The Ultimate Guide to the Phillies 2023 Playoffs (for Fans and Bandwagon Jumpers Alike)
The Phils are moving on to the NLCS! Here’s where to watch, how to watch, who to watch, and everything else you need to know about Red October.
Here we go! For the second straight year the Phillies have once again beaten the Braves — and the odds — to punch their ticket to the NLCS. Now all that stands in the way of their second trip to the World Series in two years is the Arizona Diamondbacks. And it all begins Monday, October 16th here in Philly.
The Phillies are blazing through Red October, fired up and ready to go. But are you ready to watch? If you haven’t been paying attention till now, the team is different than last year, and so is the game of baseball.
So consider this your cheat sheet. We’ll tell you where to watch, how to watch, and everything you need to catch up on what’s been happening, so you can talk about the Phillies with your fellow fans at the bar without embarrassing yourself.
When, Where and How to Watch
Let’s start with the “when.” The series begins this Monday, October 16th, at Citizens Bank Park. The Phils play Games 1 and 2 at home, then travel to Arizona for Games 3 and 4 (and, if necessary, 5). If the series undecided at this point, it’ll return home to Philly for Games 6 and 7.
If you’re watching from home, here’s the TV schedule:
- Game 1: Diamondbacks at Phillies, Monday, October 16th at 8:07 p.m.
- Game 2: Diamondbacks at Phillies, Tuesday, October 17th at 8:07 p.m.
- Game 3: Phillies at Diamondbacks, Thursday, October 19th at 5:07pm
- Game 4: Phillies at Diamondbacks, Friday, October 20th at 8:07pm
- Game 5: Phillies at Diamondbacks, Saturday, October 21st at 8:07 p.m.*
- Game 6: Diamondbacks at Phillies, Monday, October 23rd at 5:07 p.m.*
- Game 7: Diamondbacks at Phillies, Tuesday, October 24th at 8:07 p.m.*
*: if necessary
Not to jinx the hell out of things, but the winner of the series will move on to play either the Astros or the Rangers in the best-of-seven World Series starting on October 27th. But, hey, the Phillies are favored in this series! More on that later.
Where and How to Watch the NLCS
I mean … good luck with that! If you don’t already have tickets or an obscene amount of disposable income, your chances aren’t great. Whenever we make the playoffs, I inevitably see social media posts asking for tips or “deals” on how to get tickets. Is someone who could sell a ticket for $1,000 going to give it to you at face value because you asked on Facebook? Nope.
Let’s assume efficient markets here. Go with resellers — sites like StubHub are your best bet, since they’re secure and verified. You’re not gonna find a deal, so please, don’t answer DMs, pay cash, or hang around shadowy alleys waiting for a $200 ticket.
And if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some tickets, for the love of God, don’t post a picture of them online. Not only will your friends hate you, but someone can use that barcode to steal your tickets.
All games will be broadcast on TBS — so if you have cable, you’re set. You can stream the series on MLB.tv, Max, YouTube TV or Sling. (TBS is not on FuboTV, so the streaming options are slightly narrower for you cord-cutters out there.)
You can also listen on the radio at 94.1 WIP, where Phillies announcers Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen will be calling the game.
So you’ve somehow gotten tickets. I’m not gonna ask how — I don’t want to know whom you had to betray, how much you spent, or your plan for getting your future newborn back from Rumpelstiltskin in 2030 — but I am sickeningly happy for you. You knew how to get tickets but not how to get to Citizens Bank Park? What’s wrong with you?
Of course, you can drive to the game, but keep in mind that if you do, you’ll also have to drive home. None of that traffic is fun. The subway takes you right there — you can even use your phone to buy tix now — so ride the Broad Street Line southbound to the end, follow all the Harper hoodies up the stairs, and you can’t go wrong. If you’re coming from the ’burbs or Jersey, Regional Rail and PATCO connect to the BSL underground, and you’ll have lots of company in folks who likewise know better than to drive to a playoff game.
