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October 03, 2023

Instant observations: Phillies take Game 1 thanks to Zack Wheeler gem

Zack Wheeler had stellar stuff as the Phillies handled the Marlins to start the postseason in South Philly.

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Phillies-Nick-Castellanos-wild-card_100323_USAT Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Nick Castellanos and the Phillies offense did enough to take Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Tuesday.

The Phillies won another Game 1 and find themselves in great shape as Red October kicked off in South Philly again Tuesday.

A few timely hits and a dazzling start from Zack Wheeler propelled Philly to a 4-1 win and a 1-0 series lead in the quick best-of-three set to see who'll face the Braves in the NLDS next week.

If Philadelphia can take one of the next two games they'll do just that. But first thing's first, let's take a quick look at what we saw from the Phillies to start what could be another memorable postseason:

The good

• Zack Wheeler is a really good pitcher. He's been criminally underrated during his time in Philly, skirting short of a Cy Young award a couple of times but always ranking among the league leaders in almost every pitching stat. The ace was dealing Tuesday night, needing just 31 pitches to mow through his first three innings.

Wheeler lived in the high 90s during his 6.2 frames, striking out eight Marlins and allowing five hits. 

While we're on Wheeler, there have been few hurlers — ever — who have been better on big stages. Through seven postseason starts, the 33-year-old has a 2.55 ERA, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 41-to-7. If the Phillies make another deep run this October, you can be sure Wheeler was one of the reasons why.

• The Phillies needed a spark to get their offense rolling, and that's precisely why rookie Johan Rojas is in the lineup. The nine-hole hitter put together an outstanding at bat during his playoff debut in the third, seeing nine pitches before driving a single into left. He took second base on a Jesus Luzardo wild pitch and scored on an Alec Bohm double toward the Phillies ball girl in shallow left. 

An inning later the hits kept coming, as a Realmuto single and Castellanos double set the table for a Bryson Stott RBI and a 2-0 lead for Philly. Another wild pitch and single from Pache added one more, a 3-0 lead. 

• One of the weaker parts of the Marlins this season — a team that just snuck into the playoffs based on timely hitting and little else — is their lackluster bullpen. And the Phillies knew that and did everything they could to bring out the pen.

CategoryStatNL Rank
Bullpen ERA4.3711th
Blown saves312nd most
Save %58%12th
Bullpen WHIP1.35312th
Bullpen BAA.25012th

Luzardo lasted only four innings, gave up eight hits and had to throw 90 stressful pitches. You can be sure the Phillies will be eager to achieve the same thing in Game 2.

• My favorite thing about the Phillies might be Bryce Harper running so fast from first to home that his helmet goes flying off — while freelancing and ignoring a "stop' sign. This hustle play on a Nick Castellanos triple gave the Phils some insurance and a 4-1 lead.

The bad

• Sure enough, the Marlins bullpen actually came through, holding the Phillies to just one run after they jumped early for three runs. The Phillies will happily take it.

• If you remember back to last postseason, the Phillies stranded a lot of runners on base — a momentum killer, and something that is obviously easier said and done. Philly wasted a golden opportunity early with runners on second and third with one out and Bryce Harper at the plate. There were no runs generated. They were 0-for their first five RISP opportunities, and 3-for-14 overall.

• Wheeler pitched on regular rest, after getting a few innings of work back on Thursday to keep him in line to start Game 1. But after dealing for six innings he did look a little less spectacular in the seventh, his final inning, needing nearly 30 pitches and walking a tight rope in the frame, relenting two singles and a double.

An infield single to Bryan De La Cruz ended his night amid a standing ovation, but the Marlins blemished his line, and cut the Phillies lead to 3-1. Shoutout to Jose Alvarado for bailing Wheeler out with a big strikeout to end the seventh.

The interesting

• We're going to forego the "ugly" portion of this article because for Phillies fans, Game 1 of the Wildcard was pretty beautiful. Game 1's have been a beautiful thing for a while, actually, as the Phils have won six of them in a row now dating back to 2011 — and including all four rounds last season. 

• Philadelphia also has the second-best win percentage ever in Game 1's, with a 20-7 all-time record (.741) behind only the Orioles (who have a first-round bye right now). 

• Oh and one more — Phillies fans in attendance Tuesday may not know just how good they have it. Their win over Miami gives them a 23-11 record at Citizens Bank Park in playoff games. That's the best record of any team ever in one ballpark (with at least 30 games played). The Mets at Shea Stadium were tied with Philadelphia at CBP prior to their most recent 'W.'

• Also shoutout to the gods of weather. First pitch close to 80 degrees is pretty sweet. October baseball in June weather. Love it.

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