Last year, the Phillies ‘danced on their own’ to the World Series, where they eventually fell to the Houston Astros in a hard-fought, best-of-seven series. While it was certainly a season to remember, the Phillies wanted more. Complacency was not an option. This was all made abundantly clear when Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies’ front office inked star shortstop Trea Turner to an eleven-year, $300 million contract.
And despite a slow start to their 2023 campaign, the Phillies ended up right where they wanted to be—in the position to accomplish what they came within two games of doing last year: being crowned the world champions of baseball.
This feat, however, will not be easy to come by. In the Wild Card round, the Phillies are set to face the 84-77 Miami Marlins, a pitching-and-power-heavy team that is well-equipped for a three-game series, even with their top two pitchers unavailable. Over the past half-decade, the Marlins have been arguably the Phillies’ biggest kryptonite in the regular season.
If the Phils make it to the NLDS, they’ll be tasked with downing the Atlanta Braves, who have one of the best offenses in baseball history. In the regular season, their .501 team slugging percentage was the highest in MLB history, and their 307 home runs tied the 2019 Twins for the most long balls of any team in the regular season.
But before we look ahead, let’s take a look at three storylines to preview before the 2023 Phillies-Marlins Wild Card series:
Last Time They Met
When the Phillies and Marlins had their final regular-season meeting at the beginning of September, things didn’t exactly go the Phillies way. In game one, the Phillies blew their two-run lead in the sixth inning, spoiling five shutout innings from Christopher Sanchez. An inning later, Jacob Stallings’ go-ahead, solo home propelled the Fish to a game-one win.
In game two, though, the Phillies powered to a victory despite Aaron Nola’s struggles continuing. The offense was headed by Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, and Brandon Marsh, who hit a bases-clearing double to give the Phillies some insurance, leading them to an 8-4 win.
The Marlins kept fighting in the rubber match, as they battled back to win the series after being down by three runs early in the game. They found Ranger Suarez’s number in the seventh and capitalized on some soft contact, and they caused havoc in the eighth with Seranthony Dominguez on the mound.
The Phillies ended up going 6-7 against the 2023 Marlins, proving the Phillies should not take their Wild Card opponent lightly.
A Load of Lefties
Rob Thomson is going to have some decisions to make, and the Marlins, who are starting southpaws in both of the first two games of this series, are making those decisions a whole lot harder.
Of course, when Johan Rojas is manning centerfield, Brandon Marsh is usually your starting left fielder, but with two good lefties, Rob Thomson may have to switch things up. Until the final regular season game, Brandon Marsh hadn’t started against a lefty since August, so the first playoff game may not be the time to change that. Regardless, Marsh has not had an overwhelming amount of success against fellow lefties, hitting just .229 in 96 at-bats against them.
If Thomson chooses not to stick with Marsh, which seems likely for at least one of the first two games, then he has Christian Pache, Weston Wilson, and Edmundo Sosa as potential options.
As of now, Pache is the likely starter, given his elite speed and defense, but his bat has been silent since being reinstated from the IL at the beginning of September. In fact, he has just four hits in 35 at-bats since then.
Weston Wilson has looked good in the bigs, but having just 16 regular-season at-bats, it’s hard to envision Wilson being slated in a playoff lineup.
Starting Sosa could create unnecessary havoc on defense, but if you’re solely focused on the most productive lineup against a left-handed starter, he’s your guy. Sosa has a .792 OPS against lefties in 2023, and since the all-star break, he has a .263 average and a .804 OPS as a whole. These numbers make Thomson’s choice sound like a no-brainer, but unless you start Sosa in left field—a position he’s only spent three major-league innings at—then you’d be forced to start Schwarber in left field and have one of the Phillies’ other infielders serve as the designated hitter.
Messy, I know!
When Thomson addressed the media on Monday afternoon, he said that he knew the starting left fielder but is refraining from telling the public until the team has been notified.
A Big Moment for Nola
Aaron Nola has been a staple of the Phillies since his debut in 2015. As the longest-tenured Phillie, he’s had two Cy-Young-caliber seasons and has established himself as a “big-game pitcher” that Rob Thomson trusts in make-or-break spots. 2023, though, has been an up-and-down rollercoaster that will ultimately be defined by his results in October.
In the first contract year of Nola’s career, he has been plagued with inconsistencies and has struggled to find all three of his weapons—fastball, changeup, and curveball—at the same time. He ended the regular season with a 4.46 ERA across 32 outings, but he capped off his campaign with two quality starts, one against a vicious Atlanta offense and the other to clinch a postseason berth for the second season in a row. J.T. Realmuto mentioned that Nola has been working on some mechanical changes over the past month, which could be contributing to his newfound success.
Aside from the goal of winning a World Series, Nola’s narrative is simple. If he throws well on the biggest stages in baseball, he’ll become one of the wealthiest pitchers in the world, regardless of whether or not he comes back to Philly. If Nola struggles, his future may be out of his control.