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The Philadelphia Phillies became the fourth team to advance to the league championship series with a 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday night.
On Wednesday night, the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks punched their tickets to the next round, a day after the Texas Rangers beat the 100-win Los Angeles Dodgers and the Rangers beat the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays. And the 101-win Baltimore Orioles — now the 104-win Braves — are gone.
How did the Phillies manage to knock out the Braves for the second year in a row? Will Philadelphia pass the D-Packs and make another World Series trip? What about another early postseason exit following Atlanta’s record-breaking regular season? We’ve got updates, takeaways and ESPN MLB experts Buster Olney, Jesse Rogers and David Schoenfield covering everything for both teams.
Important Links: What you need to know | Full playoff schedule
Philadelphia Phillies 3, Atlanta Braves 1: Two straight Braves-Phillies showdowns in NLDS — It’s two straight trips to the NLCS for the Phillies as they knocked off the Braves again with a Game 4 win on Thursday night. A slump works in favor of the Phillies when they play at home. In Games 3 and 4, they went down early before quickly rebounding to knock off the mighty Braves. Atlanta says all the right things but it saw Terrified — and that showed both at the plate and on the mound. Just when you think you’re safe because you can keep Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber quiet, along comes Nick Castellanos. Trea Turner had a three-hit day that included two home runs while she had four hits. Phillies idle at home — now they have home field advantage in the next round. — Jesse Rogers
Playoff price aside, who is the other Phillies player who impressed you the most this series?
Olney: Ranger Suarez started two of the four games in the series and was very good, which seemed to boost Rob Thompson’s confidence in the lefty. In Game 4, Thompson seemed to leave Suarez in the game a little longer because of the confidence he gained in Game 1, and in return, Suarez kept spinning his breaking ball with a confidence that seemed to resonate with him. Thompson will certainly be happy to hand the ball to Suarez in Game 3 or 4 of the NL Championship Series.
Schoenfeld: Going into the postseason, I felt like Aaron Nola was one of the most important players of the entire postseason. He’s been homer-prone in an up-and-down regular season, but so far he’s had two strong starts with wins over the Marlins and Braves. Heck, to Buster’s point, throw in Suarez and suddenly the Phillies are a strong 2-3 in the rotation behind ace Zack Wheeler.
Rogers: Nick Castellanos. He’s called a professional hitter, and that’s why he took Spencer Strider, the majors’ strikeout leader, twice deep in Game 4 after homering twice in Game 3. No player has ever done that. Harper, Kyle Schwarber and Trey Turner get most of the headlines, but Castellanos steals them in this series. The guy can hit flat.
What made Philly fit Atlanta so well in the postseason?
Olney: I don’t think it fits well; Rather, I think it’s about timing. In ’22 and again in ’23, the Braves’ rotation was deeply affected by injuries heading into the playoffs. This year, Max Fried is coming off a blister problem and his start in Game 2 was unclear. Charlie Morton was never available. In all of these division rival matchups — Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks being another example — there’s no awe, no unknown. Since these teams have faced each other so often, there is no mystery.
Schoenfeld: The Phillies have led the majors at home over the last two months, so despite the all-season-long dominance of the Atlanta offense, the Philly lineup, the way it has hit, has arguably been better. The Braves’ rotation was depleted without Morton and Fried pitching through his blister issue, and the Phillies were primed to outscore the Braves. That’s what happened.
Rogers: The respective crowd? Well, that might be a little dramatic but there’s a reason the Braves took so long to name a Game 3 starter. Their picks are inexperience and inexperience — and inexperience doesn’t play at Citizens Bank Park. Bryce Elder wilted after taking a 1-0 lead — a night after their ace, Strider, did the same. It doesn’t fit. It’s atmospheric — and a great starter.
104 wins, but another early playoff exit — how would you label the Braves’ season?
Olney: Deeply disappointed. After being blown out by the Phillies last year, they pushed the regular season rock back over the hill and then got crushed in the same fashion they did last year. Now that same group of players will face the same challenge next year, and that prospect will make or break them in the ’24 season.
Schoenfeld: This is playoff baseball. The Braves won the World Series in 2021, winning just 88 games and starting World Series games with — I’m not making this up — Tucker Davidson and Dylan Lee. The 2022 and 2023 Braves were very good teams but didn’t get hot at the right time. Just ask Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz: There’s no super secret formula for how to win in October.
Rogers: Disappointing, but they can point to those pitching injuries as the main reason. Atlanta, however, needs to examine the mix in the room when it comes to adversity. Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson were absent to lead the team. Brian Snitker says the whole room goes — usually that means no one. Struggling against the Phillies on the road is a real thing, and they need real leadership to do it.
What do you expect from the Phillies in the NLCS against the Diamondbacks?
Olney: The Diamondbacks have opened the postseason with a 5-0 record over two division winners, so you’d think I’d stop underestimating them. But the Phillies and Braves were the most complete teams on the NL side of the bracket, and the D-Backs — with so many young players — look like a middleweight facing a heavyweight on the Phillies roster. Philadelphia is on a quest for a vision right now, and it’s hard to imagine anyone other than the Astros having a chance to beat them.
Schoenfeld: They will surely be the favorite, but don’t sleep on the Diamondbacks. Arizona’s problem: Do they have enough starting pitching beyond Jack Gallen and Meryl Kelly? Brandon Piffatt got off to a good start against the Dodgers, but he’s giving up a lot of home runs — and as we’ve just seen, the Phillies are very good at hitting. Arizona doesn’t need to use a fourth starter, and with fewer off days, the bullpen will be tested more than ever. It wouldn’t shock me to see a sweep, but I’ll five the Phillies overtaking the T-backs.
Rogers: I think the Phillies will keep rolling — but they better not underestimate the T-backs. One thing’s for sure, Arizona won’t come to Philadelphia scared. The D-backs are better than anyone in the postseason. That should keep them in it.