Can I Bring … ?
CBP will reject your backpack without hesitation, so save yourself time (and the $10 locker fee) and bring a small bag. Bags have to be five by seven inches (think a “belt bag,” a.k.a. fanny pack) or smaller. Diaper bags and clear tote bags get a little more leeway at 16 x 16 x eight inches. And for some reason, drawstring bags are totally okay.
As for drinks, you can bring sealed plastic water bottles as well as baby bottles, but no alcohol, obviously. Also, feel free to bring a clever sign to delight the crowd — just make sure it’s made of paper or cloth, it’s smaller than four by eight feet, and it isn’t, y’know, vulgar. If you have to ask about weapons or drones, I don’t know what to say to you. No.
You certainly can bring cash, but you won’t have much use for it. Everything at CBP — concessions, parking — is cashless now.
How Is Baseball Different?
One thing that viewers tuning into baseball for the first time in 2023 will notice is the pace. The league instituted a pitch clock requiring pitchers to wait no longer than 15 seconds between pitches (or 20 with runners on base), and games are now about 25 minutes faster as a result. If you disliked waiting forever between pitches during the World Series last year when games averaged three hours and 40 minutes, this year’s playoffs will probably be more your … speed.
Rule changes on the size of bases (they’re bigger!), infield positioning (the shift was banned), and picking off runners have led to a surge in stolen bases and hits in general. A little more explanation on that last rule change: Pitchers are limited to two base-runner pickoff attempts per plate appearance. (A third try, if unsuccessful, results in a balk.)
How Are the Phillies Different?
The Phillies landed a Wild Card spot again this year, but won three more games than they did last year and clinched earlier as a result. The team is very similar on paper, except for a couple major new additions — notably former NL batting title winner and two-time All-Star Trea Turner manning shortstop, along with Taijuan Walker slotting in to stabilize a rotation that maneuvered last year’s title run with three solid starting pitchers to fill four spots.
Yet what really brought in those extra wins in 2023 was that the bullpen was better by leaps and bounds. Last year’s bullpen was not really the culprit in the ultimate World Series loss — that was a result of the Astros’ pitching staff freezing the red-hot bats that had carried the team through the playoffs — but it definitely was a weak spot in the regular season. The Phillies played mix-and-match with relievers to make things work last year, but they have several better options this year.
Despite the improved bullpen, the top of the Phillies’ starting rotation that helped carry them in 2022 was much less dominant in 2023. It remains to be seen whether the playoff versions of Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola are as strong as last year, but those two will get the ball for the first two games this postseason and still have the potential to put the Wild Card series away quickly with a couple dominant starts.
Even with the addition of Turner, the Phillies lineup has not been any more dominant than it was last year. They actually dipped from seventh to eighth in MLB in runs scored. Trea Turner had a less than dominant season, albeit significantly better in the last two months than in the first four. The lineup misses Rhys Hoskins, whose spring training ACL tear led him to miss the entirety of the 2023 regular season. (He is currently trying to rehab his way back if the Phillies make a long playoff run, though.) There was some improvement out of the younger hitters in the lineup – Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott, Johan Rojas and Brandon Marsh — but J.T. Realmuto regressed at the plate this season. The lineup is still very good, and will be challenging for opponents to get past.
It is also a better lineup top-to-bottom, with six different players hitting 20 home runs or more for the first time in club history. Bohm added himself to that club on the last day of the regular season.
How Did We Get Here? Or, a Cheat Sheet for the Bandwagon Hoppers
First off, the Phillies started their year with a new skipper … sort of. During last year’s playoffs, Rob Thomson was upgraded from interim manager. (He had been installed in the middle of last season after Joe Girardi was fired.) Thomson is now signed as manager through 2024.
