In the Division Series version of this guide I highlighted that the postseason had a real David vs. Goliath vibe to it with the super teams and their 100+ win seasons entering the playoff picture to face off against a slew of Wild Card teams. At least in the National League, the underdogs have prevailed with the 87-win Phillies thwarting the 101-win Braves and the 89-win Padres finally besting their divisional foe, the 111-win Dodgers. It remains to be seen if the Yankees or Guardians will join the Astros in the ALCS after a rain out in the Bronx last night, but there is a lot to delve into in these match ups, so I decided to give each series their own post.
Phillies over... no wait, Padres over... The please don’t make me choose series
I spent the better part of two different 5-mile runs trying to decide which team I’d should be cheering for in the NLCS and by almost every metric I just really love both of these teams. Former Cubs fan favorites? Check. Teams that invest in their rosters by paying their guys? Check. Gritty underdog stories? Check. I haven’t been this conflicted since the Blue Jays vs. Mariners matchup in the Wild Card series.
The Phillies will take their lineup of mashers, outstanding starting pitching and at times questionable defense into the NLCS led by 2021 MVP Bryce Harper. You might remember Harper as the guy who named his dog Wrigley before he hit free agency launching a thousand Cubs Twitter trade rumors. He’ll be joined by Cubs World Series hero Kyle Schwarber and 2019 trade deadline favorite Nick Castellanos. This wasn’t the most potent offense in the playoffs, that honor belonged to the Dodgers, but it’s the most potent offense left in the NL. The Phillies slashed .253/.317/.422 as a team with a wRC+ of 106, which indicates they were six percent better than league average at generating runs.
The Padres will counter with a solid offense led by Manny Machado, who had the second best season among qualified starters in baseball by fWAR. While trade deadline acquisitions Juan Soto and Josh Bell have both struggled a bit since joining the Padres, a lot can be forgiven with a strong showing from here on out. As a roster, San Diego has lacked power at times. They slashed .241/.318/.382 with a slightly above average wRC+ of 102. That regular season differential between the two teams has persisted so far in the playoffs with San Diego slashing .239/.314/.389 so far in the playoffs and the Phillies countering with a .227/.317/.400 triple slash. In other words, these teams get on base about the same amount of the time, but the Phillies slug more.
Both teams boast outstanding starting pitching, with aces at the top, followed by solid two and three starters, and a questionable number four. Game 1 will see Zack Wheeler take his 2.82 ERA and 2.89 FIP up against former Cub Yu Darvish’s 3.10 ERA and 3.31 FIP. Darvish strikes out 9.11 batters per nine innings, Wheeler has a similar 9.59 K/9. After Wheeler the Phillies have Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez lined up before things get a little questionable with Noah Syndergaard. The Padres follow Darvish with Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove and either Mike Clevinger or Sean Manaea.
While the starting pitching has been a strength for both teams, the bullpens have been another story. Both pens have had issues at times and both teams made moves at the trade deadline to try and fix that problem. The Padres traded for former Brewers closer Josh Hader, who promptly put up a 19.06 ERA (no, that is not a typo) in August. He briefly lost the closer role, but seemed to return to his old self by September. He closed out the season with a 0.87 ERA in the last month and change. Hader has put up a 1.44 ERA in the playoffs so far. The Phillies traded for former Cubs closer David Robertson. While Robertson is not in the closer role, he bolstered the middle of the Phillies bullpen considerably down the stretch. Robertson could return for the NLCS, but he missed the Divisional Series due to a calf strain:
David Robertson is not on the Phillies NLDS roster after hurting himself in the saddest way during a truly euphoric moment in the NL wild card series: The reliever injured his calf jumping to celebrate Bryce Harper’s Game 2 home run.
The Phillies mix and match at closer with José Alvarado, Seranthony Domínguez and Zach Eflin all seeing time in the final innings as match-ups demand it.
However, what I really love about both of these teams being in the Championship Series is how hard they tried to get here. In a time where even big market clubs seem to want to channel their inner Tampa Bay cost-cutting skills the Phillies and the Padres spent money. The Phillies signed Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos in the offseason, the Padres extended Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. (who is ineligible for the postseason while he serves a suspension for performance enhancing drugs). The Phillies traded for Noah Syndergaard and David Robertson to shore up their pitching at the deadline. The Padres bolstered their rotation by adding Sean Manaea in April. At the trade deadline they made the trade of the decade, if not the century, turning most of their farm system into Soto and Bell. But they weren’t done there, they also added a red hot Brandon Drury from Cincinnati.
These teams want to win and I love them for it. Their fans were so loud during the Division Series that home games in Philadelphia and San Diego reminded me more than a little bit of the energy at Wrigley Field in 2015 and 2016. Both ballparks were rocking and I can’t imagine either fanbase is going to let up during the NLCS.
I want the Padres to win because they’ve never won before and Yu Darvish doesn’t have a World Series ring yet. I want the Phillies to win because I’ve never cheered against Kyle Schwarber for a single day and I don’t intend to start now. I’ll be happy no matter who wins, I just want to see more electrifying playoff baseball.
Who are you rooting for in the NLCS?
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