Who Do You Want to See the Phillies Play in the Wild Card? Here's a Primer.
With the Phillies bashing the Braves 7-1 in Atlanta Monday night on the back of five home runs, their magic number to clinch a playoff spot and to clinch home field advantage in the Wild Card round was reduced to eight.
Any combination of Phillies wins and Marlins losses totaling eight guarantees them a playoff spot and any combination of Phillies wins and losses by the Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Marlins individually totaling eight, and a combination of seven with the Reds and Giants losing individually, clinches home field. That may seem like a lot with just 12 games to go, but it’s not.
If the Phillies go 6-6 in their final 12 games, they would only miss the playoffs if THREE of the following things were to happen:
- Diamondbacks go 10-1
- Cubs go 11-1
- Reds go 10-1
- Marlins go 10-1
- Giants go 12-0
So, yeah, they’re going to make the playoffs. They’ll likely clinch a spot at home against either the Mets or Pirates in the next seven days.
Additionally, if they go 6-6 the rest of the way, only one of those five teams would have to amass those improbable records listed above for the Phillies to not host the Wild Card Series at Citizens Bank Park.
So, yeah, they’re going to be the top Wild Card team, too.
It was all but assured thanks to this series of long balls in Atlanta:
Johan Rojas with his first home run that isn’t off of a position player! pic.twitter.com/XRw7ZYAi9l
— Phillies Tailgate (@PhilsTailgate) September 18, 2023
The best is what Seranthony Dominguez said to Rojas after that homer. According to Alex Coffey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dominguez joked with his teammate by saying, “Finally you hit one off a pitcher. A real home run.”
— Phillies Nation (@PhilliesNation) September 19, 2023
There’s no doubt Harper is hell bent on reaching 20 home runs this season. And that’s two opposite field homers to start this game, which is of particular note, as the Phillies are making pitchers pay for strikes that are in normally good spots.
J.T. Realmuto didn’t have to hit it THAT hard. 💥 pic.twitter.com/1RdzGsimR8
— Phillies Nation (@PhilliesNation) September 19, 2023
That one… wasn’t quite in a good spot. Nor was this one…
Nick Castellanos just absolutely obliterated this pitch. Some are saying Blastellanos 💥 pic.twitter.com/UM1XktBWHX
— Phillies Nation (@PhilliesNation) September 19, 2023
And this one was, simply ridiculous…
Here’s how Kyle Schwarber’s piss missile that got lost in U.S. airspace sounded on Braves TV pic.twitter.com/bCC230PHGy
— Nick Piccone (@_piccone) September 19, 2023
This team is making the playoffs and hosting the Wild Card.
Now, you wouldn’t know it to this point, but the theme of this post is not really about the Phillies or their propensity to crush baseballs, especially in the past six weeks.
Instead, I used roughly 500 words to set up what I really wanted to talk about – the Phillies possible opponent, and how you should feel about any of these teams coming into Citizens Bank Park.
I’ll rank them by an order of who your preference as a fan should be to make it easiest on the Phillies to advance to the NLDS to face either the Braves or Dodgers (who are suddenly within 3 1/2 games of Atlanta for the best record in the National League).
I’ll list each team, their current record, where they stand in the Wild Card race, their remaining schedule, their playoff odds (per Baseball Reference), my predicted final record, their top three hitters, their top three pitchers, a note about the rest of the team, and how the Phillies match up.
Without further ado…
1. Cincinnati Reds (79-73, 0.5 GB of No. 5 WC spot)
The Reds have been a cute story this season. Started terribly, got white hot in June, came back to Earth in July, and it looked like they were going to fall out of the race, but they somehow stabilized in August and are in the thick of it coming down the stretch.