Phillies fans had high hopes coming into the 2023 season. After all, the team had fallen just two wins short of a World Series championship, and then splurged in the offseason by guaranteeing $300 million to Turner (over 11 years) and $72 million to Walker (over four). But most projections saw the Phillies as a wild-card team. They were 14 games behind Atlanta last year, and were (correctly) projected to do about the same this year. To be fair, the Phillies did vanquish that same heavily favored team in the Division Series last year (and this year).
The Phils stumbled out of the gate early — by June 2nd, they were only 25-32 — but they cruised to clinch the Wild Card with five days to go, and ended the season with a solid 90-72 record. The team got stronger as the year went on: Bryce Harper had delayed a necessary Tommy John surgery for last year’s playoff run, even though that kept him from throwing and relegated him to the Designated Hitter spot for most of the year. His surgery was expected to sideline him for the first three months or so this year, but Harper broke the MLB record by returning only 160 days after he went under the knife. He spent his couple months as the team’s DH before his arm was healthy enough that he could at least play first base. That mercifully freed up the DH spot for Kyle Schwarber, who had been playing historically bad defense in left field. Harper’s quick return meant the team now had three reliable outfielders chasing down fly balls (instead of two and a half). Harper actually helped the defense further with impressive play at first base. The longtime right fielder looks like a natural in the infield.
The story that has perhaps been discussed even more is the play of the Phillies’ white whale of a free agent, Trea Turner. He had been a reliable hitter throughout his career, most of which was spent on the Washington Nationals, punishing the Phillies. Now — like Harper — Turner headed up I-95 to put runs on the PHI side of the scoreboard. He did not do much of that for the first four months of the season, however. The former batting champion and career .302 hitter was only managing a .235 batting average as of August 3rd. Fans were frustrated, talk radio was aghast, and the Phillies brass must have been privately panicking about who exactly they had spent all that money on.
Then, fans planned and executed a series of loud, un-ironic standing ovations for the struggling Turner on Friday, August 4th, during each of his trips to the plate. Was this the proximate cause of what happened after? Some call this type of thinking a fallacy, but Turner has been an assassin out of the second spot in the lineup ever since that day, so forget logic! He’s hit .337 with 16 home runs in 48 games ever since, and enters the playoffs looking like an even better hitter than the Phillies thought they were getting when they signed him.
The Playoffs So Far
The Phillies quickly disposed of the Marlins in two Wild Card games. The Phillies beat the Marlins so thoroughly, in fact, that the Marlins somehow retroactively lost an extra regular season game in the process.
Prior to that series, it was clear that the Phillies’ easiest path to success would come from a pair of dominant starts from Wheeler and Nola. But it didn’t hurt that the Phillies’ lineup came to play, too. All nine starters got a hit in their 4-1 victory on Tuesday night. Then the bats really woke up in their 7-1 series-clinching victory on Wednesday, thanks to a sixth-inning grand slam from Bryson Stott. Neither game felt especially close. It was lovely.
Most people expected the Phillies would beat the Marlins in the Wild Card round, but few outside of Philly expected the Phillies to find the magic to beat the deservedly favored Braves for the second year in a row.
The Phillies may have improved since last year, but so had the Braves. And even in phans’ phever dreams, where the Phillies did take down the Braves, their wish-casting probably assumed the Phillies would out-slug the Braves, taking advantage of their injured rotation. After all, the Braves’ offense seemed unstoppable. They had averaged nearly six runs per game during the regular season. But in this four-game series versus the Phillies, they averaged just two runs (and in Game 1 were shut out at home for the first time since August 2021). They averaged just shy of two home runs per game during the regular season; they hit three total in four games. Instead, it was the Phillies’ sluggers who launched 11 baseballs into the seats — nine of those during their two home games.
In the end, the Phillies disposed of the Braves, 3-1, for the second year in a row. Yet again, they split the two games in Atlanta, and then won the following two at deafeningly loud Citizens Bank Park.
