As the Philadelphia Phillies head to the finish line of the 2023 Major League Baseball regular season, they sit in a great position to make the postseason for the second year in a row. After the improbable 2022 run to a World Series appearance, the team looks to head back in hopes of winning just two more games in 2023.
As of the end of all games on August 18th, Philadelphia is in the first wild card spot, leading the San Francisco Giants by two games and 2.5 games ahead of teams on the outside looking in. While the team is having a successful season, they trail the Atlanta Braves by 13.5 games for the division crown and will almost certainly enter the dance once again as a wild card team.
As the four seed in the National League, the Phillies are in position to host a best of three series in the wild card round. The 2022 Phillies had an easy decision to make when thinking about who would start in each game of the series. Zack Wheeler pitched game one, followed by Aaron Nola in game two, and Ranger Suarez would have got the ball in game three if needed.
This season, the decision is not so easy for manager Rob Thomson as the team has more options to start a playoff game while pitchers from last season have somewhat regressed.
What is no question to anyone is Zack Wheeler will get the ball in game one. Wheeler has been a work horse for Philadelphia once again in 2023. Wheeler is above average in every advanced stat studied by Baseball Savant this season. In 25 starts, Wheeler holds a 3.70 ERA and 3.1 WAR. He has been the team's best and most consistent pitcher and would be the perfect pitcher to start a win or go home series.
The game two starter is where things get interesting. In 2022, Aaron Nola was the game two starter for the wild card series against the St. Louis Cardinals and he did not disappoint.
Nola pitched 6.2 innings and gave up zero runs on four hits while striking out six and helping Philadelphia advance to the divisional round. While his track record from last year's postseason prove he should earn the spot, Nola has been extremely shaky in 2023, posting a 4.49 ERA and currently leading the National League in home runs allowed with 29.
He has not had the best season in 2023, but it's very likely Nola is the game two starter based on what Rob Thomson has done in the past. Thomson often sticks with his guys through struggles. In 2022, Nick Castellanos stayed in the clean up spot throughout the entire postseason despite having one of the worst offensive stretches of his career.
Thomson sticks with his guys through their rough patches and it would be a surprise if he didn't do the same with Nola.
When speaking on a third starter spot in a win or go home series, the Phillies have three choices. They could send Taijuan Walker, Ranger Suarez, or Michael Lorenzen to the mound.
The game would be a win or go home one, but would also need to allow the team to setup a rotation for the division series if they were to make it. Thomson would likely send the hot hand out for game three while choosing the next best arm to start game one of the NLDS. The decision would also come down to what team the Phillies would be playing in the wild card round and how their splits are against right and left handed pitching.
The decision would also come down to who has relief pitching experience as one of the pitchers would be sent to the bullpen as the team would move to a four man rotation.
Michael Lorenzen has been exceptional as a starter in 2023, however, he is the most experienced out of the bullpen out of the three pitchers. Ranger Suarez was used out of the bullpen in the 2022 postseason, but Lorenzen has much more experience as he was a reliever before becoming a starter.
If the postseason were to begin today, an expected rotation order would look something of:
1. Zack Wheeler
2. Aaron Nola
3. Ranger Suarez
4. Taijuan Walker
This would allow Ranger Suarez to either start a win or go home game three of the wild card series or game one of the division series. If the Phillies were to win the wild card in two games, Suarez would start game one of the division series followed by Wheeler then Nola then Walker for game four.
This rotation is in a far better position than 2022 as Philadelphia sent Noah Syndergaard in game four of the NLDS and Bailey Falter in game four of the NLCS. The rotation also makes the bullpen even deeper as Michael Lorenzen and Cristopher Sanchez can be used out of the bullpen.
No matter what combination Philadelphia chooses to send out in the 2023 postseason, the team will be in good position to win because of the great depth built throughout the year.