Remaining Schedule: vs. MIN (2), vs. PIT (3), @ CLE (2), @ STL (3)
Playoff odds: 49.7%
Projected final record: 85-77
Top 3 Hitters: Probable NL Rookie of the Year finalist Matt McLain is due to come off the injured list this week. He’s been their best hitter all season, slashing .290/.357/.507 for an .864 OPS. Spencer Steer has been a rock in the lineup all season, leading the team in homers (22) and RBI (82) while posting a solid OBP (.358) and OPS (.815). Other names have gotten more attention, but Will Benson might be their most dynamic hitter this season. His .368 OBP is tops on the team among players with at least 100 plate appearances, his .858 OPS and 128 OPS+ are almost identical to McClain.
Will Benson’s 2023 is not getting talked about enough.
11 HR, 46 R, 30 RBI
90.8 Avg EV
19.2 Chase %
A nice mini-breakout for the Reds this year.
— DataBase Hit (@DatabaseHit) September 19, 2023
Top 3 Pitchers: Due to a slew of injuries, the Reds don’t have an active pitcher who has thrown more than 106 2/3 innings. That’s not good. Highly touted pitching prospect Hunter Greene is back in the rotation after missing two months with injuries, but has been subpar posting a 6.08 ERA and having opposing hitters amass an .884 OPS against him in five starts since coming off the I.L. Since his call up in June, Andrew Abbott has been their most reliable starter, although he averages just over five innings per start and has a mediocre WHIP of 1.266. Their best pitcher is their closer, Alexis Diaz, who has more saves (37) than hits allowed (36) in 64 1/3 innings, but the Reds have to get the ball to him.
The Rest: Elly De La Cruz burst onto the scene earlier this summer slashing .325/.363/.524 for an .887 OPS in 30 games leading up to the All-Star break. Since then, he’s been invisible (.181/.266/.332 for a .598 OPS). You can’t sleep on T.J. Friedl and Jake Fraley, who have quietly had solid seasons, and although the Reds bullpen isn’t dominant, it’s better than you would think with Buck Farmer, Fernando Cruz, Ian Gibaut, and Lucas Sims providing consistency.
vs. The Phillies: The teams haven’t played since April, and that was a much different Reds team than now. The Phillies went 4-3 against them, and although the Reds are better now, so are the Phillies. The Reds don’t have the pitching to slow the Phillies offense, nor the offense to keep up. If this is the matchup, the Phillies should win in two games. A third game would be a disappointment. A loss to this team in a playoff series would be an absolute travesty.
2. San Francisco Giants (76-74, 2.5 GB of No. 5 WC spot)
A complete and utter collapse of a pitching staff on a Gabe Kapler managed team? Who saw that coming? On August 3rd, the Giants completed a three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks and moved to 61-49. They were the top Wild Card team. Since then, they are 15-25, having allowed 203 runs in those 40 games. They’re still in this because there hasn’t been any separation and if they win the two games in Arizona, they will have new life, but they have a brutal schedule. They’re going to finish under .500. Book it.
Remaining Schedule: @ ARI (2), @LAD (4), vs. SD (3), vs. LAD (3)
Playoff odds: 5.0%
Projected final record: 80-82
Top 3 Hitters: The Giants have one hitter with an OPS over .800 and it’s a guy who started the season as a role player for them. Veteran Wilmer Flores, 31, is having the best year of his career, leading the team in home runs (22), OPS (.877) and OPS+ (138). He’s got a good batting average (.288) but only has 56 RBI, which tells you all you need to know about the on base skills of the rest of the team. LaMonte Wade Jr. does get on base (.378, leads the team) and is tied for third in homers with 15. Mike Yastrzemski has dealt with injuries all season but has been effective when he’s played (.798 OPS, 117 OPS+).
Top 3 Pitchers: Logan Webb is a workhorse who keeps runners off base (1.055 WHIP) and keeps the ball in the yard (0.9 HR/9). He would be a tough opponent in a short series. The bullpen has been leaking oil for some time, but the Rogers brothers, Tyler and Taylor, have been steady. They’ve combined to throw 120 1/3 innings and have yielded just 98 hits and 12 homers.