In terms of the Phillies’ 2023 playoff opponents — including those to come — Atlanta and their 104 regular-season wins may have been the highest hurdle. The Braves won 20 more games this year than the Diamondbacks, and 14 more than both the Astros and Rangers (who are currently playing each other in the ALCS to determine who goes to the World Series). Tallying eight more wins will be hard, and three out of four optimistic fan bases are about to be disappointed. But there’s no getting around the fact that the Phillies just beat a team that looked much better on paper than most others in recent memory.
The Matchup: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks only won 84 games in the regular season, so naturally the 90-win Phillies are favored with home-field advantage in a seven-game set against them — but perhaps by less than you would think. According to Bet Online, the Phillies open at -180, which equates to about a 64 percent chance of winning the series. That is still much better than last year, when they opened at +105 against the Padres (49 percent).
Game 1 sees the Phillies favored at -162 (62 percent) according to DraftKings Sportsbook. If the Phillies do take care of that game, expect their odds to surge but the Diamondbacks will likely be favored to win the series if they take Game 1.
On paper, the Diamondbacks look like a fairly average team. Their record this year was 84-78, but they were slightly outscored by opponents 761-746. Unlike the Braves, who boasted a lineup where the majority of hitters had at least 30 home runs, the Diamondbacks only have one such hitter: first baseman Christian Walker. The D-backs were close to league average this year in both runs scored and runs allowed.
Arizona’s best and most interesting hitter is the presumptive NL Rookie of the Year, right fielder Corbin Carroll. It would behoove the Phillies to keep the dynamic leadoff hitter off base, as Carroll stole 54 bases atop the Diamondbacks’ lineup. He also hit .285 with 25 home runs.
Vegas had the Diamondbacks’ over-under at 74.5 wins this season back in Spring Training, so you might think the Diamondbacks are a young team that sprung onto the scene out of nowhere. But the lineup is actually clustered at both extremes. They have four hitters age 24 and younger, but the other five starters are all at least 30 – with no one in between.
A big reason that the Diamondbacks have won all five postseason games they have played thus far (including a shocking three-game sweep of the 100-win Dodgers) is that three of those five games have been pitched by their pair of aces — right-handers Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. The Diamondbacks’ rotation is nothing if not top-heavy. Gallen was at one point the favorite for the NL Cy Young with his dominant first half, but he cooled after the All-Star Break. Gallen and Kelly will almost certainly start the first two games in Philly, and at least one more each later in the series, so there is no way to beat the Diamondbacks without winning at least one game against Gallen or Kelly. Considering that they will likely match up with Phillies’ aces Wheeler and Nola, how the Phillies do in those games will be consequential.
The Phillies do have an advantage at the third spot in the rotation, where Suárez will look to build upon his success against the Braves (and overall playoff excellence) when he faces rookie Brandon Pfaadt. While talented, Pfaadt struggled mightily in his first year in the big leagues with a 5.72 ERA in 19 games. A frequent victim of the long ball in 2023, the right-hander could have a tough go of it against the Phillies’ powerful lefty sluggers, Harper and Schwarber, as well as Wild Card hero Stott.
The fourth game of the series will be tough to forecast. If either team is behind, they will be tempted to start their ace (Wheeler or Gallen) on short rest, although that can backfire. And it would probably only make sense if Nola or Kelly were ready to pitch Game 5 on short rest as well. It is probably more likely that both teams will opt to go with either a starter on a very short leash (potentially Walker and Ryne Nelson), or just a straight-up bullpen game.
The better team on paper has lost frequently in the postseason thus far — the teams with the five best records in the league have already been eliminated — so the Phillies will want to maintain their momentum going into Game 1 at home. But unlike the last series, they will have the home-field advantage to start the series and look to win their fifth of five games so far at Citizens Bank Park in the 2023 postseason.
Also, diamondbacks are snakes, but the Diamondbacks’ mascot is a bobcat. What?
