Phillies Mailbag: Time to Take On the Atlanta Braves
We are back with an NLDS edition of the Phillies mailbag.
So what is the future of Zach Eflin? Keep closing in post-season? Closing in 2023? Phillies pick up a 15 Million Dollar option for 2023?
The Phillies seem to have really struck gold this season in the bullpen. The first was the dramatic rise from the ashes of Tommy John surgery to the closer's role by Seranthony Dominguez. The latest stroke of luck has come from their number three starter to open the season, Zach Eflin.
I think throughout the playoff, the Phillies will pick their spots to use both Dominguez and Eflin. We saw to close out the Cardinals series, the Phillies went Eflin. However, that was after Dominguez got through the likes of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.
I think if Ronald Acuña, Jr. is up in the eighth, Dominguez will have the call. If he is up in the ninth, it will be Eflin. But Atlanta also has Austin Riley to worry about from the right side and lefty Matt Olson in between. So the Phillies will play matchups as best as they can.
The future might be a little complicated.
The Phillies and Zach Eflin might both benefit from Eflin as a reliever going forward. The chronic knee conditions seem to derail his position in the rotation regularly. Could less stress from shorter stints help Eflin? Perhaps.
Eflin throws strikes. That's a good trait from a reliever.
But the $15 million option could be an issue. There might be a hesitancy to commit that much money based on injury history. Would the two sides tear it up and come together with fewer guarantees and incentives? Or: do the Phillies just spend the money since it's only... money?
Remember, in 2022 Corey Knebel is a $10 million reliever. $15 million might be an overpay but at the end of the day the Phillies have the player.
I don't think there's a clear solution for 2023 yet. I'm sure they will have those discussions later. But for now: Eflin will stay towards the back end of the Phillies bullpen.
Who is the game four starter if necessary?
This is the tough question. Ideally, Ranger Suárez will take care of the Braves in game one, and then both Zack Eflin and Aaron Nola repeat their performances against the St. Louis Cardinals. Then this question will be moot. But yes, there will be a need for a fourth starter if this series goes this long.
If I had to answer the question, I would go a combination of Noah Syndergaard and Bailey Falter. I would save Kyle Gibson in the wings in case the game gets out of hand to save the bullpen for game five.
Syndergaard did not have the year he is usually accustomed to. But I do think that the combination of experience and the fact he might do better against the righties in the Braves lineup makes me think that he will be a good choice to start the game. Falter can enter the middle innings to take care of some of the lefties/bottom of the Braves order.
Hopefully, you're then in a position to get to the end of the bullpen.
Gibson struggled a little much for me of late. He particularly has struggled against the Braves this season, allowing nine earned runs in 16 innings. He may have to be the go-to option if Syndergaard and Falter struggle.
The Phillies need to keep the bullpen rested at the back end to win this series. So if there is a tough game four and the Phillies will have a game five, Gibson can pitch four or five in relief if need be. Then the Phillies can have all hands on deck in game five.
What is your ATL series prediction?
I do not typically like to make "predictions" about a team in the playoffs. In the 2017 NFL playoffs, my approach was, "just enjoy" since the Eagles were clearly an underdog. But then, of course, come February 2018...
The way I approached the St. Louis series was this: If the Phillies can get strong outings from their aces Wheeler and Nola, and don't lose a game 3-2 or something of the sort, the Phillies would be in good shape. I think the narrative around this series is similar, though there is a need for a third win this time around.
Ranger Suárez will need to be good Ranger Suárez. We have seen what he can do when he is on. I really am not worried about the hangover game that was his last appearance. To be, Suárez is cool, collected, and goes after hitters. That's what the Phillies need.
I would add that Rhys Hoskins will need to come out of his recent slump against the Atlanta left-handed pitching. His last hit was way back in the Washington Nationals series; he went 0 for 9 against St. Louis and 0 for 7 against the Houston Astros.
A lot hinges too on the injury status of Spencer Strider and what he can do on the mound if he does indeed play.
The Phillies lost the season series to the Braves 11-8. But they've shown at varying points to be pretty competitive with them. With their best bullpen and best starters going, the Phillies might be able to hang with the Braves. Therefore, I think this is going to be a competitive series.
Could the Phillies come out ahead? Yes. But my prediction? No. My thought is to just enjoy the games. As Phillies fans know too well, the playoffs cannot be taken for granted.