The Rest: Alex Cobb is a decent middle of the rotation starter who can keep the Giants in games. After a slow start, Michael Conforto has had a decent second half, hitting .277 with a .374 OBP, but he has been completely zapped of his ability to slug the baseball, and has just six extra base hits since the break. Camilo Doval was one of the best closers in the game through August 7th. But there were concerns that he was being overused and it has showed since. In his last 13 appearances, Doval has an era of 6.00 and opponents are slashing .292/.397/.438 against him. It’s no surprise then that he’s blown five saves in the last 13 games, all but killing his team’s chances at the postseason.
Bryce Harper 3-run game tying homer in the 9th = Camilo Doval’s 4 consecutive blown save pic.twitter.com/Xzcemmnl6G
— patrick buttman (@SethDaSportsMan) August 23, 2023
vs. The Phillies: The Giants swept the Phillies in San Francisco in May but were able to win the season series by pulling out an extra inning win in a wild game to avoid a sweep in Philly in August. It would be something to face off against a Kapler-managed team in the playoffs. As unlikely as this scenario appears to be, the only concern the Phillies would have in this matchup is hitting Webb in Game 1. Other than that, the Phillies would hold every advantage against a weak lineup and a dead-tired bullpen.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks (79-72, 0.5 lead for No. 5 WC spot)
The Diamondbacks were a fun first half team, riding the wave of a lineup built on youth, speed and good defense. Their lack of depth would always come back and bite them, and they started to fade, but, like Cincinnati, they’ve rebounded and just completed a sweep of the Cubs to move into the No. 5 spot and are playing good baseball at the right time. That said, the two games against the Giants are huge, and if it comes down to the last series of the season to clinch a playoff berth, the last team you probably want to have to beat right now is Houston, who is in a dogfight to win the A.L. West.
Remaining Schedule: vs. SFG (2), @ NYY (3), @ CWS (3), vs. HOU (3)
Playoff odds: 57.5%
Projected final record: 86-76
Top 3 Hitters: Corbin Carroll is going to win the N.L. Rookie of the Year award, hands down. The kid is a five-tool player. He leads the team in OPS (.858), OPS+ (132), OBP (.358), slugging percentage (.501) and stolen bases (47). His 24 home runs are tied for second on the team. He’s a superstar in the making. Ketel Marte is on of those consistently good hitters who is always dangerous at the plate. His numbers are almost identical to Carroll across the board, trailing ever-so-slightly in each category. Norristown native Christian Walker has 30 homers and a shot at 100 RBI.
The scoring won’t stop!
— MLB (@MLB) July 19, 2023
Top 3 Pitchers: Another local product, Zac Gallen (Somerdale, N.J.), is in the running for the N.L. Cy Young Award. That said, in three of his last four starts he’s been pummeled by the Dodgers, Orioles and Mets, meaning he could be tiring out as he’s thrown more innings this season (192 2/3) than ever before. That one other start in the last four though, was a complete game shutout of the Cubs with nine strikeouts. Merrill Kelly is an under the radar starter who could be a tough matchup in a Game 2. Kevin Ginkel has been surprisingly dominant as a middle reliever in the bullpen allowing just 38 hits in 61 2/3 innings.
The Rest: Young catcher Gabriel Moreno has quietly had a nice season (.288/.338/.417). Lourdes Gurriel Jr. runs really hot and cold, (he’s Arizona’s Nick Castellanos) but he does have 24 homers and 81 RBI. Trade deadline acquisition Tommy Pham hasn’t been a huge boost to the lineup (108 OPS+). The bullpen is not good. Another trade deadline acquisition, Paul Sewald, gives up a lot of baserunners (1.596 WHIP since joining Arizona). The Diamondbacks don’t have a third starter with a positive WAR, so…
vs. The Phillies: The D-backs won 2-of-3 against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in May, but a month later, when Arizona was rolling, the Phillies went into the desert and took 3-of-4 scoring 32 runs in the four games. This isn’t as easy a matchup as the first two teams would be, but the lineup is top heavy, and there’s not much pitching here. If you can win one of the two games against Gallen/Kelly, that Game 3 matchup heavily favors the Phillies.
