The Philadelphia Phillies are illustrating the beauty of postseason baseball.
They were the last team to reach the National League bracket, claiming the final wild card slot But if a team can just get in, all things become possible.
If it can win a game, maybe it can win a series. If it wins a series, it can get on a roll. If it stays on a roll, it can just keep going – thus rendering almost everything that happened during the regular season meaningless.
Nick Castellanos can speak to this. He had a difficult, injury-plagued campaign for the Phillies. After signing a five-year, $100 million contract, he hit just .263 with 13 homers and 62 RBIs. His Wins Above Replacement was minus-0.1.
Castellanos went 0-for-7 against the Cardinals in the wild card round, but the Phillies won anyway. Then he went off at Atlanta Tuesday night, delivering three hits and driving in three runs on the big NLDS stage.
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“I can't explain it,” Castellanos said. “It's one of those things that the air is different, the atmosphere is different. And those are all things that I really enjoy.”
He is considered a defensive liability in the outfield, but these are the playoffs. So of course he made a diving catch in right field to help preserve the Phillies’ 8-7 victory over the Braves.
“It's kind of just a fresh start, a clean slate, so to speak,” Castellanos said. "And obviously these games are really intense. For me, that helps me lock in and kind of slow things down. It's just a lot of fun.
“Baseball is really, really fun.”
Well, sure, it’s fun when you are getting big hits and making big plays in the field. That sort of joy can make a man forget all about the 162-game grind he just endured.
“The one thing that all of us in this room share in common is we want to contribute to the club as much as we can every night,” Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins said. “When you're not doing that it wears on you. The thing I've been impressed with [Castellanos] is he's the same guy. He comes in, gets his work in and off he goes in the game. It's awesome to see him have success today.”
The Phillies held off a late Braves rally Tuesday despite missing reliever David Robertson, who will sit out the NLDS with a calf injury suffered while celebrating Bryce Harper’s Game 2 homer against the Cardinals.
“He's devastated,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson. “He knows how important he is to this club.”
Despite losing a key reliever, the Phillies have a 1-0 edge in the best-of-five series with ace pitchers Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola lined up to start next.
“No matter the situation, no matter the game, we’re as confident as it gets when Wheeler takes the mound,” Hoskins said. “We have a chance to win every single time he does. Yeah, to be able to punch first is huge, but by no means do we think that this series is over. We know the caliber of team over there and the way they can string together some wins. So we’ll take Wheeler’s stuff tomorrow. We feel good about that, but we know we have work to do.”
Here is what folks have been writing about postseason play:
Dayn Perry, CBSSports.com: “Historically, teams that take Game 1 of a best-of-five MLB playoff series go on to win that series 71.3 percent of the time. Teams that steal Game 1 on the road of a best-of-fiver, as the Phillies did, go on to win that series 71.7 percent of the time. That last figure is significant because it says that even presumptive series underdogs – usually the team that begins the series on the road – have fared just as well after winning the first game of the series. Specific to this series, this is significant for the Phillies because they won a game in which their No. 3 starter opposed the Braves No. 1-ish starter. Now the Phillies will have their tandem aces, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, lined up to start the next two games on full rest.”
Gabe Lacques, USA Today: “Robertson’s injury – no longer a surprise to Philly – was exacerbated when No. 3 starter Ranger Suarez could not escape the fourth inning despite being gifted a 4-1 lead. So a Phillies bullpen that’s been a traditional downfall and only recently saw a vast reshuffling of roles was tasked with steering them home. Never mind that Jesus Alvarado was dispatched to the minors earlier this year. That nominal closer Zach Eflin is a back-end starter tossed into the ‘pen because it aligned with his recovery from a knee injury. That lefty Brad Hand wasn’t even on the wild-card roster and hadn’t pitched since Sept. 20, that Seranthony Dominguez only recently powered his way back into the circle of trust. They just kept coming, six in all, standing against the inevitable Atlanta onslaught until a 7-1 lead became a 7-6 win and a huge advantage: Top starters Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola will start the next two games. Perhaps they’ll take back the headlines and that’s fine. Game 1 was for the working men out in the ‘pen – perhaps no one moreso than Dominguez, who pitched two clean innings and struck out three, bridging the gap from the middle innings into the eighth.”
