The Philadelphia Phillies took Game 1 of the NLDS in Atlanta on Saturday night. The club had contributions from a few different players, but the main reason for the victory was the Phillies' pitching staff — particularly the bullpen. The Phillies used a combined seven pitchers and held the intimidating Atlanta Braves' offense scoreless. It was the first time that the Braves have been shut out at home since August 28, 2021.
Phillies' starter Ranger Suárez pitched well through 3 2/3 innings. With two outs in the fourth inning Matt Olson singled on a weak ground ball to left field and Ozzie Albies reached on a fielder's choice. Rob Thomson pulled his starter earlier than many were expecting given the way the left-hander was pitching. It turns out that the Phillies' manager pushed all the right buttons.
Jeff Hoffman stepped in to close out the fourth inning. He struggled with his command as he walked Marcell Ozuna. The right-hander was able to strike out Michael Harris II to end the inning. Hoffman would not come back out for the fifth inning, but his ability to prevent the Braves from scoring in a bases loaded situation proved to be crucial.
Seranthony Domínguez was called upon to pitch the fifth inning. The hard-throwing right-hander had not pitched since October 1st. He allowed two baserunners but struck out the sides. Domínguez was erratic at times, but his velocity was sitting at 98-99 mph. That was enough to blow it by the Braves hitters.
The sixth inning was given to José Alvarado. The high-velocity left-hander allowed one hit but no runs. The last three innings were handled by Orion Kerkering, Matt Strahm and Craig Kimbrel — who was called upon to get the save. Of those three, Kerkering surrendered a walk and Strahm allowed a hit, but they were able to keep Atlanta off the scoreboard.
Thomson had a plan heading into the series and he executed it perfectly. He used statistics to take advantage of the fact that the Braves' slugging percentage was way down against higher velocity pitching. Thomson said postgame:
"Their slug is way down vs. velocity, and we've got that."- Scott Lauber/ The Philadelphia Inquirer
Thomson was right and the results backed it up. The Braves had five hits, all of which were singles. The team that led the league in home runs and slugging percentage could not muster up an extra base hit against the hard-throwing Phillies relievers.
Back in September Matt Gelb of The Athletic noted that the Phillies' bullpen had the highest average fastball velocity in baseball at 96.3 mph. That information was used to stifle one of the most prolific regular-season offenses in baseball.
It would not be surprising to see Thomson employ this strategy in other games this series, especially given the fact that there is only one scenario in which the Phillies and Braves will play on back-to-back days. The bullpen will be rested and the hardest throwing relievers in baseball should get more opportunities to come up in big spots.