Who's excited to play Phils right now? 'Nobody'

October 9th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- Rob Thomson used to be a catcher, so he sought out J.T. Realmuto in the visitors’ dugout on Saturday night at Busch Stadium. 

The Phillies had just beaten the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NL Wild Card Series, 2-0, to punch their ticket to the National League Division Series beginning Tuesday in Atlanta. After the Phillies clinched the third NL Wild Card spot and their first trip to the postseason since 2011 last Monday in Houston, Thomson told his players they were not finished. Thirteen more victories, he said, and they would be World Series champions.

Thomson asked Realmuto to update the math. 

“I’m going to ask you a question,” he said. “You let everybody know we’ve got 11 more to win.” 

Realmuto did just that. 

“Eleven more, Thomper,” Realmuto said before everybody started to spray champagne everywhere.

If the Phillies want to update the numbers again, they will have to beat the Braves in the best-of-five NLDS. Games 1 and 2 are Tuesday and Wednesday in Atlanta. Game 3 is Friday at Citizens Bank Park. If necessary, Game 4 is Saturday in Philadelphia and Game 5 is Sunday in Atlanta.

“It’s huge,” Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola said about getting their first home postseason game since 2011. “It’s really big for our team, obviously, for the organization, for the fanbase. Can’t wait. But first off, we’ve got to take care of business going into Atlanta. That’s a good team. We’ve played them a lot. We know each other really well. So the atmosphere is going to be electric, of course, and we definitely look forward to it.”

The Phillies went 8-11 this season against the Braves, including 3-6 at Truist Park, but the series might have been closer than that. The Braves outscored the Phillies only 88-85. The Phils suffered a few late losses, but this past week the bullpen has been picking up big outs from Zach Eflin, José Alvarado, Seranthony Domínguez and David Robertson.

That recent success has the Phillies feeling even more confident about their chances.

“I can promise you, nobody’s excited to play the Phillies right now,” Realmuto said. “We’re in a good spot.”

Left-hander Ranger Suárez is expected to start Game 1, although Thomson declined to make it official on Saturday. Suárez went 4-2 with a 2.95 ERA in his final 14 starts. He went 1-2 with a 3.21 ERA in five starts against Atlanta, allowing one earned run in 12 innings over two starts against them last month. The Phillies hope Suárez follows in the footsteps of Zack Wheeler and Nola, who pitched a combined 13 scoreless innings against the Cardinals.

Wheeler and Nola are lined up to pitch Games 2 and 3, respectively.

“It comes down to executing … and trying to get that leadoff guy out,” Nola said. “[The Braves] can hit. They hit for average, hit for power. They run the bases well. So, I mean, they do a lot of things well, but we also do a lot of things well.”

It is unclear if Braves rookie Spencer Strider will pitch in the series. If he is healthy, he could start Game 3, but would be limited to only two or three innings. He has not pitched since Sept. 18 because of a strained left oblique.

Seeing Strider for just a couple of innings would be welcome news for the Phillies. He has dominated them like no other Braves starter, going 4-0 with a 1.27 ERA in four appearances (three starts) against Philly this season and striking out 34 in just 21 1/3 innings. Max Fried (3.13 ERA in four starts) and Kyle Wright (2.84 ERA in three starts) are expected to pitch Games 1 and 2. Charlie Morton (5.47 ERA in five starts) could start Game 3 or 4, depending on Strider’s availability.

“Their hitters have faced our guys a lot,” Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm said. “We’ve faced their guys a lot. So I mean, you might try to do some different things. You might not. Who knows? But I think at the end of the day, it’s just going to be a lot of competitive games. Their guys are going to bring their best stuff, and we’re going to do what we can do. At the end of the day, it’s just playing the game.

“It’s going to be a tough series, but it’s going to be fun. Nobody said it was going to be easy. You’ve got to earn it.”