In the first year of the new expanded playoff format in Major League Baseball, two Wild Card teams will face off in the National League Championship Series. The Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres both earned their spot in the NLCS with victories over the weekend on Saturday. The Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves 8-3, and the Padres beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3, both winning the NLDS 3-1.
Both teams have had the odds stacked against them as non-division champions this postseason. They each had to play on the road during the Wild Card Series, and neither had home-field advantage in the Division Series.
How They Got Here
The Phillies started their playoff run against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card Series. They were able to sweep the Cardinals and advance to play in the NLDS against the N.L. East champion, and their rival, the Atlanta Braves.
After a surprising game one win in the NLDS, the Phillies would drop game two in Atlanta. Then at home, the Phillies’ offense and pitching stepped up. On their way to a series win, they outscored the Braves 17-4 in Philadelphia.
The Padres have had an impressive run of their own. They took on the 101-win New York Mets on Wild Card weekend. They won that series in three games after scoring seven runs off of Max Scherzer in game one and with an excellent pitching performance by Joe Musgrove in game three.
In the NLDS, San Diego played their own division rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the most games in baseball this season with 111.
The Padres dropped the first game of the series in L.A. but went on to win three straight close games. They came from behind in game four, as they scored five runs in the bottom of the 7th, and went on to clinch their spot in the NLCS.
Both teams involved in this year’s NLCS are on runs most people didn’t see coming. The Phillies took down the defending World Series champions and the Padres won two series against two of the best teams in baseball.
Here’s a preview of both teams before they begin play on Tuesday.
The Phillies pitched well in St. Louis against the Cardinals in the Wild Card Series. Neither Zack Wheeler nor Aaron Nola gave up a run, and their bullpen looked solid. The offense was a little worrisome though.
They rallied in the 9th inning of game one to score six runs but were held to just two runs in game two. The offense struggled to score because of their inability to hit with runners in scoring position – they were just 2-for-12 with RISP in the series.
The offense looked completely different against the Braves. They went 13-for-35 with runners in scoring position and were able to score runs in bunches.
While it was nice to see the Phillies’ offense score plenty of runs, it was even better to see their star player be a large part of their offensive success. Bryce Harper struggled at the plate when he returned to the lineup after suffering a broken thumb in late June. From August 26 through the end of the regular season, he hit .227 with only three home runs in 124 at-bats. Harper’s timing seemed to be off, and he was unable to consistently make quality contact.
Harper looked good in the second game against the Cardinals though, as he hit a long home run early in the game to put the Phillies in the lead and had a single later in the game. He turned things around in a big way against the Braves in the Division Series. In 16 at-bats against Atlanta, Harper hit .500/.529/1.063 with three doubles and two home runs.
The Phillies also got good offensive performances from Nick Castellanos, Jean Segura, and J.T. Realmuto against the Braves.
Their pitching looked good as well. Although Ranger Suarez struggled with his command in game one, the Phillies got solid outings from Zack Wheeler in game two, Aaron Nola in game three, and Noah Syndergaard and their bullpen in game four.
The bullpen isn’t deep for the Phillies. They have relied heavily on, and gotten good outings from, Zach Eflin, Jose Alvarado, and Seranthony Dominguez so far this postseason. It will be important for those guys to continue to be reliable against the Padres since the middle of the Phillies’ bullpen is a big question mark.
Overall, the key for the Phillies is going to be how their pitching staff shapes up and performs throughout this series. Things have gone their way so far this postseason, as they have been able to get lengthy performances out of Wheeler and Nola. If those two can continue to look sharp, the Phillies’ bullpen shouldn’t get too overexposed or overused. Not having to rely on the bullpen too much could lead to plenty of success for the Phillies in the NLCS.
San Diego Padres
The Padres shocked many people when they beat the Mets in the Wild Card series on the road. They were just getting started though, as they eventually put an end to the Dodgers’ season as well.
