NL Wild Card Series Playoff Preview: Phillies vs. Marlins

The Phillies are the favorites as they host the Marlins for the best-of-three NL Wild Card Series at Citizens Bank Park.

Bryson Stott of the Philadelphia Phillies bats with a pencil designed bat against the Washington Nationals in the first inning during the 2023 Little League Classic at Bowman Field.
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PENNSYLVANIA - AUGUST 20: Bryson Stott #5 of the Philadelphia Phillies bats with a pencil designed bat against the Washington Nationals in the first inning during the 2023 Little League Classic at Bowman Field on August 20, 2023 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

It came down to the very last day of the season, but the Wild Card round matchups have finally been decided.

For a long time, it seemed like the Phillies would be facing the Cubs. Then, Chicago began to slip in the standings, and it looked like the Diamondbacks would be the second Wild Card club. Yet now that the dust has settled, it’s the Miami Marlins who finished as the no. 5 seed in the National League.

All in all, this should make for an exciting first-round matchup between division rivals. The Phillies are the clear favorite, but the Marlins have had their number for years. Miami has won the season series in four of the last five years, including this season.

Last season, the Phillies were the underdogs who beat the favorites en route to a World Series appearance. This year, perhaps it’s the Marlins’ turn to do just that.

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The Season Series (Marlins Won 7-6)

The Phillies and Marlins met four times this year. The Marlins took all three of the three-game sets between the clubs, while the Phillies took the only four-game series. Neither club was ever swept.

While Miami came out on top in the season series, Philadelphia outscored their division rivals 64-55.

April 10-12 (Miami wins 2-1)

  • April 10: PHI 15, MIA 3
  • April 11: MIA 8, PHI 4
  • April 12: MIA 3, PHI 2

July 7-9 (Miami wins 2-1)

  • July 7: PHI 4, MIA 3
  • July 8: MIA 5, PHI 3
  • July 9: MIA 7, PHI 3

July 31-August 3 (Philadelphia wins 3-1)

  • July 31: PHI 4, MIA 2
  • August 1: PHI 3, MIA 1
  • August 2: MIA 9, PHI 8
  • August 3: PHI 4, MIA 2

September 8-10 (Miami wins 2-1)

  • September 8: MIA 3, PHI 2
  • September 9: PHI 8, MIA 4
  • September 10: MIA 5, PHI 4

Wild Card Round – Projected Pitching Matchups

NLWCS Game One: Zack Wheeler vs. Jesús Luzardo

Tuesday, October 3 at 8:08 PM ET

While his numbers aren’t quite as flashy as they were the last few years, Wheeler remains an ace in his fourth season with the Phillies. The right-hander has been especially dominant in the second half, with a 3.08 ERA in 14 starts since the All-Star break. He’ll be looking to recapture his success from last October, when he pitched to a 2.78 ERA in six starts.

Luzardo is coming off the first full season of his career. His 3.63 ERA is almost identical to Wheeler’s 3.61 mark, although the veteran has better underlying numbers across the board. Luzardo has also shown signs of fatigue down the stretch, posting a 4.15 ERA in the second half and a 4.70 ERA since the trade deadline.

There’s no denying that the Marlins’ lefty is a talented young pitcher, but the Phils have the edge in Game One.

NLWCS Game Two: Aaron Nola vs. Braxton Garrett

Wednesday, October 4 at 8:08 PM ET

If you just look at ERA, you might give the edge to the Marlins in this one. And you might have a point. Aaron Nola has a 4.46 ERA this season and a 4.58 ERA in the second half; Garrett has a 3.66 ERA on the season and a 3.61 ERA since the All-Star break. In September, Nola gave up 17 runs in five starts; Garrett gave up just six runs in four outings.

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Nola has blown it for the Phillies time and again, while Garrett has come through for the Marlins more often than not. And yet…

Nola has a much longer track record of success. He’s been one of the most durable starters in the game for six years. Garrett, on the other hand, just completed his first full season in the majors.

The Marlins’ lefty has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio and a higher groundball rate, but the Phillies’ long-time ace has allowed far less hard contact, per Statcast. Furthermore, Nola’s second-half underlying metrics are better across the board, perhaps a sign that the 26-year-old Garrett is tiring despite his pristine September ERA.

So, who has the edge in this matchup? It depends which version of Nola shows up. At his best, he’s a bona fide ace, something Garrett hasn’t proven himself to be. However, Nola has also thrown several clunkers this year, while Garrett has only had a few truly terrible outings.

NLWCS Game Three: TBD vs. TBD

Thursday, October 5 at 8:08 PM ET

The Phillies have yet to announce a starter for Game Three. Ranger Suárez is the most logical candidate, but manager Rob Thomson wants the lefty available for potential high-leverage innings in the first two games of the series.

