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August 30, 2022

Phillies starting pitcher confidence meter: Who should start in playoffs?

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Aaron-Nola-Phillies-2022-UST Sam Navarro/USA Today Sports

Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola in Miami.

The Phillies starting pitching has been a strength this season, as a whole, but as the stretch run reaches the horizon, it's becoming clearer and clearer that the potential for Philadelphia to advance in the postseason — at all — in October will rely heavily on the shoulders of whomever is tagged to start on the hill.

Who should, and who will, be the starter in what is extremely likely to be a three-game series against NL East rivals the Braves or Mets on the road?

Let's go around the horn and see which pitchers we currently have the most confidence in.

Aaron Nola

Confidence meter: 8/10

Stats: 9-10, 3.08 ERA

Missed starts: none

Playoff experience: none

The skinny: Nola has been the healthiest and best performing starter this season. He leads the team with 25 starts, has an ERA one hundredth of a run higher than Zack Wheeler's, has the most strikeouts on the team by a wide margin (185), the best WHIP (0.936), strikeout to walk ratio, innings pitched and so on. He's also peaking as the weather gets hotter — must be a Louisiana thing — with a 2.25 ERA in four August starts. 

Don't get us wrong, Wheeler has also been confidence-inspiring this season and is the second no-brainer to take the ball in a must-win playoff series, but Nola is the 1A to Wheeler's 1B thanks to his health and recent play.

Zack Wheeler

Confidence meter: 7/10

Stats: 11-7, 3.07 ERA

Missed starts: 2

Playoff experience: none

The skinny: It seems like Wheeler should be the kind of grizzled vet who brings playoff experience with him, but he has none despite being on a few decent Mets teams. He has had a bit of a rough August compared to Nola, allowing 10 runs in his last two starts combined before landing on the IL as a precaution for forearm tendinitis. He's expected to return in early September and miss just two starts, and the hope is he can reemerge as his dominant self from a few weeks ago. His ERA stood at 2.63 prior to his two most recent stinkers.

Ranger Suarez

Confidence meter: 6/10

Stats: 8-5, 3.42 ERA

Missed starts: 2

Playoff experience: none

The skinny: Suarez' numbers look good at face value, and it would be nice to bring a lefty to a playoff party. But it would be hard not to knock Suarez at least a little bit for what happened out in the Arizona desert Monday night — when he was handed a seven-run lead and imploded in the fourth inning for six runs as the Phillies bullpen took over and imploded too. He surrenders walks more often than anyone on the pitching staff but also has the lowest homer rate.

All of that being said, Suarez is kind of a model of consistency. In 23 starts this season he has not allowed fewer than three hits or more than seven. Only two of the runs he allowed Monday were earned and he's not given up more than five earned runs in a start. Suarez has a month to show he's the third best starter on the staff, and he has some competition for that moniker.

Noah Syndergaard

Confidence meter: 5/10

Stats: 3-1, 4-40 ERA

Missed starts: none (since his trade in July)

Playoff experience: 2-1, 2.42 ERA (5 appearances)

The skinny: Syndergaard was a trade deadline acquisition and has been fine so far, a no-thrills middle of the rotation pitcher who has given the Phillies a chance to win in each of his five starts so far. The main appeal for Syndergaard as a third starter in the postseason is his experience — the most of any starter on the squad. He's got a win in a World Series game (2015 vs the Royals) and had a seven-inning, 10-strikeout, two-hit performance against the Giants a year later. He hasn't been the same pitcher since he started dealing with injury woes and his eventual trade to the Phils, but he is definitely an asset who knows how to handle a big moment.

Kyle Gibson

Confidence meter: 5/10

Stats: 9-5, 4.08 ERA

Missed starts: none 

Playoff experience: One inning of relief (3 ER)

The skinny: Gibson has solid stuff for a back of the rotation arm, but he's not exactly a bogey golfer — he's more of the birdie/double bogey variety. One week (like on Saturday against Pittsburgh) he'll toss seven scoreless innings, after allowing eight hits in 4.1 innings the week before. Still, in 19 of his 25 outings he allowed three runs or fewer, and is likely to keep the Phillies in it if he's getting the nod. He doesn't instill the confidence and awe of Nola or Wheeler but there are certainly worse pitchers to have at the back end of your rotation.

The rest...

Zach Eflin

Eflin is the wild card in all of this. Prior to getting hurt, the Phillies former third starter struggled with a 4.37 ERA in 13 starts. His injured knee is almost fully healed, as Rob Thomson said the righty will be pitching from the mound soon with an eye for being a contributor this fall. Barring an injury to another starer, it's unclear whose job he would take in the rotation. Could the Phils go with a six-man staff for a few weeks toward the end of the season with Eflin thrown into the mix? Would Eflin translate to an effective reliever in a playoff series? These are probably good problems for a manager to have.

Bailey Falter

Falter has a 4.41 ERA in nine spot starts filling in for Zach Eflin and Wheeler. With the bullpen in its current injured state, he might be a long man in a playoff series.

Cristopher Sanchez

In five starts, the rookie has a 5.34 ERA and won't be in the playoff picture.


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