Most Likely Pitching Matchups (but still TBD)
- Game 1: Zack Wheeler vs. Zac Gallen
- Game 2: Aaron Nola vs. Merrill Kelly
- Game 3: Ranger Suárez vs. Brandon Pfaadt
- Game 4: TBD – either team could restart their rotation on short rest, go with a bullpen game, or go with their fourth starters (Walker, Nelson or others)
- Game 5: depends on Game 4
More Fun Stuff to Know
What’s with the unbuttoned shirts? What’s this year’s rallying cry? These questions are what separate those who can hang from those who can’t.
“Attaboy, Harper” — a.k.a. The Staredown
The signature moment that many fans are talking about from the NLDS came in Game 3.
In the prior game, the Phillies had blown a 4-0 lead and were down 5-4 in the ninth inning. Castellanos hit a ball deep to centerfield, which Harper mistook for a double so he sprinted to score from first in hopes of tying the game. Instead, Michael Harris II made a spectacular catch and quickly launched the ball back to Austin Riley who relayed the ball to first base to get Harper out in a double play, ending the game. The most forgettable player in the Braves’ memorable lineup, shortstop Orlando Arcia, was overheard making fun of Harper in the Braves’ clubhouse, screaming “Attaboy, Harper!” in front of a room full of reporters. The forgettable Arcia forgot that reporters report things, and word got back to Harper of Arcia’s mockery. So when Harper came up in Game 3 with two runners on base and two out in the bottom of the third inning, and launched a hanging slider into the freaking sun, he made a special point to give Arcia a long look as he rounded second base.
And when Harper went deep again in the fifth inning, he stared down Arcia again, too. The man knows how to make a meme, even if he can’t really pronounce it. By the time the Phils won the series, rookie reliever Orion Kerkering had a shirt commemorating the moment:
Orion Kerkering’s friend made him a new shirt to wear tonight. pic.twitter.com/pP4fq4gWuo
— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) October 13, 2023
Keeping It Casual
You may have noticed some of the Phils sporting a more laidback look, wearing their jerseys partially unbuttoned. What’s behind this stylistic choice?
As a minor-league player, Johan Rojas used to unbutton the top of his jersey, but when he joined the Phillies, the rookie outfielder buttoned up. But he started leaving the top buttons undone again, encouraged by his mentor Nick Castellanos. Castellanos did this to convey the message to Rojas to “loosen up and chill out,” and Rojas has embraced this advice, showing improved comfort both in his outfield play and at-bats. And the neckline has been getting even lower. “Rojas, with Castellanos’ permission, started to unbutton more of his jersey as his playing time increased,” Matt Gelb wrote at The Athletic. “Now, Rojas is at least three buttons deep and the golden lion he wears around his neck is visible. It’s a confident look.”
More Fashion: Overalls!
As summer wound down, the Phils were making some more eye-catching sartorial choices. As they embarked on their road game to Milwaukee, they were wearing matching pinstripe overalls — some without a shirt underneath.
This penchant for overalls took on even greater prominence in the Phillies’ second Wild Card game. Hometown hero and 2008 World Series champ Jamie Moyer emerged to throw out the ceremonial first pitch … also in overalls!
They have also made appearances in the Phils’ post-series celebrations. Stubbs knows how to wear a pair of overalls, that’s all we need to say.
Giving the (Ring) Finger
During Wild Card Game 1, there was some confusion about a hand signal Castellanos made after his fourth-inning double. Initially, it looked like he was making an … offensive gesture, but it was later clarified that he was actually flipping his ring finger, as if to say to his teammates, Let’s put a championship ring on it. “Of course it was my ring finger,” he said. “Why would I flip off my teammates? I love them.”
Well, this has become his go-to celebration hand signal, showing up again in the NLCS:
“If you don’t get it, then get the f*ck out of Philly.”
And finally, the greatest hype video ever. After an exhilarating recap of the season and team, Stubbs delivers a ready-made playoffs tagline: “I said this to someone before. If they don’t understand Philadelphia, come here in October … and if you don’t get it, then get the f*ck out of Philly.”
This is sure to be the next “It’s a Philly Thing.” But better.