Phillies-Padres position-by-position breakdown

October 18th, 2022

Welcome to the 2022 National League Championship Series, and if these were the two teams you had expected would be here, please tell us who wins the next Powerball drawing. That this series does not have the Mets, Dodgers or Braves does not mean it’s lacking in star power; it does, after all, have Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, J.T. Realmuto, Manny Machado, Aaron Nola, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Hader and so on. It’s got two fan bases absolutely starved to get back to the World Series, and one of these teams will deliver on that promise.

But before they get there, they have to clear one more hurdle. They have to get through the NLCS. After getting through two rounds of playoffs so far, that should be easy, right? Far from it. Let’s see which team has the advantage, position by position.

Postseason ticket information: Phillies | Padres


The Phillies have the consensus all-around best catcher in baseball in Realmuto, and he’s at or near the top of his game. We should take a moment to credit San Diego’s Austin Nola, who has eight hits in the postseason so far and has caught every inning for a pitching staff that has shut down some of baseball’s best offenses. But he’s not quite Realmuto on defense, and he’s nowhere near him on offense. Praise Nola, as you should … and then realize his brother throws to the best there is.

Edge: Phillies

First base

Rhys Hoskins seems perpetually underrated, perhaps because he never hits for a high average and isn’t a strong defender, but he did the same thing in 2022 that he does pretty much every year -- he hit between 25 and 30 homers while being between 25 and 30 percent better than league average overall (per OPS+), which is a pretty valuable player.

The Padres, meanwhile, have gone through Eric Hosmer, Luke Voit, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury at the position before finally circling back to Wil Myers, who was the team’s primary first baseman back in 2016-17 but had barely played there in the years since. Myers is solid. Hoskins is better.

Edge: Phillies

Second base

Finally, a matchup we have to think about a little. Jean Segura has been consistently solid the past three years, with a 108 OPS+ and similar production across each season, plus he’s a shortstop playing second base, so his defense is good enough. Jake Cronenworth, though, has been slightly better in that span (119 OPS+), as well as in each individual year. Although his 2022 was his worst season (113 OPS+), it’s still better than any year Segura had in that time. Cronenworth is also a good fielder and is capable of playing shortstop.

There’s not a lot of separation here, though Cronenworth's somewhat better offense has us leaning that way. Mostly, if we had to pick which one we’re sending up to the plate in a big situation, we’re choosing Cronenworth.

Edge: Padres


If you’d have told Padres and Phillies fans before the season they’d be facing off in the NLCS, but that Fernando Tatis Jr. and Didi Gregorius would not be the shortstops or on the rosters, you would have fielded many questions. Needless to say, having Bryson Stott and Ha-Seong Kim at shortstop wasn’t exactly the plan on either side.

But it’s worked out OK, hasn’t it? Stott’s unimpressive season line (84 OPS+) is colored by a terribly poor start to his Major League career; after posting a .188/.255/.307 first-half slash line, he offered a .276/.331/.404 slash line as the regular shortstop in the second half. Kim was more competent than excellent (107 OPS+) with the bat, but he’s a stronger fielder than Stott, which is enough for an edge here. A small one.

Edge: Padres

Third base

We don’t yet know the results of the National League Most Valuable Player Award voting, because while the ballots were due at the end of the regular season, they won’t be announced until after the World Series. When they are, Machado will finish highly, almost certainly in the top three. He might even win.

We can talk all we want about Alec Bohm’s in-season defensive improvement and potentially bright future, and that’s all fair, but right now, he’s a player coming off a league-average season (100 OPS+) with below-average defense (-8 Outs Above Average) going up against one of the elite third basemen of this era -- or of any era, really.

Edge: Padres

Left field

It says a lot about both the offensive environment of 2022 and the ballpark that he calls home that Jurickson Profar’s modest .243/.331/.391 slash line was good for a 111 OPS+, meaning 11 percent better than league average. Of course, he didn’t hit 46 home runs like Kyle Schwarber did, did he? (He did not.) And even though Schwarber is a well-below-average fielder, Profar doesn’t exactly rate well there either. Take the bat. Take the homers.