If Suárez is unavailable, that leaves Taijuan Walker and Cristopher Sánchez as options to start the rubber match. Sánchez has had a much better season, but he’s in uncharted territory, having already surpassed his career high in innings and having never pitched in the postseason. Thomson will have to consider experience, potential, and individual matchups if he needs to make a decision.

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The Marlins haven’t announced a third starter either, although it seems all but certain that Edward Cabrera will pitch several innings, whether he starts the game or comes in after an opener. Cabrera has had a solid season, but he can be a little unpredictable. His strikeout stuff is the real deal, but he has walked at least six batters in a game four times this season.

Cabrera, at his very best, is better than any of Philadelphia’s options, but the Phillies have three safe choices while the Marlins hardly have one.

Lineup Comparison

The Marlins were swinging some hot bats in September, but there’s no question the Phillies have a stronger lineup. On the season, Philadelphia has a .765 OPS to Miami’s .722. Since the All-Star break, the Phillies have a .794 OPS to the Marlins’ .716.

Philadelphia has the edge in on-base skills, power, and baserunning. Overall, they finished fourth in the NL in scoring, while Miami finished dead last.

The Marlins made some big acquisitions at the trade deadline, adding Jake Burger and Josh Bell to the middle of the lineup. However, Trea Turner finally busted out of a long slump in August, and Bryce Harper returned to form after a slow start recovering from Tommy John surgery. In other words, the Phillies made some “additions,” too.

Working in Miami’s favor, the Marlins will be starting lefties in the first two games of the series, which could keep Brandon Marsh (.829 OPS) on the bench. Then again, his replacement, Cristian Pache, has a .924 OPS in 57 PA against southpaws this year.

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Bullpen Comparison

The Marlins have a good relief corps, but the Phillies have one of the best bullpens in the National League. Here’s a rundown of each club’s best relievers:

Craig Kimbrel69.012.33.733.6%
José Alvarado41.113.93.953.9%1.742.802.412.35
Jeff Hoffman52.111.93.342.6%2.412.542.573.25
Matt Strahm87.
Gregory Soto60.19.73.351.3%4.622.823.593.83
Orion Kerkering3.
Seranthony Domínguez50.
via FanGraphs
Tanner Scott7812.002.7750.9%2.312.522.172.66
Andrew Nardi57.111.463.3043.8%2.672.733.613.46
A.J. Puk56.212.392.0644.2%3.973.023.593.02
David Robertson65.110.743.4443.1%
JT Chargois42.17.443.8354.6%3.613.533.804.29
Steven Okert58.211.203.6823.6%4.453.964.094.24
Huascar Brazoban58.29.974.7651.9%4.143.563.944.10
via FanGraphs

The Phillies’ bullpen is dangerous from top to bottom. Craig Kimbrel and José Alvarado make for an excellent righty/lefty closer combo, and Jeff Hoffman has been another excellent high-leverage option. Matt Strahm has been reliable for the Phillies all year.

Meanwhile, Gregory Soto and Seranthony Domínguez have been a little hit-or-miss, but they both have phenomenal stuff. Then there’s Philadelphia’s secret weapon: Orion Kerkering. The 22-year-old quickly rose through the ranks, and after three big league appearances, he already looks like the real deal.

As for the Marlins, Tanner Scott is a terrific closer, and David Robertson is a reliable veteran. Andrew Nardi has looked great in his first full season. A.J. Puk is solid, if unspectacular, and the same goes for JT Chargois.

Huascar Brazoban is more than capable, and Steven Okert looked great until a midsummer crash. All things considered, this is a solid bullpen. Still, the Marlins just don’t have quite as much high-end talent or high-end potential as the Phillies.

NL Wild Card Series Prediction

The Phillies are the better team, no two ways about it. They finished 5.5 games ahead of the Marlins. They scored 130 more runs and gave up seven fewer; that’s the biggest run differential gap in any Wild Card series – by far.

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What’s more, the Marlins will enter the series without Sandy Alcantara or Eury Pérez in the rotation. Manager Skip Schumaker promised Luis Arraez will be back in the lineup, but the NL batting champ might not be at full strength. He hasn’t played since twisting his ankle on September 23.

Meanwhile, the Phillies will be fully healthy, with no shortage of options in the rotation, the lineup, and the bullpen.

Anything can happen in a short series, and the Phillies know as well as anyone that the underdog can come out on top in October. Still, it’s hard to look at this matchup and not pick the Phillies to take the NL Wild Card Series for the second year in a row.

Phillies in two.