All of the attention has been directed toward the Philadelphia Phillies' aces, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, and rightfully so. The two top-end starters have been downright dominant in their six starts so far in the 2023 postseason.
But there is one other guy in the starting rotation who has stepped up and has stepped up in a major way: Ranger Suárez.
After Wheeler and Nola started in the Wild Card round against the Marlins, it was Suárez who pitched Game 1 of the NLDS against the then-juggernaut Atlanta Braves. It was Suárez who started the clinching Game 4 against that same Braves team. It was Suárez who pitched Thursday night in the NLCS against the young, scrappy Arizona Diamondbacks, throwing 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and no runs.
In any long playoff run, the need for starting pitching depth is vital and directly contributes to a championship. It's hard to bring home the title without a standout third or fourth starter.
Think Josh Beckett (1.10 ERA), Brad Penny (2.19 ERA) and Carl Pavano (1.00 ERA), who all pitched in the Marlins' 2003 World Series run.
Barry Zito, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain in the Giants' 2012 World Series run.
And Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in the Nationals' 2019 World Series run.
In those cases, the third starter was the unsung hero and key to the success of those winning teams. And for the Phillies, Ranger Suárez is just that.
Suárez proved his mettle against the best offense in the majors
In Game 1 of the NLDS against Atlanta, he matched up with Braves ace and potential Cy Young winner Spencer Strider. It was a game the Phillies were not expected to win, but he pitched 3 2/3 innings, holding the vaunted Braves lineup to no runs, one hit and four strikeouts. He was disappointed that Thomson took him out early in the game, but the Phillies ended up winning 3-0, and Suárez set the tone for the series.
He shut the door for the Phillies in Game 4 of the series, where he again matched up with Strider. Surely, after the Braves saw him just three games earlier, they would be able to get to him and win the game to extend the series. It was a massive game for the Phillies because they definitely didn't want to fly back to Atlanta for a deciding Game 5.
But the calm, cool and collected 28-year-old delivered as he has in so many games in the past. He pitched five innings, giving up just one run on three hits while striking out two. Again, giving the Phillies a chance to win, which they did 3-1, to end the series.
Suárez did his job, and then some, against the Diamondbacks
In the NLCS, after taking games one and two in Philadelphia, Thomson handed Suárez the ball for Game 3 in Arizona. Though the Phillies lost a tight one in the ninth inning, Suárez was stellar. He went 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and no runs given up.
He has proven time and time again that when handed the ball in crucial situations, his heart rate remains steady, and he delivers.
With five pitches that he throws relatively equal amounts, Suárez has quite the arsenal that he uses to keep batters off balance. He throws a sinker (28 percent of the time), four-seam fastball (21.5 percent), curveball (19 percent), changeup (18.4 percent) and finally the cutter (12.5 percent).
These are not overpowering pitches, but they are perfectly executed and placed. The four-seam is his hardest-thrown pitch at just 93.4 mph, and he can change speeds with his curveball averaging 75.8 mph. He uses his sinker to induce ground balls 48 percent of the time, which keeps the ball in the park and the double plays abundant.
In eight career postseason games between 2022 and 2023, with six starts and two relief appearances, he has a 0.94 ERA over 28 2/3 innings. What's astonishing is the Phillies have won seven of the eight games in which he has appeared. The one loss came on Thursday against the Diamondbacks, where the bats were quiet and Kimbrel gave it up in the ninth.
After the game, Thomson was asked if he has ever seen Ranger Suárez nervous or anxious. He answered, "I have not. I really haven't. He got the last couple of outs last year in the CS, and he jogged in from the mound just as if he was coming out of the back door of his house to pitch in his backyard. He's just a cool customer. He doesn't sweat."
Everyone on the team sees how dependable and cool he is.
As the Phillies continue through the playoffs, Suárez will be the key. If the NLCS gets to Game 7, he'll be the starter at home; if the Phillies make it to the World Series, they'll rely on him in big games and big spots.
But no matter the situation, the Phillies will be as confident as ever with their unsung hero, Ranger Suárez, on the bump.