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The Philadelphia Phillies are in Position to Out-Pitch the Padres

The Philadelphia Phillies might not have the better regular season rotation, but their starting pitching out classes the San Diego Padres in a playoff series.

Despite their sluggers, the Philadelphia Phillies greatest strength is the front of their rotation. Few teams boast aces like Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, and as the postseason has gone on, their dominance has only increased.

No. 1 starter Wheeler threw more innings than he ever had in 2021, finishing runner-up for the Cy Young Award. His 2022 was an effective, albeit slightly underwhelming, follow-up to that season.

His innings total diminished by 60.1, but that is without a doubt a benefit to the Phillies. Wheeler needed rest, and he got it in the regular season, making only 26 starts. Even if he starts two more games in both the NLCS and World Series, he'd still only make 32 starts in 2022, the same total he made last year.

Nola, on the other hand, hasn't missed a start since 2017. He has been healthier than any other pitcher in the Majors, making 143 starts in than span, three more than next bests Gerrit Cole and Jose Berrios.

Nola is a workhorse, and he's only improved as the postseason has gone on.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Padres have tabbed Yu Darvish as their NLCS Game 1 starter. Throughout the playoffs, the Padres have pitched their rotation as follows: Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, and Mike Clevinger.

After some struggles moving from Texas to Los Angeles, Darvish has experienced something of a late-career renaissance with the Chicago Cubs and Padres. Since 2020, his ERA is 3.34 and his FIP is 3.35.

Yet, compared to Wheeler's numbers in the same span, those figures are paltry. The Phillies' ace boasts a 2.82 ERA and a 2.80 FIP, with ample rest on top of that. Even in 2022, Darvish's 3.10 ERA and 3.00 postseason ERA are eclipsed by Wheeler's 2.82 regular season and 2.19 postseason ERA.

No matter how you cut it, Wheeler is the superior pitcher, and was officially announced as the Phillies' NLCS Game 1 starter.

Nola will start Game 2 for the Phillies while Snell will start for the Padres.

Again, Snell is outclassed by Nola in nearly every metric. His 3.38 ERA and 2.80 FIP are impressive, but Nola is having a season to rival the best of his career. Snell may benefit from extra rest—he made only 24 regular season starts—but Nola has shown no signs of slowing down.

He's yet to allow a run this postseason over 12.2 innings, and that scoreless streak extends back to his 6.2 perfect innings in Houston to clinch the final Wild Card spot. Nola has a 3.25 ERA this year with a 2.58 FIP. He led all Major Leaguers in BB/K with 8.10. He's a master of the strike zone, adept at preventing walks, and a dominant strikeout pitcher, despite his peak velocity reaching only 95 mph.

Even predictive stats like xERA favor Nola over Snell, at 2.74 to 3.19. Nola allows softer contact (87.7 mph average exit velocity to 90.1 mph), gets more chases, and allows fewer walks. Nola thoroughly outshines Snell, and there are few pitchers who could match-up to the Phillies' longest-tenured player right now.

Following Nola in the Phillies rotation is Ranger Suárez. Coming up against the man who is perhaps the best no. 3 starter in baseball, Joe Musgrove, Suárez has a tough road ahead of him.

Musgrove carries a 2.93 ERA, but his FIP is an unsightly 3.59. Despite all that, he has been nothing short of electric this postseason, silencing both the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Suárez, meanwhile, has a season ERA of 3.65 and FIP of 3.87. Those are only marginally worse than Musgrove's numbers, yet the 27-year-old Venezuelan has struggled of late.

In his final regular season start against the Houston Astros, Suárez allowed six runs in 3.0 innings. In his NLDS Game 1 start, he again floundered, working deep counts on every hitter, throwing 86 pitches over 3.1 innings before he was lifted.

Suárez has struggled with workload in the past, and the 158.1 innings he's thrown in 2022 are far and away the most he's pitched in a season in his career. He's trending down while Musgrove is trending up.

It doesn't mean Suárez has no chance to outduel the Padres' no. 3 starter, after all, he beat Max Fried last Tuesday, but the odds are stacked against the Phillies in this matchup.

Finally, the Phillies will likely send Noah Syndergaard to face Mike Clevinger. After he pitched so efficiently on Saturday in NLDS Game 4, Phillies manager Rob Thomson will be more inclined to place trust in him.

However, it seems likely they'll rely on the same plan. Syndergaard is dominant the first time through the rotation, but the second time around the Phillies will dive into their bullpen, or call upon Bailey Falter who ended the 2022 season strongly.

This scenario, unlike the others, only has a chance to occur once, and it will be during NLCS Game 4 at Citizens Bank Park. With the Philadelphia crowd behind them, it feels all the more likely that a cobbled together amalgamation of Syndergaard, Falter, and the bullpen can out-pitch Clevinger.

The 31-year-old former-Guardian has a 4.33 ERA across 114.1 innings and a 4.98 FIP. He's faced the Phillies just once in his career, in May 2022, pitching 5.0 innings of shutout ball. He's hittable and will pitch in front of a "so-called hostile environment" in Philadelphia.

Both teams have good pitching, but Game 4 could be a slugfest.

If the Phillies can take three of four Nola/Wheeler starts, they only need to win one game in which their starting pitching is out-matched. Should their aces take care of business, Philadelphia's road to an NL pennant is clear.

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