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NLDS Preview: Phillies’ rotation features strong 1-2 punch

A look at the Phillies’ pitching staff

Wild Card Series - Philadelphia Phillies v St. Louis Cardinals - Game Two Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

As the Braves are set to face the Phillies in the NLDS, we are taking a look forward at what to expect from different elements of the Phillies squad and backwards at the season series between the two teams. Additionally, we will have wall-to-wall game coverage of the series. In this article we will take a look at the Phillies’ pitching staff, which is not as bad of a group as it has been in years past.

The Starters

Wild Card Series - Philadelphia Phillies v St. Louis Cardinals - Game One Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

For the Phillies’ starters, two names jump off the page in Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler, who have each been a major Cy Young contender one of the last two seasons. Beyond these two, however, none of the other starters are anything particularly scary. Because of the schedule of the playoffs, neither of these stars will be the game one starter, making Ranger Suarez the likely candidate.

Ranger Suarez

Suarez is the clear third starter for the Phillies, who have had two great starters, a pretty bad Kyle Gipson, and a rotating door at the other four spots. Suarez is a very average starting pitcher, with his ERA, xERA, FIP, and xFIP all pretty consistently in the 3.65-3.87 range. Suarez finds his success with a well-above-average 55.4% ground ball rate, with a relatively low strikeout rate and roughly average walk rate. As you can reasonably guess based on those stats, Suarez is a sinker guy, throwing it about 40% of the time. It’s a hittable pitch but also non-disastrous for Suarez. He throws a changeup and four-seamer each about 20% of the time and they are on opposite ends of Suarez’ spectrum of hittability, as the changeup is a pretty effective pitch, while the four-seamer gets hit hard. He mixes in some curveballs, cutters, and sliders with good to great effectiveness in low volume. Suarez is nothing to laugh at, but nothing to be scared of and the Braves will certainly be hoping to win the game(s) he pitches, especially given that they are likely to be against Max Fried and that Suarez is a lefty, which the Braves tend to hit well.

Aaron Nola

Aaron Nola had an incredible season for Philly and was the most valuable pitcher in the league by fWAR. It is a very good thing that the Braves will only have to face him once in this series. His ERA is a good 3.25, but his peripherals sit from 2.58-2.77, which is fantastic, especially over the 205.0 innings that Nola pitched, generally getting better as the year went on. Nola’s pitch usage is as follows 4-Seam Fastball (33.4%), Curveball (26.5%), Sinker (18.8%), Changeup (14.7%), and Cutter (6.5%). The curveball is Nola’s best and signature pitch, but the rest of his offerings are reasonably effective in their own right. With all of that being said, Nola has faced Atlanta five times already this season and the Braves scored at least four runs in three of those appearances, with average or bad FIP stats from those outings, so the talent level, familiarity, and potentially game-planning of the Braves offense may make Nola a bit less terrifying.

Zach Wheeler

Wheeler has been fantastic in his own right this season, with his ERA and peripherals in the 2.82-3.10 range, following his Cy Young runner-up 2021 season. Wheeler effectively throws four pitches: 4-seam fastball (41.8%), slider (26.8%), sinker (17.7%), curveball (11.9%), although he mixes in a changeup on occasion for fun. Like Nola, none of his pitches are a particular liability, but his four-seamer is the most hittable, as is pretty normal. Wheeler faced Atlanta only three times this season and pitched between 6.1-7.0 innings in all three, with only one of the outings being particularly good for Atlanta’s offense. Hopefully the fourth time around will be the charm.

The Rest

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals - Game Two Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Noah Syndergaard or Zach Eflin would be options to start beyond the three names above, and they have each been fairly average pitchers this season. If we get lucky, the Phillies will start Kyle Gipson.

The Bullpen

The Phillies’ bullpen has not been a liability to them this season, for a change, as their bullpen was actually 9th in MLB in fWAR. Jose Alvarado has been stellar this season, aside from the constant delays to “fix the mound” that often precede his appearances, posting a 3.18/1.92/2.16 ERA/FIP/xFIP slashline with his triple-digits four-seamer and mid-90s cutter from the left side. Andrew Bellati, Seranthony Dominguez, Connor Brogdon, and David Robertson have all been solid relievers for Philly and were on their wild-card round roster.

Of course, the defense behind this good pitching staff is very bad, so the Braves are likely to get a few extra baserunners and/or bases from that, but on the whole this pitching staff is solid, with two star starters and an elite reliever in the bullpen. This isn’t quite the Astros’ or the Dodgers’ staff, but this Philadelphia pitching group is a real force, dampened slightly by the inability to pitch Nola and/or Wheeler twice in the series on normal rest.

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