The first round of the MLB postseason ended a day early thanks to sweeps in all four wild-card series. We now know all our division series matchups and have a good idea of who could be this year’s version of the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies and make a deep run as a wild-card team.
And, well, my big takeaway from the first round of the 2023 MLB playoffs is that the best candidate to be the next 2022 Phillies is… the 2023 Phillies.
The Phillies looked the best out of any team in the wild-card round during their two-game sweep of the Miami Marlins, and it was not particularly close. They have the talent — and, especially after last year, the experience — to beat anybody, plain and simple. And that’s even before we touch on the incredible home-field advantage that the Phillies have at Citizens Bank Park with that raucous crowd.
As we saw over the past two days, that crowd is clearly ready to go for another “Red October” run and keep “Dancing on their own.”
Not only that, but it’s pretty easy to make the case that this is a better, deeper team than the one that barely snuck into the postseason before their incredible run last year. They clearly showed how much better they are than the Marlins. Miami had a great, fun season, but it was clear almost from the outset that the Marlins had no chance in this series.
Trea Turner is a Phillie now, and he was fantastic in this series. J.T. Realmuto hit a home run, and my guy Bryson Stott followed with an absolutely electric grand slam. And to top it all off, we found out what type of Aaron Nola the Phillies are getting in these playoffs, which I thought would be the x-factor to Philadelphia’s October hopes.
Nola is the sort of streaky pitcher who can be excellent or terrible, and if we see a good Aaron Nola instead of a bad Aaron Nola, that could change everything for this team. And that’s exactly the Aaron Nola that the Phillies got on Wednesday — seven shutout innings, just three hits and one walk allowed.
That allows Philadelphia to once again form a great one-two punch between Nola and Zack Wheeler, which could make them arguably the most dangerous of the entire eight-team playoff field left standing.
That makes me start to feel nervous about picking the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies’ NLDS opponent for the second straight year, to win the N.L. pennant even though they were the best team in baseball throughout the regular season. I’m sticking with that pick, but I seriously think the Phillies have a good chance of beating the Braves again.
If Philadelphia pulls off the upset, we may need to start talking about whether teams are actually hurt by the top-two seed bye. The Braves have spent their downtime scrimmaging against minor leaguers. No offense to minor leagues out there — love them, was them — but you cannot compare that atmosphere, even though the Braves did open those scrimmages to the public, to what the Phillies just experienced. It is nowhere near the same energy.
Either way, we get a spicy NLDS rematch between two fierce N.L. East rivals. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to watch.
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Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @BenVerlander.
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