Up to this point, I’ve tried to keep my predictions in both leagues together, but the damn rain in New York won’t allow it. So here we are, my NLCS pick.
This is a fairly even series, on paper. The fifth seeded Padres finished two games ahead of the Phillies for the season. The sixth seeded Phillies won the season series. One beat the Dodgers. One beat the Braves. One has home field. The other is 3-1 on the road this postseason. A Darvish for a Wheeler. A Harper for a Machado. A Musgrove for a Nola. A Realmuto for a Soto. A Hader for a Dominguez. I’m kind of surprised how much complaining went on in the press since Saturday about this match up. It lines up as very, very interesting, to me.
I give a slight edge to the Padres on pitching, but not as dramatic as some will think. I like their starters out to four just a little bit better than the Phillies. Depending on David Robertson’s health, I might give them a slight bullpen edge too. With that said, the Phillies won games against Darvish, Snell, and Musgrove this year. They beat Hader once too. Wheeler, Nola, and Suarez threw seven plus innings of one run or less against San Diego this season. But let’s be honest, on paper, San Diego would get the slight edge from non-biased fans, and they’ve earned it in their first seven post-season games. Their staff can silence bats just a little deeper into a game.
I give the Phillies bats a slight, slight edge on the Padres. I don’t see a huge gap between Harper-Realmuto-Schwarber and Machado-Soto-Bell. Pick your poison, both can beat you. By a slight margin, I like the Phillies other six bats in the lineup just a bit more. It’s only a bit more, as you can ask the Mets and Dodgers what 5-9 in the order did to them for the Padres. They’re a hot group right now.
These two teams haven’t met since June, and a lot has happened since then. The two game regular season gap between them is irrelevant, ask the four teams they just beat. Both have narrow edges, but very narrow. So what exactly will matter in this series?
I think the biggest factor in this series will interestingly be the lack of a day off after game five. My gut instinct is this favors the team with deeper pitching, San Diego. There are just two scheduled off days between games 4 and 7, so you can’t get three starts out of anyone in this series. So the Phillies can get two regular rest starts from Wheeler and Nola each this series. The game three starter would be able to get a game 7 start, but only on three days rest. So if both teams presumably go with four starters, the game 1 starter would have just 1 day off to come out of the bullpen in a decisive game, the game 2 starter basically has no rest from game 6 to 7. In other words, depth matters. Clevinger shutting down the Phillies earlier this year, being their fourth starter, looms large. David Robertson’s health, to be decided by how he feels today, after yesterday’s bullpen session, looms huge over this series.
There’s an entirely opposite line of thinking here. The Phillies beat Darvish once. They beat Snell twice. They beat Musgrove in his only start against them. Traveling west for an east coast team takes less out of you than traveling east for a west coast team. And perhaps more than any of this, neither team will have much left in the tank pitching wise by the back end of the series, so the better offense will play up. If the Phillies and Padres pitch against each other as they did in the season, the Phillies will have a lead by games 4 and 5 and the Padres pitching advantage will be moot. This argument is basically as compelling as the other one.
I’ll have to make a prediction here without the benefit of knowing Robertson’s fate, and therefore what I think of the Phillies depth. To be honest, I’m unsure. I picked my Phillies in round one, I picked against them in round two, and I was very wrong (thinking Strider’s presence would matter). I really think this might come down to whether Aaron Nola can keep channeling his inner Cole Hamels 2008/Cliff Lee 2009 in this series. If he does, and the Phillies win his starts, even a Darvish split might not be enough for the Padres, or their pitching depth to handle. In a gamble of hot hands, I see the Phillies being able to pull out at least one of games 3 and 4 in Philly, and to win this series in six hard fought games. Phillies in six.