While rain has kept the American League Championship Series in a bit of a holding pattern, the National League Championship Series is set to begin tonight, with the red-hot Phillies looking to pull off one last upset in San Diego, while the Padres go from underdog to favorite for the first time.
Each team has taken a remarkably difficult path to make it to the NLCS, and has proven doubters wrong in the process. In the first game of the playoffs, the Phillies came back from down 2-0 to score six runs in the ninth inning, stunning the Cardinals.
They have been riding that momentum ever since, sweeping St. Louis before going up against a heavily-favored 101-win Braves team in Atlanta. As the ultimate puncher’s chance team, the Phillies smacked the Braves on the mouth early and they never got back up.
Philly jumped all over Braves ace Max Fried in Game 1, scoring four runs off him and six in the first four innings to set the tone of that series. The Phillies held on to win that game 7-6, before losing Game 2 to carry an even split back home to Philadelphia.
Playing in front of a crowd that hadn’t seen playoff baseball since 2011, the Phillies trounced Atlanta, scoring 17 runs across a two-day rout towards the NLCS.
On the other side of the bracket, the Padres were out slaying dragons of their own, taking down two 100-win teams in their path to the NLCS.
First they went into Citi Field, were they squared off against two of the greatest pitchers of this generation in Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. They came out the other side winners thanks to incredible pitching performances by Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove.
Next came a team who has had their number all season. The mighty 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers, who have won the Padres NL West division nine times over the last 10 years (lone exception being their 106-win second place team last season).
In 19 regular season matchups, the Dodgers took 14 games and outscored them 109-47. But we wipe the slate clean in the playoffs. The Padres were riding great momentum into the series, but the Dodgers still took Game 1.
That was however against Padres No. 4 starter Mike Clevinger. Once they were able to return to the trio of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove, the Padres rolled, taking three in a row to finally beat the team that has stood in their way for so long. Now the Phillies represent the last hurdle in the Padres way of winning their third NL pennant in franchise history.
Season Series: Phillies Won 4, Padres 3
The Phillies and Padres met two times this year, with each team taking a series in the other’s ballpark. First it was the Padres, who went into Philadelphia in the middle of May and took two of three. There were three shutouts in that series, with Mike Clevinger and Yu Darvish earning wins for the Padres and Zack Wheeler earning one for the Phillies.
The teams did not meet again until the end of June, when the Phillies went into San Diego and took three out of four games, scoring 16 runs across the three victories. This series will pick up right where it left off, with the Padres set to host the Phillies for Game 1 in San Diego later tonight.
|Tuesday, Oct. 18||Game 1: Phillies at Padres||8:03 p.m.||FS1|
|Wednesday, Oct. 19||Game 2: Phillies at Padres||4:35 p.m.||Fox/FS1|
|Friday, Oct. 21||Game 3: Padres at Phillies||7:37 p.m.||FS1|
|Saturday, Oct. 22||Game 4: Padres at Phillies||7:45 p.m.||Fox|
|Sunday, Oct. 23||Game 5: Padres at Phillies*||2:37 p.m.||FS1|
|Monday, Oct. 24||Game 6: Phillies at Padres*||8:03 p.m.||FS1|
|Tuesday, Oct. 25||Game 7: Phillies at Padres*||8:03 p.m.||Fox/FS1|
Game 1: Zack Wheeler vs. Yu Darvish
Doesn’t get much sexier than this. Zack Wheeler vs. Yu Darvish is the type of pitching matchup you dream of to kick off a series, and one we are likely to see twice in both Game 1 and Game 5, assuming this series goes long.
Wheeler made one start against the Padres this season and he pitched a gem, going seven scoreless, while allowing just four hits to his nine strikeouts. Wheeler pitched to a 2.82 ERA across 26 starts this season and has carried over that success into October.
In his first career playoff start against the Cardinals in the Wild Card round, Wheeler went 6 1/3 without allowing a run. His next outing in the NLDS ended up being a loss, as the Braves put together two-out rally in the sixth inning that netting them three runs. The Phillies were shutout by Kyle Wright, A.J. Minter, Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen for their lone loss of the series.