Edge: Phillies

Center field

On one side, a defensively talented center fielder who has had a hot postseason at the plate (Trent Grisham, 1.329 OPS). On the other side, a defensively talented center fielder who has had a hot postseason at the plate (Brandon Marsh, 1.092 OPS).

For anyone asking, “Did you even notice the role Grisham played in taking down the Mets and Dodgers?” we did. But we also noticed the .184/.284/.341 slash line he put up in 524 plate appearances this year, and one week of excellent hitting cannot wipe away the memories of six months of below-average hitting. It’s not like there’s a huge gap here; Marsh had a 91 OPS+ this year, though better (116 OPS+) with the Phillies. But we’re going to need to see Grisham back this up a little more before we’re buying in.

Edge: Phillies

Right field

One way to get an edge on Soto would be to start with an excellent defensive right fielder, because Soto’s -14 OAA rates as the worst among any right fielder. The thing is, Nick Castellanos (-11, second worst) is not that guy, and Soto’s “bad year at the plate” still gave him a 149 OPS+, or better than any full year Castellanos has had. When you’ve got an obviously better hitter in Soto, and the defense is a negative on either side, there’s not much of a competition here.

Edge: Padres

Designated hitter

Regardless of how you feel about the designated hitter having come to the NL full-time, know this: If it wasn’t there for the Phillies to use, then Harper, who recovered from his midseason broken left thumb but is still dealing with his earlier right elbow injury that left him unable to throw, might not be playing right now. (He hasn’t played the field since April 17.) Harper didn’t do that much in the regular season after he returned (.676 OPS), but it’s pretty clear that’s not the true indicator of his talent, and he did post 10 hits with three homers over the first two rounds of this year's postseason.

If the Padres had the version of Josh Bell we sometimes saw with the Nationals, maybe we’d talk. But the Bell that has played for San Diego is not turning this one around.

Edge: Phillies

Starting pitching

The rotation is the strength, perhaps, of both teams, and there’s a lot of mirroring going on here. They each have a strong top three; you probably prefer Joe Musgrove to Ranger Suárez as the No. 3, but Aaron Nola is probably the best starter on either side, so call that even. (Which they were, in the regular season, looking only at these six.)

Their fourth starters? Formerly dominant righties who look absolutely nothing like they once did (Mike Clevinger and Noah Syndergaard). They’ve each got veterans with not-terribly-distant success on their track records who have fallen completely off the radar (Sean Manaea and Kyle Gibson); they’ve each got perfectly cromulent swingmen that you don’t really want to give a postseason start to (Nick Martinez and Bailey Falter).

Needless to say, there’s not a lot of separation here. But we like the team with the best starter (Nola), and if it’s worth anything, Philadelphia's rotation has been better in October so far.

Edge: Phillies

Relief pitching

On reputation and name value alone, this is clearly San Diego’s advantage, because the Padres have Josh Hader (who has clearly overcome his post-trade issues) and the Phillies do not. We should note that Philadelphia's bullpen is better than it gets credit for, in part because Zach Eflin has thrived in relief, Seranthony Domínguez has looked fantastic and regular-season names like Jeurys Familia, Corey Knebel and Cristopher Sánchez aren’t going to be seen here. In the first two rounds of the postseason, Phillies relievers allowed a slash line of .198/.253/.383. If not quite an elite strength, the bullpen is at least not the anchor it seemed like earlier on.

Of course, San Diego’s bullpen was better in the regular season, better specifically in the second half of the regular season and has been better in the postseason. Hader is the big name, but 31-year-old rookie Robert Suarez is the clear breakout star of the playoffs; he still has yet to allow a run at Petco Park. Don’t sleep on the Phillies' bullpen, but don’t overthink which group is better.

Edge: Padres


Has anything gone according to plan this postseason? Favorites are out. Underdogs are in. If we’re getting weird, and it seems we are, then the most appropriate outcome of the first year of the newly expanded playoff field would be for a team that wouldn’t have made it into the postseason one year ago to get all the way to the big prize this year.

Phillies in seven.