Over the past decade, how many times have we watched yesterday’s game? A two-run lead in the ninth inning squandered effortlessly by a bullpen running on fumes? That was the Phillies we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing the last 10 years. But these freakin’ Fightins…they’re different. They did not hang their heads, kick the ball around, or have their sights set on an elimination game the following evening. They kept pushing forward, kept the line moving, and were flat out the better team yesterday afternoon. Now, the Phillies are one win away from winning a playoff series against the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals on the road.

Saturday night’s bout will showcase a pitching matchup of Aaron Nola (11-13, 3.25 ERA) and Miles Mikolas (12-13, 3.29 ERA). Nola, who is coming off a near perfect outing in the postseason clincher against the Astros on Monday, has pitched to a 2.36 ERA in six games started since the beginning of September. On the year, he hurled 205 innings, struck out 235 batters, and walked just 29 (!). His opposer, Mikolas, also pitched 200 innings during the regular season but struck out just 153. According to FanGraphs, Mikolas’ fielding independent pitching, a statistic similar to ERA but focuses only on outcomes a pitcher can control (strikeouts, walks, home runs, etc.), is 4.00, good for 40th among qualified pitchers. Nola’s FIP is 2.10, good for second best in baseball. The Phillies certainly like their chances.

Each team’s starting lineup will likely resemble that of yesterday, but the Phillies will probably have Brandon Marsh in centerfield against the righty Mikolas and use Matt Vierling as a late game defensive replacement or pinch runner. Nevertheless, the Phillies will count on the middle of their lineup to produce like they have most of the year. The 1-5 hitters will certainly need to be better than the 1-19 showing yesterday, but with the Daycare open for business, a heavy burden can be taken off the thump in the middle of the order. 

As far as the bullpens are concerned, the Phillies may have the upper hand. Both Jose Alvarado and David Robertson threw minimal pitches yesterday and are probably available to pitch today. Zach Eflin, who finished yesterday’s comeback win in his new closer role, will likely be unavailable as he is not used to pitching on back-to-back days. Regardless, the Phils’ bullpen is healthy and at full strength while the Cardinals have multiple question marks. Ryan Helsley, their star closer who pitched to a 1.25 ERA this season, was removed from the ninth inning due to an injured middle finger on his throwing hand. HIs status for tonight’s game is unknown, but if he were to enter the game, he would not be pitching at 100 percent. The rest of the Cardinals bullpen will be available as they used minimal pitchers and have most of their starting rotation available out of the ‘pen. But, if they were to turn to Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, or Adam Wainwright for big outs tonight, it’s unclear how their performance will be affected by an unfamiliar role.

Tonight’s game will begin at 8:37 EST and broadcasted by ESPN2 with Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez behind the mic. After tonight, the Phillies will either have clinched a spot in the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves or have one more game against the Cardinals in a win-or-go-home series finale. Either way, Red October is here. It’s been a long time coming.

Photo: Miles Kennedy/Phillies Team Photographer

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