Yu Darvish on the other hand is a perfect 2-0 in the postseason so far, as the Padres have won both of his starts. The first came to open the Wild Card round against the Mets, where Darvish allowed just one run across seven innings pitched. Against the Dodgers, Darvish allowed three in five innings, but he received four runs of support to receive the decision.
During the regular season, Darvish pitched to a 3.10 ERA across 30 starts, striking out 197 in 194 1/3 innings pitched. He face the Phillies once on June 26th and allowed three runs across six innings pitched. Darvish exited with a 5-3 lead, but the Phillies scored five runs off the Padres bullpen to pull out the come-from-behind victory.
Game 2: Aaron Nola vs. Blake Snell
When you combine his work in both the regular and postseason, you can make the argument that no pitcher in baseball has been more valuable to their team than Aaron Nola.
Nola took the ball 32 times this year and led all MLB pitchers with a 6.3 fWAR. His 2.77 xFIP led all qualified starters and his 2.74 xERA trailed only Carlos Rodon. Only Sandy Alcantara pitched more innings than the 205 that Nola hurled for Philadelphia and his 235 strikeouts were fourth-most.
The Phillies second ace faced off against the Padres once this season and earned a very tough loss. He pitched seven innings and allowed just one run off seven hits and two walks. Nola struck out 10 in the game, but his lineup couldn’t muster a single run.
So far in the postseason, run support has not been an issue for Nola. The Phillies scored him two runs in Game 2 of the Wild Card round, but that was all he needed, pitching 6 2/3 scoreless before the bullpen got the final 10 outs to complete his shutout. Then against the Braves, the Phillies gave Nola six early runs and eventually cruised to a 9-1 victory.
On the other side of this pitching matchup is Blake Snell, who has put together an up-and-down campaign for the Padres. In the first half, Snell pitched to a 5.22 ERA. In the second half, Snell was as good as Nola, posted an identical 2.8 fWAR across 14 starts, while pitched to a 2.19 ERA.
In the playoffs, Snell has continued to have mixed results, as he did not fare well in his first outing against the Mets but was much better against the Dodgers. In the Wild Card round, Snell was knocked out of the game in the fourth inning, after having given up two runs off four hits and six walks. In the NLDS, Snell earned a victory, allowing just one run across 5 1/3 innings pitched.
In his lone start against the Phillies this season, Snell allowed four earned runs across 5 2/3 innings pitched. He was outpitched in the game by then-starter Zac Eflin, who allowed just two runs over six innings pitched.
Game 3: Joe Musgrove vs. Ranger Suarez
Joe Musgrove may just be the hottest pitcher in the playoffs right now, as he delivered the performance of this postseason when he allowed just one hit and no runs against the Mets in a winner-take-all elimination game. He followed up that performance with another series-clinching outing in the NLDS.
Pitching Game 4 in San Diego, Musgrove kept the Padres in the game against the Dodgers, allowing just two runs across six innings pitched. While he left with a 2-0 deficit, the Padres lineup finally came through late, scoring five runs in the seventh inning to pull off the upset win.
If this series goes the distance, Musgrove could be in line to start Game 7 on three days rest to try to clinch another series to advance to the World Series. Musgrove did not have much success against the Phillies this year though, as he allowed six earned runs in his lone appearance against them.
Ranger Suarez on the other hand had great success pitching against the Padres, as he allowed two runs in his lone start against them, pitching into the eighth inning. Suarez was not needed in the Wild Card round for Philadelphia, so he instead made his playoff debut in Game 1 of the NLDS.
Suarez was erratic in that game, walking five batters and throwing just 46 strikes across 86 pitches. He allowed just one run though, thanks in part to the relief work of Andrew Bellatti, who stranded an inherited runner when he got the last two outs of the fourth inning for Suarez.
The first two pitching matchup are pretty even in this series, giving us four games across a seven-game set that really could go either way. Having Musgrove over Suarez is an edge that the Padres will carry though for at least one, if not two games this series.
Game 4: Mike Clevinger vs. Noah Syndergaard
At the time of this article, they have only announced two of the pitching matchups so far, but based on who has started in the postseason it would make sense that this would be the matchup in Game 4.
