2023 Division Series: Phillies vs. Braves
Good news for the Phillies: they beat Miami even with designated hitter Bryce Harper hitting .169 and neither he nor Nick Castellanos had a home run. Bad news: Castellanos is a .194 career postseason hitter (fun fact: Castellanos ended the season with no errors in right field). Schwarber hit 47 home runs to lead the club and nine players had more than 10. Trea Turner hit .299 with seven homers in September and hit .333 in August. A healthy Trea Turner is a base-stealing, home run-hitting game-changer.
Weirdness: leadoff man Kyle Schwarber had 66 extra base hits -including 47 home runs- yet failed to hit .200 this year. He struck out 215 times, but was second on the team in on-base percentage (.343) because he walked 126 times. That put him on a base a ton, but because he can’t steal a base, none of those turned into cheap doubles. If he gets hot, he can even the score in a hurry.
Badness: Michael Lorenzen rejoins the staff after being given the week off. He had a no-hitter in August but then followed it with 30 earned runs allowed in 26 1/3 innings. In the last two weeks of the season, Rangel Suarez and Michael Plassmeyer had E.R.A.s of 11.57 and 22.09 respectively. Suarez did well against Atlanta. Plassmeyer will not be taking the trip to Atlanta.
The question is how long will Rob Thompson stick with his starters? Philly had three starters who performed well to end the year: Zach Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Cristopher Sanchez. All had earned run averages under 3.27 in the final days. The middle relief corps are solid. Matt Strahm, Jeff Hoffman, Jose Alvarado and Craig Kimbrel all have E.R.A.s under 3.50. Kimbrel is the closer, but he also has given up huge hits in huge situations in the past (3.96 postseason ERA) with multiple gas can appearances for the Red Sox and one for the White Sox in 2021. In Game 2 of the ALDS that year, he entered the game with the bases loaded and gave up a double to Carlos Correa and a homer to Michael Tucker.
For the Braves, the starting pitching should be enough to take them to the National League Championship Series. Spencer Strider is a strike-throwing machine who is as close to a guarantee as you can get for two quality starts. Max Fried should be as good of a number two starter as you could get were it not for a blister on one of his fingers. The number three starter is in question, but whoever it is Raisel Iglesias is 90 percent on save opportunities and the bullpen is full of guys with solid numbers to get to him. The one thing that could get Atlanta in trouble is a shortage of lefty arms. Only A.J. Minter and Brad Hand are available. Only Minter has the numbers to give anyone confidence.
Ronald Acuña Jr.: .337 batting average/.416 on-base/.596 slugging/41 home runs/149 runs/106 runs batted-in/ 73 stolen bases. Shut him down and greatly increase your chances of winning the series, just like Philadelphia did last year when he hit .200. The only problem is, the Braves have seven other guys who can carry the team: shortstop Ozzie Albies and third baseman Austin Riley combined have a .281 ave./71HRs/213 runs/206 RBIs. And then you have first baseman Matt Olson and his 54 homers and 139 RBIs. And then Marcel Ozuna (40 HRs) and Eddie Rosario (proven postseason clutch player) and Michael Harris II (.293 and a second leadoff hitter) and Sean Murphy (21 HRs) and Orlando Arcia (17 HRs) and…my god, does it ever end?
Forecast: The Phillies are good, really good. But, the Braves win. If they don’t, it is a preposterous upset.