4. Chicago Cubs (78-72, 0.5 GB of No. 5 WC spot)
For a while, it looked like the Cubs were a lock to be the Phillies’ first-round opponent. They’ve now lost five straight and eight-of-10 and are as close to missing the playoffs as they are to playing the Phillies. This is the most balanced team in this collection of possible opponents, and there are some good veterans on this team, which could make them less prone to the rabbit ears that come with being an opposing team playing playoff baseball in the Red October confines of Citizens Bank Park. Their remaining schedule is sneaky tough and sneaky easy at the same time. How? The Pirates and Rockies might seem like walkovers, but Pittsburgh has played good baseball lately and Colorado just took 2-of-3 from the Cubs last week. Meanwhile, a road trip to Atlanta and Milwaukee to end the season doesn’t sound appealing, but neither team may have anything to play for (Although if the Braves don’t wake up, they could lose home field advantage in the N.L. to the Dodgers).
Remaining Schedule: vs. PIT (3), vs. COL (3), @ ATL (3), @ MIL (3)
Playoff odds: 53.5%
Projected final record: 86-76
Top 3 Hitters: Cody Bellinger has had a rising from the ashes season with Chicago and will likely be a top target in free agency next season. He’s slashing .311/.356/.534 for an OPS of .890 and an OPS+ of 136. He also has 25 homers and 91 RBI. He leads the Cubs in every one of the stats mentioned (except OBP… he’s second there). Fellow outfielders Seiya Suzuki (.817 OPS) and Phillie-killer Christopher Morel (.807) are also having solid years at the plate.
Top 3 Pitchers: Depending on what voters’ value most, Justin Steele may be the most deserving candidate for the N.L. Cy Young. He’s 16-4 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.139 WHIP. He’s been a dominant lefty all season for the Cubs. Marcus Stroman was their ace for most of the season, but missed six weeks with an injury, and is now coming out of the bullpen, which makes the Cubs much tougher late in games. Coming into the season, Kyle Hendricks was viewed as the Cubs number five starter. He’s returned to his old form with a lights out changeup and has become a solid No. 3 for the team.
Kyle Hendricks, Filthy Changeups. 😷 pic.twitter.com/1fGiAg8grJ
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 10, 2023
The Rest: Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson are both solid hitters, but they may be the best defensive middle infield combination in the National League. Adbert Alzolay (1.016 WHIP) was having a breakout season as the Cubs closer before landing on the I.L. with a forearm strain. If he can get back for the playoffs, combining him with Stroman and Mark Leiter Jr. (1.043 WHIP) will shorten games for the Cubs.
vs. The Phillies: The Cubs haven’t had much success against the Phillies this season, losing 5-of-6, and they are really scuffling now, but, if they can find their way into the postseason and face the Phils in the first round, this isn’t the most ideal matchup. The Phillies are still a favorite, but there is a possibility of much handwringing.
5. Miami Marlins (78-73, 1 GB of No. 5 WC spot)
This team just seems to always be hanging around. It’s likely because of their good pitching, but they have hitters who seem to perform well against the Phillies too. Bob said on the podcast Monday that they’re a team you could see the Phillies outscoring by six runs in a three-game series and still lose to them. And he’s right. There’s just something about the Marlins that screams “bad matchup” for the Phillies. Their schedule is easy enough the rest of the way that they can get to the No. 5 spot, too. Relatively easily, I might add, which is why I don’t get their playoff odds.
Remaining Schedule: vs. NYM (2), vs. MIL (3), @ NYM (3), @PIT (3)
Playoff odds: 34.3%
Projected final record: 86-76
Top 3 Hitters: Jake Burger has been a very good trade deadline acquisition for Miami. He’s hit .305 with eight homers and 23 RBI since joining the Fish. Luis Arraez has eclipsed the 200-hit plateau and leads the majors in batting with a .354 average. Jorge Soler has had a resurgence with the Marlins and leads the team with 36 homers.