Mike Clevinger started Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers and unless they decide to go with Sean Manaea, expect him to take the ball against for Game 4 of the NLCS. Clevinger was not good in his lone postseason start though, allowed five runs (four earned) in 2 2/3 innings against the Dodgers.
Clevinger does bring over some head-to-head success in this matchup however, as he allowed just one hit and no runs in his one start against Philly this year.
For the Phillies, Noah Syndergaard could be tasked with making another playoff start and if he did, it would be his first against the Padres since May 7th, 2019. Syndergaard is a much different pitcher now than he was back then prior to getting Tommy John surgery.
This season, Syndergaard has pitched to a 3.94 ERA between his time spent with the Angels and the Phillies. He pitched out of the bullpen in Game 2 of the NLDS, throwing one scoreless inning, before starter two days later in Game 4.
Syndergaard was excellent in limited work, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced, with the lone exception being a solo homer allowed to Orlando Arcia. Syndergaard was pulled though to start the fourth inning though, as the Phillies went to their bullpen early to close out the series-deciding game.
It its unclear what Syndergaard’s role will be in this series, but he is certainly an x-factor that could play a vital one in a seven-game set.
Who Has the Better (Hotter) Lineup?
Each of these teams has received contributions up-and-down the lineup to make it this far in the playoffs. Still, there are a few hitters who have stood out above all the rest up to this point in the postseason.
We will start with the still-reigning NL MVP, Bryce Harper.
Harper has had a frustrating season due to injuries, but he is making the most of this opportunity to make a run in October. The 30-year-old did not come into this with a reputation of being a great postseason player, but all of that is changing this time around.
Across their first six games played, Harper is 10-for-23 (.435), with two walks, three doubles and three home runs. His six runs scored and six RBIs both lead the team. Jean Segura is having a great postseason run as well. He is hitting .389/.476/.500 and delivered the biggest knock of the postseason thus far, when he drove in two to take a late lead over the Cardinals in Game 1 of the Wild Card round.
The story for the Padres during the playoffs has been the bottom-third of their order, as they have received remarkable production from Trent Grisham, Ha-Seong Kim and catcher Austin Nola.
Grisham trails only Harper with his 1.329 postseason OPS. He has hit three home runs, has scored seven runs and has drive in five. Kim has made the most of his nine appearances on the bases, tying Grisham with a team-best seven runs scored, meanwhile Nola has gotten countless clutch hits.
Nola is tied with Grisham and Manny Machado for the team-lead with eight hits across their playoff run so far. Machado has still been the best player though, providing the Padres with the type of superstar performance that can lead to World Series runs.
Signed in the same offseason, both Harper and Machado are fulfilling their respective $300+ million contracts this postseason. While Machado hasn’t been quiet as productive as Harper offensively, he is a constant pillar of their defense at the hot corner and still has a .980 OPS with two home runs and five RBIs.
The fact that Juan Soto has in some respects become an afterthought at this stage, speaks to the randomness of October baseball. Still, no one would be surprised if he proved to be the best player in this series, beating his former teammate Harper and leading his team to the World Series as the NLCS MVP.
Since the beginning of the season, I have been saying the Phillies are the best puncher’s chance team in the sport. Between all the star players in their lineup and the two horses atop their rotation, Philadelphia has proven that they can beat anybody in a series and that could carry over here.
With that said, over seven games I think the better team will come out victorious and I believe the pitching works too much in the Padres favor to ignore.
The Yu Darvish vs. Zack Wheeler matchup is excellent, as it the Blake Snell vs. Aaron Nola pairing. I could see those four game being split across a seven-game set. That then leaves three games to be pitched by the likes of Joe Musgrove, Ranger Suarez, Mike Clevinger and Noah Syndergaard.
Of those pitchers, one stands out above the rest and that is Joe Musgrove.
If this series goes the distance, having the ability to throw Musgrove on short rest is massive advantage over whatever the Phillies could cobble together across a long series. Ultimately the additional frontline starter could prove to be the difference in this one.