The NLDS is set and it is a rematch of 2022, pitting two NL East rivals against each other in the Braves and the Phillies.
Braves Phillies Pitching Matchups
Game 1: Spencer Strider vs. TBA
Game 3: TBA vs. Aaron Nola
Game 4: Spencer Strider vs. TBA
Game 5: Max Fried vs. Zack Wheeler
Despite the Phillies making light work of the Marlins, the two games do put them behind the eight ball a little bit when it comes to the pitching matchups. Typically, Zack Wheeler would get the ball in Game 1, and it wouldn’t even be a discussion. However, if the Phillies want to go that route, he’ll have to pitch on three days rest after pitching against the Marlins. I don’t see that happening, which presents Rob Thomson with a decision to make.
Taijuan Walker has been their #3 starter for the majority of the season after they handed him the bag this past winter, but he has a 5.48 ERA over his last eight starts, and in his only postseason appearance, he allowed four runs over one inning. He also owns a 6.00 ERA in two starts versus the Braves this season. I hope Walker is the route they go, but I don’t expect the Phillies to be that dumb.
Ranger Suarez was a postseason weapon for the Phillies last year, pitching out of the bullpen and as a starter. In five appearances during Philadelphia’s run to the World Series, he recorded a 1.23 ERA. He also allowed just one earned run over six innings in his only start against the Braves this season. That’s likely the direction Philadelphia will turn, but a wild card could be Cristopher Sanchez. As far as stuff goes, he likely possesses the best of the bunch and posted a 3.44 ERA across 18 appearances (17 starts) this season. My best guess would be the Phillies turn to Suarez or Sanchez for the start, with the other waiting by to take over at the first sight of trouble.
There should be no questions about Game 2. Zack Wheeler will be on full rest, and Max Fried’s blister reportedly healed “really well.” Typically, Fried would likely start Game 1, but he threw five innings in a simulated game on Tuesday. Game 2 gives him plenty of time to rest, plus Spencer Strider has dominated the Phillies over his career.
After a dazzling performance last night, Aaron Nola is slotted to pitch Game 3. The Braves, on the other hand, don’t have a clear option with Charlie Morton out. They could go to Bryce Elder, but I’m leaning toward some combination of AJ Smith-Shawver and Kyle Wright. Regardless, whoever gets the start will be on an extremely short leash. It will be all hands on deck for the Braves in Game 3.
Strider will be on full rest for a potential Game 4, once again giving the Braves the edge. The Phillies’ decision on who to start will likely hinge on how they piece together Game 1.
Then there is a classic matchup for a potential winner-take-all Game 5 between Zack Wheeler and Max Fried. Best against best, two of the most consistent pitchers with postseason experience going at it for a trip to the NLCS. Just thinking about that matchup makes my stomach churn, but if you’re a neutral spectator, this would be baseball heaven.
Photo: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire