. They finished seventh overall for reliever xFIP at 4.07 and sixth in FanGraphs Bullpen Clutch Metric (3.17%).
The Fish added David Robertson to their already impressive core group at the deadline. Although his arrival from Queens hasn’t gone smoothly, he raises their ceiling considerably.
If the Fish makes any impactful moves this October, this unit will play an enormous part.
I have a lot of respect for the Marlins; they have played well over the last month. In a best-of-three series, the Phillies have the better starting rotation, and while I think a possible Marlins upset can happen, I look for the Phillies pitching to lead to a two-game sweep. I bet the Phillies to win the series.
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