Five days ago, the Phillies were reeling, and everyone thought it was only a matter of time before they fell from first place. It’s safe to say they are no longer reeling. They’ve won five in a row and their first place status remains intact.
After taking care of business against the last place Marlins, the Phillies will now head out West to take on another first place team in the Diamondbacks. Will they encounter similar success when taking on a team whose ownership actually cares about the team?
The Last Time They Met
The D’Backs ventured to Philadelphia in late April and took two out of three from the home team. Jarrod Dyson provided the big bat in the series with two home runs. The good news for the Phillies is that Dyson is currently on the disabled list making it very unlikely that he will hurt them again.
And Since Then?
The D’Backs have been jockeying for position at the top of the National League West standings all season long. They are currently tied with the Dodgers.
Bonus Baseball Ahead?
The series between the Phillies and Diamondbacks goes back to 1999 when the Diamondbacks first came into existence. The matchup has been remarkably even, with the Phillies holding a 70-69 advantage.
It seems that there’s a very good chance that one of these games will go into extra innings, since out of the 139 games played between the teams, 17 of them have gone long (12%). The longest of these games was an 18-inning marathon in 2013. The game finally ended when the D’Backs scored five runs against position players Casper Wells and John McDonald. (Who among us could ever forget the immortal Wells and McDonald?)
Diamondbacks Pitching vs. Phillies Hitting
Asdrubal Cabrera finally started earning his keep this past weekend, hitting two key home runs. With Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco still swinging hot bats, the Phillies’ lineup seems more imposing these days, even if they’ve become a bit home run-dependent.
Phillies have become a pretty home-run-dependent team. Since the All-Star break, 46 of their 75 runs have scored on homers.— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) August 5, 2018
That's 61% of their runs via the HR ... 20% higher than in the first half.
And don’t look now, but Carlos Santana had a very good week, putting up a .444 on base percentage over the past seven days. Of course, most of that production came against the last place Marlins. The D’Backs have a much better rotation, and the Phillies will be matched against some quality starters this week.
Zack Godley is the weakest of the three D’Backs starters for this series, and he has 12 wins to his name (For whatever that’s worth). Godley’s win total seems to be mostly due to strong run support (4.64 runs/game), since he walks a lot of batters and leads the National League in wild pitches.
The Phillies had better enjoy that wildness when they can, because next up is Zack Greinke, who rarely walks anyone. The former Cy Young Award winner is having another strong season, although the Phillies fared well against him when he faced them in April, scoring five runs in six innings.
The finale will be started by Patrick Corbin, who was named to the National League All-Star team last month. Corbin is an impending free agent, and there are some pundits who believe the Phillies should pursue him this offseason. Hopefully, if they knock him around, he won’t hold it against them come negotiation time.
The D’Backs bullpen appears to be a strength. They were busy at the trade deadline, picking up Brad Ziegler and old friend Jake Diekman. Manager Torey Lovullo has plenty of options if he wants to turn the game into a contest of pitching changes.
Phillies Pitching vs. Diamondbacks Hitting
The D’Backs are very average offensively. They rank somewhere near the middle in most categories, and while they have a few good hitters, there are also some weaker spots for pitchers to attack.
As always, the lineup is anchored by Paul Goldschmidt. The six-time All-Star is having a typically strong season, and will likely get a fair share of MVP votes if the D’Backs can win their division. In addition to Goldschmidt, the D’Backs lineup boasts threats in A.J. Pollock (another pending free agent whom the Phillies could pursue), David Peralta, and versatile on base machine Daniel Descalso.
The Phillies’ three starters for the series are Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez. All three are coming off of strong starts, although the latter two had the benefit of facing the Marlins. On the other hand, Arrieta shut down the much more imposing lineup of the Red Sox.
In the first series between these teams, Arrieta earned a win, while Velasquez was roughed up a bit. The strong start by Arrieta shouldn’t be a surprise as he has a career 2.56 ERA against Arizona. On the other hand, Pivetta’s lone start against the Diamondbacks came in 2017, and he walked five and gave up six runs in just 2.2 innings.
And let’s take this opportunity to salute reliever Tommy Hunter who has recently shown exactly why the Phillies wanted to sign him as a free agent. I no longer get overwhelming feelings of angst when he enters a game, nor do I wish for him to be fired into the sun. Of course if he messes up during this series, I reserve the right to restart the firing into the sun campaign.
Boo This Man (but only a little)
Remember when the Phillies traded for Clay Buchholz, thinking that the veteran could provide some stabilization to their young rotation? That didn’t quite happen as he only made two starts (and what a two starts they were!) before heading to the disabled list.
Buchholz signed with the Royals this offseason, but couldn’t crack their major league rotation. After they released him, he latched on with the D’Backs and to everyone’s surprise, he has provided a huge boost.
Honestly, although he was a bust, we probably shouldn’t have much animosity towards Buchholz. After he was injured last season, he made a point to stick around the team and help mentor the young pitchers.
A Salute to Immortal Diamondback Luis Gonzalez
If you look at the Diamondbacks’ franchise records, you’ll find that almost all of the offensive marks are held by outfielder Luis Gonzalez. For the first ten years of his career, Gonzalez was a decent enough offensive player who was never considered a star. Then in 1999, he signed with Arizona and suddenly became one of the National League’s top players. His best year came in 2001 when he hit 57 home runs, almost doubling his next highest total.
I’m not accusing Gonzalez of doing anything wrong, but it just seems curious that an average player all of a sudden transformed into a superstar at age 31. Arizona’s Chase Field has always been regarded as a good hitters’ park, but it isn’t that good.
Regardless of the source of his mysterious career turnaround, the Diamondbacks were so grateful for his contributions that they retired his number.
The Phillies haven’t really been able to get on too long of a sustained roll this season. The five-game winning streak is nice, but I have a suspicion that this series will once again cause people to question the team’s capabilities. The Diamondbacks will take two out of three.