The only thing that stands between the Phillies and a second-straight National League championship pennant is a team not many expected to be in this position, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
There is little-to-no rivalry between these two clubs, but a playoff series is a great way to start one. And it will come on one of baseball’s biggest stages, the National League Championship series.
After a Wild Card sweep of the Miami Marlins and a 3-1 NLDS victory over the Atlanta Braves, the Phils are red hot coming into the series. However, the DBacks cannot be overlooked.
Here are a few storylines for the best-of-seven series:
The DBacks got off to a very hot start to the season. They were on top of the National League for a month or two until they hit reality and found themselves third in the NL West in August and out of the postseason.
It took some San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs losing, but the DBacks got themselves the last spot in the NL postseason picture. It seemed like a losers-race to the last spot, as they lost their last four games of the regular season and the Cubs, who were the other team competing for it, seemed even less interested in it than they were.
Naturally, they have not lost a game since because, you know, baseball.
The DBacks came to Citizens Bank Park in mid-May and took the first two games of the series. They were on the cusp of a sweep when they took a 5-0 lead in the finale until the Phillies battled back and tied the game in the bottom of the ninth thanks to a clutch home run by a struggling Trea Turner. They pulled it out with an Alec Bohm walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th.
In mid-June, the Phillies traveled to Chase Field Arizona for a four-game set. The DBacks outlasted the Phillies and a J.T. Realmuto cycle, 9-8, in the opener, but the Phillies rebounded to take the next three, including a couple of one-run wins.
How is the offense?
Looking at how the DBacks have clobbered every starting pitcher they have faced this postseason, the DBacks would be looked upon as an elite offense. However, in the regular season, they ranked a measly seventh in runs scored, and are not great at a whole lot besides stealing bases.
The lineup is conducted by good hitters, but not quite elite in Christian Walker, Ketel Marte, and assumptive rookie of the year Corbin Carroll. The key to their run has been that these players have continued to hit well in October. Carroll, for example, was 6-for-9 with two home runs, four RBIs, one double, five runs, two walks, and no strike outs in the NLDS. And this guy is a rookie.
Are they going to still hit this well against a Phillies staff that just shut down the Braves lineup, which is being called one of the best in baseball history? Anything is possible, but probably not. Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez are all pitching exceptionally well. And if they need a fourth starter, Cristopher Sanchez and Taijuan Walker are good arms to turn to.
As they showed against the Braves in the NLDS, it may not always be appealing, but the Phillies have enough bullpen arms to get their way through demanding late-inning matchups. The left-handed Carroll is going to face Jose Alvarado and Matt Strahm a lot, and it looks like Seranthony Dominguez might return as a feasible option against tough right-handers.
Also, Game 1 will be five days since the DBacks last played a game. And as we have grown to know, a layoff of more than four days is harmful to even the best offenses.
The likely third starter is Brandon Pfaadt, who pitched well against the Dodgers, but looking at how most of his 2023 season went, we should not expect him to do it again. Not sure who the DBacks can go with after Pfaadt. Maybe a bullpen game? Maybe they go with Ryne Nelson (5.31 ERA) or Slade Cecconi (4.33 ERA)? Not sure what route they may go.
Their bullpen is okay. Midseason addition Paul Sewald is the owner of Arizona’s closer role. Joe Mantiply will probably face Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper in the late innings. He has been good so far in the postseason, but the one time he faced the Phillies this season, he got knocked around for four runs in three innings.
In 2022, the Phillies were the six-seed and won the NL. In 2023, the DBacks are the six-seed and are in the NLCS.
In the second season of the new MLB playoff format, the NLCS consists of two Wild Card teams for a second straight year.
What does this prove? It does not matter how you get into the dance, it just matters how you can dance. The DBacks are playing good ball right now, they have not lost a game in the playoffs yet. Do not underestimate the snakes from the desert.
For the Phils, they are running it back with the exact same roster as the NLDS.
The Phillies are starting Zack Wheeler in Game 1 on Monday night at 8:07 p.m. ET. For further details, follow Philly Sports Reports‘ social media accounts and read the previews that will be published prior to every game.