With the Phillies having officially clinched a spot in the postseason for the second season in a row, it’s time to shift our attention toward the Wild Card series. Sure, the Phillies still have three games to go against their division-rival New York Mets, but breaking down a series with two AAA-infested lineups won’t do much good, so let’s look ahead!
Compared to 2022, the Phillies’ postseason roster does not appear to be as straightforward, but that could work to their advantage.
Having Christian Pache, Johan Rojas, Jake Cave, and Brandon Marsh, Rob Thomson has the opportunity to juggle his lineup depending on the opposition’s starting pitcher. Behind Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, the rotation has variety as well—there’s Cris Sanchez, the young lefty who made a name for himself after struggles in August 2022; veteran Taijuan Walker could offer some depth at the backend of the rotation; Michael Lorenzen, who will likely get slotted in the bullpen, could eat innings if the need arose; Ranger Suarez was effective, as both a starter and reliever, for the 2022 Phillies last October.
Clearly, the options are there, and the front office—along with Rob Thomson and his staff—have some important decisions to make in the coming days. Regardless of what is decided, there are certain players whose influence will prove crucial in the playoffs, no matter their role.
Here’s why these five guys could make or break the Phillies’ chance to return to the World Series in 2023:
5. Kyle Schwarber
This one is relatively self-explanatory and requires little elaboration. Schwarber is the team leader. The guy who speaks on behalf of the team takes the blame when needed, and—most importantly—has an innate ability to change the game with a single swing.
Last postseason, Schwarber hit six home runs over 17 games, including two leadoff long balls. Schwarber being a tone-setter at the top of the lineup has been paramount for the Phillies in the regular season, and if that continues in October, the Phillies could be hard to stop.
4. Craig Kimbrel
When Kimbrel is on his game and not tipping his pitches (if you know, you know), he is nasty; it’s an indisputable fact. He had 16 consecutive scoreless outings from June 11 to July 18 and posted a 0.69 ERA in 13 appearances in June.
In August, Kimbrel struggled mightily. His velocity has fluctuated, and he has lacked the same command he boated during the middle of the season. As a whole, his September numbers have been better, but he has worked himself into some jams in big spots late in the game, and he’s walking more batters than you’d like. He has a 4.20 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP in his last 15 innings of work.
At this point, we know Kimbrel will be given high-leverage innings during the playoffs, despite Rob Thomson confirming the bullpen will be closer by committee.
3. Ranger Suarez
Behind Harper, Suarez could be one of the most underrated but productive players for the postseason Phillies. This season, Suarez’s numbers do not do him justice. Injuries and some bad luck have ballooned his numbers, but he has silently been a big part of the 2023 Phillies. He has limited the amount of hard contact allowed, and he’s made significant improvements to his breaking ball. In 2022, the run value of his breaking balls was in the 31st percentile, but this season, that jumped into the 92nd percentile. Unfortunately, this has resulted in him throwing more pitches and getting fewer ground balls, an unintended by-product of his adjustment.
Suarez’s numbers also inflated after his start that followed the Phillies’ postseason-clinching celebration, which has seemingly become a yearly thing.
Nevertheless, Suarez will have a role in the 2023 postseason, and probably a big one. If he’s not the Phillies’ third starter, then he will likely work out of the bullpen until a potential five-game NLDS, similar to Noah Syndergaard in 2023. Suarez worked from the bullpen and got the final out in game five of the NLCS, and he spent the beginning of his big-league career in the ‘pen. In 2019, Suarez posted a 3.14 ERA in 48.2 innings as a reliever, and in 2021, he had a 1.12 ERA before transitioning to a role in the starting rotation at the end of the season.
2. Bryce Harper
Similar to Schwarber, Harper’s spot on this list does not need much elaboration. Harper has a .295 average, a .402 on-base percentage, and a .502 slugging percentage, leading the Phillies in each of those categories. And even though he missed the fourth month of the season, he has 21 home runs and 79 RBI.
Saying that Bryce Harper is the most important player is a basic answer, yet it’s likely the correct one. He and his 1.160 OPS carried the Phillies’ offense on his back in the 2022 postseason, and Harper doing the same thing again would be huge in October baseball.
1. Aaron Nola
Everyone likely predicted that Aaron Nola would headline this list, and the reason is obvious: He, as the Phillies’ second starter, has shown zero consistency, but at times, has also looked like the ace we knew from 2022.
In 32 regular-season starts, Nola posted a 4.46 ERA and struck out 202 batters over 193.2 innings. He had some very impressive starts—he allowed one run over eight innings vs. the Astros, threw six shutout innings vs. the Braves, held the Cardinals scoreless in seven innings, and plowed through the Rays’ lineup for 7.1 innings at the beginning of July. However, the rough starts have overshadowed some of his successes.
His curveball is still wicked, and his sinker still looks unhittable, but any signs of consistency have yet to be present, making him an untrustworthy option in the rotation.