In the series against New York, San Diego’s pitching staff held the Mets’ lineup to a .185/.283/.326 slash line. They had similar success against the Dodgers’ lineup. The Dodgers hit .227/.302/.402 against the Padres in the NLDS.
So far this postseason, Padres’ starting pitchers have gone 36.1 innings and have given up 14 runs. Joe Musgrove’s regular season success has carried over into the postseason. In two starts, Musgrove has thrown 13 innings with 13 strikeouts and has allowed just 2 runs.
Yu Darvish and Blake Snell are the other noteworthy starters for the Padres. Darvish has looked good in his two starts this postseason. He has thrown 12 innings, has 11 strikeouts, and has posted a 3.00 ERA. Snell’s first outing was cut short against the Mets, but in game three of the NLDS, he went 5.1 innings with 6 strikeouts and allowed 1 run.
The bullpen has been led by Josh Hader this postseason. After struggling throughout the season with a 5.22 ERA, Hader has looked much better during the playoffs. He has appeared in 4 games, thrown 4.1 innings, struck out 7, allowed 0 runs, and has 3 saves.
Offensively, the Padres’ best hitter this postseason has been Trent Grisham. Grisham hit .500/.667/1.250 in the three games against the Mets while scoring 5 runs. Against the Dodgers, he hit .308/.400/.538. He also has 3 home runs, which is tied with Bryce Harper and Harrison Bader for the most so far this postseason.
The Padres have also gotten good offensive contributions from Manny Machado, Austin Nola, and Jake Cronenworth.
In this series, the key to success for the Padres is going to be how their starting pitchers perform. In the three wins against the Braves, the Phillies hit well against the Braves’ starters and jumped out to early leads. If the Padres’ starting staff can prevent the Phillies’ offense from scoring early and often, they could be in good shape to win the series.
Schedule and Probable Starters
This is the current schedule for the NLCS:
|Game 1||Tuesday, October 18||San Diego||8:03 pm EST|
|Game 2||Wednesday, October 19||San Diego||4:35 PM EST|
|Game 3||Friday, October 21||Philadelphia||7:37 PM EST|
|Game 4||Saturday, October 22||Philadelphia||7:45 PM EST|
|Game 5 (if necessary)||Sunday, October 23||Philadelphia||2:37 PM EST|
|Game 6 (if necessary)||Monday, October 24||San Diego||8:03 PM EST|
|Game 7 (if necessary)||Tuesday, October 25||San Diego||8:03 PM EST|
Based on how each team has used their starting pitchers so far this postseason, this is what the pitching matchups could look like:
|Game 1||Zack Wheeler||Yu Darvish|
|Game 2||Aaron Nola||Blake Snell|
|Game 3||Ranger Suarez||Joe Musgrove|
|Game 4||Noah Syndergaard||Mike Clevinger|
|Game 5 (if necessary)||TBD||TBD|
|Game 6 (if necessary)||TBD||TBD|
|Game 7 (if necessary)||TBD||TBD|
This series is going to be a lot of fun and very competitive. Even though neither of these teams won their division or was considered one of the best teams in baseball this year, they are both playing very well. The Padres have eliminated two teams many people thought could win the World Series, while the Phillies beat the N.L. Central champion St. Louis Cardinals and the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves.
I mentioned both teams’ starting pitchers being the key to success in this series. Both teams have had good starting pitching so far in the postseason, and whoever gets the better performances from their starters will most likely move on to the World Series.
The fans for both teams have provided good home atmospheres for their teams to play in front of, and I believe that could be an important factor in this series.
The Padres haven’t appeared in the NLCS since 1998, and the Phillies haven’t played in one since 2010. No matter who wins this series, a great story is going to continue to be written, and one will end.
This is a very evenly matched series, and I think it will go a full seven games. While the Phillies are playing some very good baseball right now, so are the Padres. I think San Diego having home-field advantage will help them continue their season. I believe the Padres win this series 4-3, and will appear in the World Series for the first time in 24 years.
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