SAN DIEGO — Two teams following parallel routes meet Tuesday night in the opening game of the National League Championship Series.
Both the Philadelphia Phillies and the Padres didn’t meet expectations during most of the regular season, rallied late to claim the last two National League wild-card spots, then won all-road series to advance out of the wild-card round before eliminating triple-digit-win teams in their divisional series.
Now the two lowest seeds in the National League playoffs meet in a best-of-seven series to determine the Senior Circuit’s World Series representative.
“Everything about the Phillies is basically the same for us,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said Monday during his pre-NLCS media session. “Similar type teams, both got here the exact same way. It wasn’t particularly easy and both teams probably benefitted from that.
“There are a lot of similarities across the board in these teams, not only in what rosters look like, rotation looks like, but certainly how we’ve played, as well.
“I don’t think the regular-season records mean a lot.”
Except for one small thing that could be important on Oct. 25: The Padres will be at home if the series goes to a seventh game. San Diego is the fifth seed in the NL playoffs while Philadelphia is No. 6.
For most of the final month of the regular season, the Phillies were ahead of the Padres in the wild-card standings. However, the Padres finished with 11 wins in their last 18 games while the Phillies won just seven of their final 20.
Philadelphia’s late-season slump allowed the Padres to claim the higher seed and the homefield advantage.
The NLCS will open on Tuesday with the Phillies’ Zack Wheeler (0-1, 2.19 ERA postseason; 12-7, 2.82 regular season) starting against the Padres’ Yu Darvish (2-0, 3.00 ERA postseason; 16-8, 3.10 regular season) in a matchup of right-handers.
The Phillies finished with a 4-3 edge against the Padres in the regular season.
San Diego took two of three in Philadelphia from May 17-19. All three games ended in shutouts, with Wheeler and Darvish each throwing seven shutout innings in their respective starts during the three-game set.
The Phillies won three of four in San Diego from June 23-26, knocking the Padres out of a share for the lead in the NL West. It was a costly series for the Phillies, however, as Bryce Harper sustained a broken left thumb when hit by a pitch from Blake Snell in the third game. Snell is expected to start Wednesday afternoon’s second game.
Darvish has won both of his playoff starts this season, allowing four runs on 13 hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts in 12 innings. All four of the runs he has given up have come on solo homers.
Wheeler tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card series. He gave up three runs on four hits and a walk with five strikeouts in six innings against the Atlanta Braves while losing Game 2 of the NLDS.
Wheeler is 3-1 with a 2.06 ERA in seven career starts against the Padres.
“It’s just another start, that’s the way you have to view it,” Wheeler said Monday. “Obviously, it’s a bigger stage. There’s a lot riding on it. We want to get that first win of the series.
“It’s just another start for me just because you don’t try to get too high or too low. You try to stay right there at that level and just think of it as another game, even though there are bigger things going into it, I guess you could say, bigger outcomes.”
Darvish was 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two appearances against the Phillies this season. He is 2-1 lifetime against the Phillies with a 2.23 ERA over seven starts. Including the playoffs, Darvish has won eight of his past nine starts dating back to Aug. 27.
The Phillies’ bullpen might have a key piece back for the NLCS after David Robertson threw a bullpen session on Monday. The veteran right-hander hurt his right calf amid the celebration of a Harper homer against the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLDS on Oct. 8.
Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson said the team would need to be convinced Robertson is at full strength to include him on the NLCS squad.
“That’s a big roster spot to take up and sort of not be able to utilize it properly,” Thomson said.
–Bill Center, Field Level Media