Nine months after falling short in the World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies started their 2023 postseason off on the right foot with a convincing 4-1 victory over the visiting Miami Marlins in Game 1 of their best-of-three Wild Card Series.
It felt just like last year's postseason run. The home crowd was electric and relentless, while the players turned the intensity up a notch, or two ... or three.
Citizens Bank Park was jumping early, with the injured Rhys Hoskins working the crowd into a frenzy when he came out to throw out the surprise ceremonial first pitch. From there, the game went pretty much as scripted for manager Rob Thomson and his ball club despite some late pressure from the Marlins.
So, what can we takeaway from the first game of 2023 playoff baseball in Philadelphia?
Zack Wheeler is the postseason ace the Phillies need
After a largely successful 2022 postseason, capped off by disappointing results against Houston in the World Series, Zack Wheeler came into this playoff run as the unquestioned ace of the Phillies' rotation after a phenomenal regular season. He finished the year with a 13-6 record, a 3.61 ERA and logged 212 strikeouts in 192 innings. His importance to the Phillies' success is evident when you notice his 5.9 fWAR.
To have a chance in October, teams need their ace to pitch like an ace, even under the bright lights and pressure of postseason baseball. That's exactly what Wheeler delivered in Game 1. He was locked in and dominant for most of his outing, going 6 2/3 innings and striking out eight while allowing a single run on five hits.
The velocity on his four-seamer was up, maxing out at 98.6 mph, while his sweeper was deadly, generating eight of his 18 whiffs on the night. Add in his called strikes and finished with a 35 percent CSW% against Marlins hitters who looked lost for most of the game.
Thomson summed Wheeler's game up perfectly during an in-between inning interview early in the game, describing him as "really efficient, really good."
The righty used only 46 pitches through the first four innings and ended up throwing an even 100 after an extended seventh inning that led to his departure from the game.
More importantly, he outdueled Miami's starter Jesús Luzardo, who struggled with his pitch count against the aggressive Philly bats. Luzardo lasted only four messy innings, using 90 pitches and only throwing 54 strikes.
While Wheeler won't throw again in this series, his team will need him to show up with a similar performance if and when they move on to face the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.
NEXT: Lineup depth comes through big in Game 1