Top 3 Pitchers: What makes the Marlins tough is they are loaded with good lefty pitchers. Braxton Garrett has been their best starter with a 1.156 WHIP. Jesus Luzardo is tough too from the left side and in three of his last five starts did not allow a run against the Padres, Rays and Braves. Tanner Scott is a underrated lefty closer with a 2.23 ERA and a 1.018 WHIP.
Tanner Scott: STONES
Two huge punch outs to strand two men in scoring position. pic.twitter.com/fAlPyKLdyE
— Isaac Azout (@IsaacAzout) September 10, 2023
The Rest: Reigning Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara hasn’t had as good a season as a year ago and he’s on the I.L. with a sprained elbow. But he’s slated to return soon and was pitching much more like himself before the injury. Starting with a game against the Phillies on July 7, Alcantara has made 11 starts, averaging seven innings a start, and has a 3.04 ERA with a 1.156 WHIP. Bryan De La Cruz leads the team with 74 RBI and while he’s had a mostly down year, when he’s going good, Jazz Chisholm is electric.
vs. The Phillies: The Marlins went 7-6 against the Phillies and are quite familiar with them, which is always a cause for concern. Not to mention, they throw a ton of lefties at you, and the Phillies lineup is a little more hit or miss against lefty pitchers. Also, four of the Phillies six wins against Miami were by one or two runs. These games are always close, and a three-game playoff series would likely be a nail biter.
6. San Diego Padres (73-78, 5 GB of No. 5 WC spot)
Wait… what? The Padres? The team that has clubhouse culture issues? The most disappointing baseball team not based in New York City? That Padres? Why are they included here? Because somehow, someway, they’ve been allowed to hang around (only four games back in the loss column), they’ve won 6-of-7 and they have a ridiculously easy schedule remaining. They are really out of mulligans. They may need to go 10-1 or 11-0 to get in, but they have the talent to do it against some bad teams, and if they do, and come into the playoffs on that much of a tear, you don’t want to face a team like that. Especially in a three-game series. Especially since they already know what playoff baseball in Philadelphia is like.
Remaining Schedule: vs. COL (2), vs. STL (3), @ SFG (3), @ CWS (3)
Playoff odds: 0.5%
Projected final record: 82-80
Top 3 Hitters: Juan Soto (.909 OPS) is one of the best players on the planet. Fernando Tatis, Jr. should be better than he’s been, but he’s still pretty good (118 OPS+) and when he’s hot, he can carry an entire team. Many believe Xander Bogaerts has had a down year, and maybe he has, but he’s been good for a bit now slashing .314/.361/.487 for an .848 OPS since the All-Star break.
Top 3 Pitchers: I would vote for Steele, but a lot of people are going to vote for Blake Snell for Cy Young. He’s had a very good season with a 2.43 ERA and having allowed only 111 hits in 167 innings while striking out 217. But, he has only thrown 167 innings because he doesn’t go deep in games and he walks a TON of guys. He’s averaging five walks every nine innings. That’s insane. While the starting rotation has been ravaged with injuries, the bullpen is pretty damn good. Josh Hader has probably been the best closer in the sport with a 1.26 ERA and 79 strikeouts in just 50 innings. (Although, like Snell, he, too, walks 5.0 batters per nine innings, but that’s not as egregious from a guy who pitches one inning a game). The other guy in that pen who has been great is Tom Cosgrove, whose funky delivery is really tough on hitters.
Tom Cosgrove, Front Door Slider…
This is just plain mean. 😂 pic.twitter.com/tdUI4z3v3V
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 16, 2023
The Rest: Manny Machado needs elbow surgery but is going to keep hitting until the Padres are out of this race. Ha-Song Kim is a very underrated leadoff hitter. Michael Wacha has had a nice, bounce back season on the mound.
vs. The Phillies: It was a good season for the Phillies vs. the Padres, going 5-2 against them, but again, would you really want to face a team that has won something like 16-of-18 just to get into the playoffs in a 3-game series? That might be the kind of momentum that could bust through the mystique of Red October in Philly.