It doesn’t take long to become considered playoff-tested anymore, given that teams are given way more spins of the wheel than they used to be as well as the inning-by-inning referendum fans, and media descend into. The Philadelphia Phillies, thanks to kneecapping Atlanta two years in a row, and appearing in their second straight NLCS, while also not being the Dodgers, are almost all of the focus of the NLCS. Given the raucous atmosphere Citizens Bank Park provides, combined with almost all of the Phillies’ big moments being thunderous home runs from players most fans know, that sucks up a lot of oxygen. It doesn’t take much for anyone to recall Hoskins, Realmuto, Harper, Castellanos, Turner, or Schwarber homers in the past two postseasons, and the celebrations they kicked off in South Philly. The Fightins also provide a convenient nexus to debate the current strengths and weaknesses of the current playoff format, given their gargantuan payroll but middling regular season results balanced out by their October triumphs. And everyone’s general fatigue of Houston as the last spice.
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The Phillies will be playing Arizona in this series. You might not have known that, given the focus. But it’s true. The D-Backs are going to show up tonight in Philly.
Maybe part of that is that the Diamondbacks aren’t really supposed to be here. This is ahead of schedule in their development by a skosh, but also they weren’t very good. They had a negative run differential during the season. They didn’t so much storm to a playoff spot in the season’s last month, but more just remained upright and looked around while all their competitors stepped on various rakes, open manholes, and banana skins, and were left as the last one. They were among MLB’s worst teams in July and August, when they went 20-31, and fell from the top of the NL West to below .500 for a stretch. Over the 162, they didn’t do anything particularly well, finishing 15th, 21st, and 18th in runs scored, starters’ ERA, and relievers’ ERA. Just about the only plus thing you can point to about the Diamondbacks is they were a plus-plus defensive team, finishing second in overall Outs Above Average (by StatCast) and 3rd in Defensive Runs (by Fangraphs). Which helps a lot, especially in the gargantuan outfield of Chase Field. And getting to watch the Phillies outfield in that place for up to three games might be an Emmy nominee for Best Comedy. We’ll circle back around to that.
The Diamondbacks got here because they were able to dance around fires of their own creation and Corbin Carroll is showing everyone why he might win multiple MVPs (getting to face Lance Lynn didn’t hurt). The stats say Arizona has only given up 11 runs over five playoff games, and what goes up on the scoreboard is all that matters. That doesn’t mean they didn’t make things awfully interesting. In Game 1 against the Brewers, with a one-run lead, Ryne Nelson gave up three straight singles in the 5th, only to be bailed out by his own strikeout, and then a double-play authored by Ryan Thompson. In Game 2, Kevin Ginkel loaded the bases with a three-run lead before Andrew Saalfrank pulled his ass out of a sling.
The Diamondbacks made their own luck a bit in the Division Series, whacking Clayton Kershaw so violently all around Chavez Ravine that they didn’t need to use any of their top relievers, and thus had them fresh for Games 2, and 3, both of which had off-days before them. Again, in Game 3, Thompson gave up two runs before Saalfrank had the access panel that was facing Austin Barnes to get out of that jam.
But they don’t ask how, do they?
In some ways, these teams look a lot like each other. Two dynamite starters up top (Gallen and Kelly vs. Wheeler and Nola) and then kind of having to make it up from there. Top of the lineups that are firing at the moment, though the supporting cast for the Phillies is more dangerous. The Phillies pen is better shaped on paper, but both are getting the outs they need right now. Is that them or a case of both Atlanta and the Dodgers just going cold with runners on? Or a mixture of the two?
If this series is close, it’s hard not to wonder if it’ll come down to one or two balls hit in the gaps in Arizona that Arizona’s combination of centerfielders will get to whereas Nick Castellanos may need an oxygen tank. But it’s hardly automatic.
More likely it’ll be telling that the Diamondbacks aren’t going to get to tee off on a rotting Kershaw or Lynn here, and they hardly did much against the meat of the Dodgers pen. But they’re here, and as we’ve learned if a team can get this far they can go past here too. If Carroll, Marte, Walker, Pham, and Thomas continue to hit, then it doesn’t have to make sense.
Them getting here doesn’t make a lot of sense either.
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