Justin Klugh, Baseball Prospectus: “The Phillies got away with having next to no offense in the Wild Card series against St. Louis, if you discount a single inning of game one in which the gods smiled upon every ground ball they drove into the dirt. They can get on base, sure–they actually had the same team OBP (.317) and BA (.253) as Atlanta in 2022. But what they needed entering this series was somebody like Kyle Schwarber or Nick Castellanos or Rhys Hoskins or J.T. Realmuto to start knocking hits with RISP, and that was exactly what they got, as Castellanos went 3-for-5 and made a game-saving catch in the ninth. Alec Bohm stayed steady under pressure, Bryce Harper found a way to get on base twice without getting the ball out of the infield, and Jean Segura came through yet again. This was new, when compared to the end of the regular season: Castellanos producing on offense and defense, and Harper forcing his way on base despite his struggles. If the Phillies can now hit with two outs and men on, and get their big bats to connect, they’re much more weaponized to take on the NL East champs.”
Mike Petriello, MLB.com: “You don’t necessarily need fancy numbers to know that Yordan Alvarez had an incredibly valuable game in Houston’s stunning Game 1 win, because it doesn’t exactly require a lot of science to say that ‘going 3-for-5 with a walk-off home run to help your club come back from a 7-3 deficit’ is a very good thing to do . . . But what if we told you that we had those fancy numbers, and they say this was the most valuable postseason game – and moment – a position player has ever had? And what if we told you, furthermore, that those numbers don’t even capture the entirety of what Alvarez just did? It wasn’t just a memorable game, or a dominant one. It was a historic one. When Alvarez stepped to the plate in the ninth inning, Seattle’s win probability was 91%. That’s based on the history of road teams who were ahead by two runs with two outs and two on in the ninth inning, as the Mariners were. It’s not like teams in those situations never blow a lead; it happens, sometimes, if rarely. That’s why it’s 91% and not 100%. If Seattle's odds were 91% when the pitch left Robbie Ray's hand, then by the time Alvarez’s blast landed 438 feet away, their odds of winning were 0%, because the game was over.”
Jay Jaffe, FanGraphs: “When Gerrit Cole signed his nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees in December 2019, he no doubt envisioned starting big playoff games in the Bronx in front of a packed house full of screaming fans. But while he’d taken the hill four times for the Yankees in the previous two Octobers, until Tuesday night’s Division Series opener against the Guardians, he’d never gotten to do so while wearing the home pinstripes. In his long-awaited postseason debut at Yankee Stadium, Cole shook off a recent rough stretch, dodged trouble early, found a groove, and turned in an impressive performance, allowing one run over 6.1 innings in a 4-1 victory. Facing a contact-centric Cleveland team that posted the majors’ lowest swinging strike rate (9.1%) and strikeout rate (18.2%), Cole collected 19 swings and misses from among his 101 pitches (18.8%) and punched out eight hitters (29.6%). He allowed just four hits, including a solo homer by Steven Kwan, walked one and hit one batter. If it wasn’t an overpowering performance, it was nonetheless a rewarding one.”
Bob Nightengale, USA Today: “Some things just never change. The Los Angeles Dodgers continued their dominance over the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers took the lead in the first inning, let the Padres hang around, and won 5-3 in a game that wound up closer than the Dodgers envisioned in front of a sellout crowd of 52,407 at Dodger Stadium. The Padres tried to convince anyone who’d listen that they had everything going for them this series, riding momentum from New York, the Dodgers perhaps rusty sitting around LA with their first-round bye, but in the end, it was the same ol’ story. The Dodgers are 15-5 this season against the Padres and now 1-0 in the best-of-five NL Division Series. If the Padres are going to have a chance in this series, they’ll need a victory by ace Yu Darvish against future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.”
“The energy from the fans, it was just amazing. When you have such an incredible fan base, fans that are just rabid and want to win as badly as Yankees fans do, it’s almost like you’re playing with them on the field. They are on your team as you go into the dugout, as the opposition feels pressure with two strikes. That’s the type of energy that is a part of a winning history of a city.”
Former Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader, on playing in New York.