5 reasons Phillies can close out NLDS

October 11th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Phillies flew from Atlanta to Philadelphia following a crushing loss in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.

Everything seemed to be OK by Tuesday.

“Day off helps to clear your mind,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said at Citizens Bank Park.

“Yeah, off-day helps for sure,” Aaron Nola said. “It’s a new day. I mean, we’ve got to forget about that, got to have a short memory about that. Try to take the positives away from those two games over in Atlanta. It’s just good to be back home with our home crowd. We got three games left to do something. So we just got to take it game by game. It's going to be a tough one, but it starts tomorrow, and just take it pitch by pitch.”

Here are five reasons why Phillies fans should like their team’s chances entering Game 3 on Wednesday night:

1. Nola vs. Elder

The Phillies have the pitching advantage in Game 3 with Nola vs. right-hander Bryce Elder.

Elder went 12-4 with a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts this season. He made the NL All-Star team. But he faded down the stretch, posting a 5.74 ERA in his final six starts. He struggled so much -- he allowed four runs and walked five in 3 2/3 innings against the Phillies on Sept. 20 -- that the Braves considered starting rookie right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver instead.

Maybe they feel Elder is better equipped to handling the atmosphere Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Speaking of that …

2. Home-field advantage

One takeaway from the visitors’ clubhouse following Game 2’s loss is how much the Phillies believe these next two games at Citizens Bank Park will be a major advantage for them.

Truthfully, Braves fans were quiet in Game 1. They showed a little life late in Game 2, but never came close to replicating the energy in Philly. Citizens Bank Park in October is loud. It is relentless. It rattles the opposition. The Phillies are really counting on that Wednesday and Thursday.

“You know what?” Zack Wheeler said. “Now we’re going to Philly, and they’ll have to play at our place.”

“We’ve got the best fans in the world,” Bryce Harper said. “They’ve got to come in there and beat us.”

“Now they’ve got to come to Philly and there’s no place that I’d rather play two games,” Nick Castellanos said.

3. High Heat

Two errant pitches from Jeff Hoffman in the eighth inning in Game 2 -- the first-pitch sinker that hit Ronald Acuña Jr. and the 3-2 slider that Austin Riley hit for a home run -- do not change the fact that the Phillies’ bullpen matches up well with Braves hitters. Remember: Atlanta slugged .509 against pitches slower than 97 mph this season. They slugged .396 against pitches 97 mph or harder.

Fastballs from Phillies relievers in Game 1 averaged 97.0 mph.

4. More chances, more runs

The Phillies should have scored more than four runs in Game 2. They know it.

They left 11 runners on base, but the good news is they got on base. They have a .331 on-base percentage through four postseason games, which is slightly better than their regular-season average (.327).

Anytime a team doesn’t take advantage of scoring opportunities -- and it happens to everybody, even the Braves -- it is easy to throw out cliches like, “They’re too reliant on the home run,” or, “They need to play more small ball.” But Charlie Manuel, Chase Utley and a host of other managers and players over the years have always offered this reminder: If you keep getting runners on base, eventually you’re going to score.

If the Phillies get a bunch of runners on base in Games 3 and 4, the bet is they will score more than four runs.

5. Wheeler in Game 5

If the Phillies and Braves split the next two games in Philadelphia, Game 5 will be Saturday night at Truist Park.

It will be Wheeler vs. Max Fried.

Fried might have been rusty in Game 2, after missing time because of a blister on his pitching hand. But Wheeler was Wheeler, meaning he continues to be one of baseball’s best big-game pitchers. Wheeler has a 2.59 ERA in eight career postseason starts. It ranks 21st out of 123 pitchers who have made eight or more postseason starts. That’s better than Hall of Fame pitchers Whitey Ford (2.71), Jim Palmer (2.75), Tom Seaver (2.77), Steve Carlton (3.12), Tom Glavine (3.30), Greg Maddux (3.36) and Pedro Martinez (3.53).

Wheeler’s 0.72 WHIP is best among those 123 pitchers. Next closest? Christy Mathewson at 0.85.

Simply, you like your chances whenever Wheeler takes the mound.