3 Phillies X factors to watch in the NLCS

The Phillies have been clicking on all cylinders this postseason, and these three players could be difference-makers as the series gets underway.
Alec Bohm, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves - NLDS Game 1
Alec Bohm, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves - NLDS Game 1 / Elsa/GettyImages
1 of 3

The Philadelphia Phillies are back in the National League Championship Series, ready to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks for a spot in the World Series.

With a 5-1 record in the postseason so far, not much has gone wrong for the ballclub.

Starting and relief pitching has been stellar — the squad leads all playoff teams with a 1.53 team ERA. The lineup features four players — Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Trea Turner and Brandon Marsh — hitting well over .300. Take all of that and add in the fact that there are rumblings about Rhys Hoskins making a possible return at some point in the NLCS, and things are going well for Philadelphia.

The Diamondbacks have their own wave of momentum, though, riding a five-game winning streak into town, including a 4-0 road record in the postseason.

Here is one player from the starting rotation, one from the lineup and one from the bullpen who could be key X factors when called upon in big situations to get the Phillies back to the World Series.

Cristopher Sánchez

There's no question who the Phillies' top three arms are in the starting rotation this postseason: Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez. To this point during the postseason, that setup has left one deserving starter on the outside looking in: Cristopher Sánchez.

In 19 games (18 starts) in 2023, the 26-year-old left-hander posted a 3.44 ERA with 96 strikeouts and only 16 walks in 99 1/3 innings. Since he was called back up in June, he has been one of the team's most consistent starters and only had two outings where he gave up more than three earned runs. As the playoffs got closer and then started, the team relegated Sánchez to the bullpen.

As the team prepares for a seven-game series, though, it looks like that might be changing.

According to Matt Gelb of The Athletic, the team is deciding between him and Taijuan Walker to be the Game 4 starter in the NLCS. After a rainout Saturday of what was supposed to be a simulated game for each of them, the team will attempt to have them do a workout on Sunday.

While Walker has more years of experience, the righty has struggled with velocity and command on his way to a 4.38 ERA, 138 strikeouts and 71 walks in 172 2/3 innings. Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer documented his first-inning struggles after his final start of the season on Sept. 30, including a 7.04 ERA in that frame.

If the Phillies want to minimize the chance of being in a hole early, they'll need to turn to Sánchez in Game 4. In five starts in away games this year, he has an ERA of 2.08.

In his last start, a win against the New York Mets on Sept. 24, Sánchez struck out 10, walked one and gave up two earned runs in seven innings.

Ahead of the playoffs, manager Rob Thomson said Sánchez could start or come out of the bullpen. According to Alex Coffey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, he said: "I'm really confident he's going to throw the ball over the plate. I'm really confident that the moment and the situation is not going to get the most of him."

Considering it's been two weeks since his last start, it's likely Game 4 would turn into a bit of a bullpen game. But if Sánchez can come out throwing strikes to get outs efficiently, he could play a pivotal role in the middle of the series and take some of the burden off the bullpen if he can get deep enough in the game.