Playoff success, as it turns out, can be quite addicting. For the entirety of the regular season, I would have been completely content with the Phillies just making it into the postseason. Whatever happens after that, I told myself, win or lose, I’ll be happy.
That is no longer the case. After sweeping the Cardinals in the Wild Card Series and winning game 1 of the NLDS in dominant fashion, 7-6 over the dreaded Atlanta Braves, I’ve gotten a taste for victory. And I want more.
What sticks out the most about the Phillies’ postseason success thus far and what will be the key factor in furthering that success in Game 2 of the Divisional Series and beyond is capability. For the first time since mid-August, this team is playing like one capable of living up to its potential. Capable of beating the indomitable Braves – perhaps as formidable an opponent they’ll face all postseason – and continuing on to the pennant.
That capability starts with pitching. Until yesterday’s barrage of runs – excluding the 9th inning rally in Game 1 of the Wild Card – the team had been carried by the starting pitching of duel aces Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Yes, I said duel aces, because Nola has been one of the best pitchers in baseball all season long, his dominant performance in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series and in the playoff-clincher against the Houston Astros just solidified that statement.
Game 2 of this divisional series will hinge upon Wheeler’s start – with six Phillies relievers used yesterday, the ace must go at least six innings to give the bullpen a much needed rest. In other words, he must pitch to his full capability. In his five starts in Atlanta with the Phillies, Wheeler is 2-2 with a 2.78 ERA.
The bullpen yesterday, proved more than capable of handling the load after Ranger Suarez was taken out after just 3.1 innings. Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez, who pitched two stellar innings of shutout ball, looked particularly dominant on national television. Look for Alvarado to come up big in a high leverage situation in Game 2.
And finally, last but definitely not least, is the offense which for the first time in the longest of times, played up to their capability. Nick Castellanos had his signature game as a Phillie, going 3 for 5 with a run scored, 3 RBIs, and a potential game-saving catch in the 9th inning. Even more significantly, the Phillies went 5 for 12 with runners in scoring position and five of their seven runs came with two outs. Not one home run was hit and not one home run was needed. The ability to string together base hits, move the runners over with less than two outs, and hit sacrifice fly balls with a man on third base are paramount to the team’s success moving forward. All of those things are hallmarks of a deep lineup, capable of bruising opposing pitching from the leadoff spot to the 9-hole. If the Phillies want to sustain their red-hot streak, they only have to play up to the team that they are capable of beating.
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