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
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Orion Kerkering

Thomson hasn't hesitated to use right-handed reliever Orion Kerkering this postseason. The 22-year-old, who made his major league debut on Sept. 24 after throwing his way through four minor league stops, only saw three innings of work in the regular season. In those three innings, though, he struck out six batters and gave up one unearned run.

In the postseason, Kerkering picked up right where he left off. He has allowed one walk and one hit with one strikeout through three scoreless innings of work.

With his age and the fact that he was called up so late in the season, some might've wondered how he'd fit in with this team. As he's proved, no need to worry there. He's comfortable and already going to bat for his teammate, debuting a new shirt after Bryce Harper drove two out of the ballpark following Orlando Arcia's remarks following Game 2 of the NLDS.

For a player who made his MLB and postseason debuts 10 days apart, you could say it's been a bit of a whirlwind for the rookie.

Part of the pressure is relieved by the fact the clubhouse has welcomed the pitcher in with open arms. According to Coffey, fellow reliever Matt Strahm credited the environment and the righty's poise for helping to settle him ahead of his NLDS debut, which included a breezy eight-pitch seventh inning to maintain a 2-0 lead: "This bullpen is very cool, calm and collected. And he’s adapted very well. To me, it looked like just another day for him.”

One perk of Kerkering's unusual path to the postseason is that teams haven't faced him yet — or his slider. After his first NLDS outing, Gelb relayed comments by Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley, who said: "That young guy that was in there has got really good stuff."

In a seven-game series, there will be a brighter spotlight on all facets of the game, including the bullpen. Thomson has already proved that he'll rely heavily on his relievers and look for ideal matchups, with a goal of keeping arms fresh. And among a group of solid bullpen arms, Kerkering stands out as a bit of an unknown for opposing teams.

Until Kerkering gives his manager reason to doubt him, it'll be hard for Thomson not to call on him and his slider during crucial moments against the heavy-hitting Diamondbacks, who are tied with the Phillies for the most home runs hit this postseason with 13.

Game 1 gets underway Monday night at 8:07 p.m. ET. While it'll be a team effort, these three X factors have the potential to play a big role in big moments in the series for the Phillies.