On the visitors’ boat in St. Louis, immediately after his team’s victory, Phillies Manager Rob Thomson turned to catcher JT Realmuto. He had to give the veteran backstop a heads up. The club were ready to celebrate, but before they popped the champagne, the manager planned to ask how many games they had left to win. He wanted Realmuto to be the one to give the answer: 11.
That’s how many wins it would take to get from this wild-card win on Saturday to the end of a hypothetical World Series.
There were other players Thomson could have asked to provide the answer: Some reasonable choices might have been one of the talented first basemen who led the team all year, Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola, or the slugger who delivered the critical game in the second game. , Bryce Harper. But Thompson has a soft spot for Realmuto’s spot on the roster — “I’m an old catcher,” said the manager, a former minor league backstop — and besides, he hoped he’d have more opportunities to ask that question later, with different players. they could respond as the number of wins remaining dwindled. But for now; He would stick with the catcher.
“Let everyone know,” Thomson told Realmuto, “We have 11 more to win.”
And he did.
It’s a reminder that the Phillies want to be here for the long haul. They know few expected them to be here — not in early June, when Thomson was promoted to replace the fired Joe Girardi, not at the All-Star Break, when their playoff chances were about one in three, not even in the final weeks of the season, when the chances of them snapping kept dancing out of reach. But they made it here anyway. And they weren’t satisfied with just ending their playoff drought, or winning a game, or even taking a series. They want to continue and believe they can.
This led them to Atlanta for the NLDS. The Phillies realize they are the underdogs against the defending champs, the Braves, who are quite possibly even better right now than they were when they won it all last year. Atlanta won the season series 11 games to 8. But the Phillies say this next round will be different.
Here are three questions that will determine the order:
Is the Phillies bullpen up to the task?
The Phillies are set up for success any time they start Wheeler or Nola. This was ideal for a best-of-three series like the wild card. But this series is best of five, and they should use some other options here, including starting Game 1 Ranger Suárez and possibly, at some point, Kyle Gibson. Which makes Philadelphia’s bullpen even more important.
This reliever has been up and down all year. They’re anchored by José Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez — but other reliable options are scarce, and even those two can be inconsistent. In Game 1 of the wild-card series, Alvarado gave up his first home run since July, saved from a loss only by a freak 9th inning collapse. Cardinals. In Game 2, meanwhile, Philly got a strong performance from Dominguez, which was encouraging after he had struggled somewhat late in the season.
This Braves offense is too good to attack any mistakes. If the Phillies want to be competitive here, they’ll have to hope for the best possible version of their bullpen, especially in games not started by their aces.
How much will the Braves get from Spencer Strider?
First, let’s be clear: The top of the Braves’ rotation is solid without Strider. Max Fried, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton? This can be a very scary one-two-three punch. But overall, Atlanta would rather have Strider as well. (As if to get the point across, the team signed him to a six-year, $75 million extension on Monday.) So what will they get this week from the rookie?
Strider missed the end of the regular season with an oblique injury and last appeared in a game on September 18. He threw a mound again this weekend and told reporters Monday that he feels “great.” But Braves manager Brian Snitker declined to share many details about whether the rookie is anywhere near healthy or how he might be used in the NLDS. “We expect him to be very good because he was in the pen yesterday,” Snitker said. “And we’re still thinking about what’s right for us and for him and how to use him.”
The 23-year-old can make a difference in any role: Whether he’s a starter or outfielder, infield or ready to go, Strider should give the Braves an edge every time he’s in the game. the mound. Yes, there are plenty of other good pitchers on this roster. But a healthy Strider could make things a lot easier for Atlanta.
What will the Phillies get from Bryce Harper?
The end of the regular season was disappointing for Harper. After a hot start to the year, a broken thumb sidelined him for all of July and most of August, and even in his return, he was dealing with elbow trouble. The struggle showed in his stats: A 76 OPS+ in September and early October. While there are plenty of other players in this lineup capable of slugging—Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Castellanos—it’s hard not to count on Harper.
But a swing in Game 2 of the wild-card series in St. Louis gave the team some hope. Harper gave the go-ahead for the house, and in doing so, he looked something close to his normal self.
“What we’re hoping for is for her to go on one of those streaks where she hits everything, and whether she gets there or not, I don’t know,” Thomson said of Harper after Game 2. “But if she gets there, yeah, she’ll be special.”
It was just a home run. But the Phillies will want any extra offense they can get against a Braves pitching staff that good. If Harper is starting to get his swing back? It will be in a much better place.
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