The Phillies are once again in the NLDS, in which they are once again facing the Atlanta Braves.
To get here, the Braves stormed to the division title with ease, as the Phillies face-planted across the finish line. But now the 14 games separating them in the standings are utterly meaningless.
There’s a lot to break down about these squads. Let’s go position by position down their lineup and see who comes out on top.
First base: Bryce Harper vs. Matt Olson
Maybe you’ve heard about Olson’s home run total from the regular season (54, the best in baseball). But he has yet to hit a home run in the playoffs. It’s honestly a little pathetic how quickly he’s buckled under pressure.
Harper, on the other hand, grew back his ligaments faster than any human ever before. His ability to play first base, a position he’s never played, also grew unnaturally fast, and now he’s feeding pitchers throws while they’re covering first like he’s been doing it since 2016 (like Matt Olson).
Did Harper hit any home runs against the Marlins? No. But neither did Matt Olson. And Harper did run through a stop sign to score an insurance run, which is actually the coolest move in baseball, other than throwing your own helmet off between second and third because you’re planning to run through a stop sign.
Second base: Bryson Stott vs. Ozzie Albies
Maybe you didn’t watch game two of the National League Wild Card series? Stott ambushed the Marlins with a suddenly aggressive hitting approach engineered by Kevin Long and executed perfectly by the only 26-year-old in his second season and second postseason.
Stott’s grand slam got the attention of other teams, other fans, and the only other guy to hit a grand slam in the playoffs for the Phillies. It also did the unthinkable and gave the Phillies a comfortable postseason lead, with which they were able to cruise to a clinch.
All Ozzie Albies did this year was tie a hitting record previously set — and created by — Rogers Hornsby. But Hornsby hit 30-plus home runs, 30-plus doubles and five-plus triples in three different seasons. Albie has, embarrassingly enough, only done it twice.
Shortstop: Trea Turner vs. Orlando Arcia
Did you know a lot of Braves fans didn’t even want Arcia on the team? They screamed that the Braves went with Arcia out of training camp because top prospect Vaughn Grissom, a guy considered a “likely trade candidate” in 2023, was having his service time manipulated. Like that would ever happen.
Meanwhile, the Phillies signed Trea Turner over the winter when they rolled over on their phone in the middle of the night and accidentally offered him an 11-year-deal. They took care of the business we had all assumed they would take care of, as soon as they could possibly take care of it, possibly without even realizing they’d taken care of it.
And after a quick four-month warm-up, all it took was some extra clapping to open Turner up, like he was a gate in a fantasy novel. Ever since that early August night when Phillies fans gave Turner an ovation, he used the last two months of the regular season to prove the World Baseball Classic version of himself was still in there.
Third Base: Alec Bohm vs. Austin Riley
Austin Riley is basically why the Braves lost the NLDS last year. He went 1-for-15 with five strikeouts. And if he hadn’t ever so slightly bobbled a throw, his tag of Brandon Marsh would have killed a Phillies rally that would culminate in Rhys Hoskins’ bat slam. Instead, Marsh was safe, came in to score on Bryson Stott’s double, and the Braves never stopped losing the NLDS from that point forward.
Meanwhile, Alec Bohm went from a 3-error-game guy to a guy who got compared to Mike Schmidt. His slugging percentage jumped 40 points after he added a bunch of muscle in the spring, and he became the Phillies sixth 20-home run hitter of this season. Bohm has set career highs in homers, RBI, doubles, and walks and was the Phillies’ best hitter with runners in scoring position this season. And he’s the only one of these two who knows how to take care of a head of hair.
Left field: Brandon Marsh/Cristian Pache vs. Eddie Rosario
The Phillies have two left fielders who are best friends. The Braves have Eddie Rosario.
Rob Thomson’s deployments of Marsh and Pache is an endless gameday debate, but it helps that they seem to get the same enjoyment out of each other’s success as they do out of their own. When Pache did something cool earlier in the season, Marsh appeared next to him in the dugout with a huge smile. “Marsh likes it,” Tom McCarthy said on the broadcast. “Marsh likes everything,” Mike Schmidt replied.
This is not an incorrect statement. The energy Marsh brings to both legging out a double and handing someone a clementine are about the same. And if any of you saw Pache slide across home plate the other night after he started the play on first base, then you saw an explosion of passion that, if it occurred in Tampa, would level the city.
Center field: Johan Rojas vs. Michael Harris II
Forbes had this to say about Harris in late September: “If you wish to adopt a son, he’s your guy. He’s always seconds away from a smile, and he’s a rare combination of openly confident and strikingly humble while speaking in soft tones.” What a weird thing to say! Michael Harris II is a grown man. Why would anyone be looking to adopt him? Why would that be your instinctive response to him displaying admirable traits?
You know who doesn’t inspire bizarre rhetoric? Johan Rojas. In 59 games this year, he hit .302 with 14 extra base hits and 14 stolen bases. You know what people said about him? “Wow, that guy’s good.” So they kept him around and now he’s the starting center fielder. He had the walk-off hit that clinched them a playoff spot this year. All because Cristian Pache irritated his right elbow.
Right field: Nick Castellanos vs. Ronald Acuña, Jr.
I’m sure Acuña had more home runs than Castellanos this year. But did he undo more buttons on his jersey? Did he split two bottles of wine with Weston Wilson and then get a tattoo from him? Did he captivate the nation by flicking off his teammates with his ring finger, and hitting two doubles, in game two of the NLWC? Did he bounce back from a bummer of a 2022 campaign with an all-star 2023 season? Did he take Johan Rojas under his wing and volunteer to step into Rhys Hoskins’ leadership role when he went down in spring training? Did he
No, Acuña didn’t do any of those things. And there’s not a thankfully retired tradition about his influence on global events every time he hits home runs, either. So, why does it even matter what Acuña did do?
DH: Kyle Schwarber vs. Marcell Ozuna
Schwarber hit a 483-foot home run — the third longest of the MLB season — off the Braves back in September. Doubtful they’ve thought about anything else since.
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto/Garrett Stubbs vs. Sean Murphy/Travis d’Arnaud
After a quiet summer, Realmuto has proven himself a big contributor and team player, which has earned him a key role in the organization: He’s the guy Rob Thomson asks after playoff victories how many more wins the Phillies have left until they win the World Series.
While providing steady support to the pitching staff, Realmuto was at one point considered the best pitch framer in the sport — but he didn’t even need to be after a few key calls at home plate against the Marlins. In game one, he crushed a cutter David Robertson left over the plate like it was annoying him. With that homer, Realmuto tied Carlos Ruiz for most home runs by a Phillies catcher in the playoffs.
As far as energy goes, Stubbs has shown an instant knack for making himself appealing to Philadelphia. That starts and ends with the overalls, which Stubbs brought into the Phillies clubhouse and you can now see everywhere in the main concourse of CBP. How many fashion icons have hit a home run in the major leagues this year? Just the one? Cool.
Sean Murphy hit .061 in his last ten games of 2023. Travis d’Arnaud… lost his starter catcher job to Sean Murphy.
Game One Starter: Ranger Suarez vs. Spencer Strider
They’re going to tell you Strider was an NL Cy Young contender entering this year. They’re going to get in your face about how every time the Phillies have seen him this year it’s been a blood bath, and not in a good way. And they’re going to jump out of the bushes to scream at you about how great of a sense of humor Strider has.
But what he can’t do is match the vibes in this video.