The Philadelphia Phillies clinched both a postseason berth and solidified their place as the top NL Wild Card seed on Tuesday night. After a night of partying and celebrating, it came time to get serious again as Wednesday rolled around.
One of the biggest questions that Phillies' manager Rob Thomson has faced over the previous few weeks was how he planned to handle his potential playoff pitching staff— particularly his starters. The club's skipper made clear on Wednesday who he planned on starting the first two games of the National League Wild Card Series which is set to begin in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
There should not be much surprise to see that Thomson's most dependable starter Zack Wheeler will set the tone in Game 1 and an improved Aaron Nola will take the hill in Game 2. Thomson will likely wait to announce a Game 3 starter until it becomes necessary— although Ranger Suárez seems like the most logical option.
Wheeler has more than earned the chance to start the first game of the Phillies' long, arduous road to the World Series. On the season Wheeler is 13-6 with a 3.64 ERA and 3.19 FIP to go along with a 1.07 WHIP over 188 innings pitched so far. His 5.8 WAR leads all pitchers in Major League Baseball, according to FanGraphs. The Phillies' ace will still make one more regular season start on Thursday to stay sharp as he prefers to pitch on regular rest.
Wheeler made six postseason starts with the Phillies last season and rose to the occasion. He posted a 2.78 ERA and a 0.73 WHIP over 35 2/3 innings over four playoff series. Wheeler is a workhorse who can handle the pressure of the postseason and the club can rely on him to stick around in a big game and give them a chance to win.
Nola has been inconsistent this season after which he will test free agency. Over the course of the season, the Phillies' right hander is 12-9 with a 4.46 ERA and 4.03 FIP. His 1.15 WHIP— which is still in the top 20 in the league— is his highest since 2019 and he has allowed a career high 32 home runs. On a positive note, he has once again logged almost 200 innings and surpassed 200 strikeouts on the season for the fifth time. Nola will not pitch another regular season game. Instead he will use the opportunity to rest and continue throwing his normal bullpen sessions.
Despite Nola's down year, he has pitched better of late. In his last two starts, the right hander has thrown 12 2/3 innings while allowing just three earned runs and has struck out 16 batters. He also gave the Phillies the chance to clinch in Tuesday night's game— the second time in as many seasons he has started a playoff berth clinching game.
If the Phillies plan on making another deep postseason run, they will need their pitching to help lead them there. Wheeler and Nola will be integral parts of the rotation and will need to limit mistakes. Managers give their starters much shorter leashes in the playoffs as mistakes become magnified. Pitching tends to be key in winning championships and the Phillies have playoff seasoned pitchers to help lead the way.