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Rivalry week: Phillies vs. Diamondbacks NLCS preview

All that stands between the Phillies and a second consecutive pennant is their arch non-rival

Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks
Trea Turner + Chase Field = Ball go boom
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

After a hard-fought, emotional NLDS win against the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies advance to the National League Championship Series to face...the Arizona Diamondbacks?

It feels wrong to go from playing a divisional rival which had the best record in baseball to a sixth-seeded team with whom they have no real rivalry to speak of. The Phillies and Padres didn’t have a heated rivalry heading into the 2022, but they at least had some familiar big-name players like Manny Machado and Juan Soto. Before this week, if you talked to a casual fan about Ketel Marte, they’d probably think you were discussing vodka. (Is it too much to ask for some Diamondbacks fans to release a “That’s What’s In” style video today?)

But if a non-rival is what the baseball gods want us to have, then we’ll just have to make the best of it and enjoy watching the Phillies crush their little snake hearts.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Regular season record: 84-78, Second place in National League West

A brief history of the Diamondbacks

When MLB expanded in 1998, one of the teams was awarded to the Phoenix metro area. Because snakes live in the desert, and baseball is played on a diamond, they named the team the Diamondbacks. (Very clever.)

The inaugural D’Backs team was known for its colorful, vested uniforms as well as a roster full of veteran players such as Matt Williams, Jay Bell, and Devon White. Despite those semi-name brand players, the 1998 D’Backs were largely unsuccessful, losing 97 games.

Not wanting to spend years waiting to build a contender, they went on a free agent shopping spree that offseason, signing Randy Johnson and Steve Finley. Those additions helped lead the D’Backs to the playoffs in 1999, although they also benefitted from that late 90’s/early 2000’s phenomenon of veteran hitters spontaneously developing a huge bump in power numbers late into their careers.

For instance, Luis Gonzalez suddenly went from a decent hitter to hitting 57 home runs at age 33. And nobody really questioned it that much because that was only good for third in the National League that season!

In 2001, the D’Backs established an elite top of their rotation when the Phillies traded their piece of human garbage best pitcher for a return of Omar Daal, Nelson Figueroa, Travis Lee, and Vicente Padilla. Ed Wade did some very good things as General Manager for the Phillies and helped build the core of the 2008 championship team. But the man was catastrophically bad at making in-season trades.

Those ace pitchers helped the Diamondbacks win the 2001 World Series, and most of us were actually happy about it at the time because it prevented the New York Yankees from winning four titles in a row. It was also pretty much the last time the greater baseball world cared about the team.

Sure, they’d make the playoffs from time to time, but never made much noise when they were there, and this year’s playoff run ends a 11-year streak with just a single playoff appearance. During that time, the D’Backs had a perennial All-Star in Paul Goldschmidt. In 2018, he was a year away from free agency, and since they never won all that much with him, they figured they might as well trade him before he got too expensive. The Cardinals signed him to an extension and saw him earn MVP votes in four straight seasons, including 2022 when he won the award.

Meanwhile, the return for the Diamondbacks almost makes that aforementioned 2001 Phillies return look good. (At least Padilla made an All-Star Game with the Phillies!)

Despite getting almost no value in exchange for their franchise player, the Diamondbacks were able to piece together a playoff-worthy roster and are back in the NLCS for the second time since their championship 2001 season. (NOTE: I originally said this was their first appearance in the NLCS since 2001, but that’s because I like to think the 2007 season ended when the regular season did, and they didn’t actually have playoffs that year.)

How they got here

The Diamondbacks lost their last four games of the regular season, but still made the playoffs because somebody had to take the third Wild Card spot, and the Cubs seemed even less interested in it than they were.

Naturally, they haven’t lost a game since. They smacked around the Brewers in the Wild Card series, and then clobbered the husk of the Dodgers’ pitching staff in the NLDS.

The season series

The D’Backs came to Philadelphia in mid-May and took the first two games. They looked to be on their way to a sweep when they took a 5-0 lead in the finale. But the Phillies battled back and tied the game in the bottom of the ninth thanks to a clutch home run by Trea Turner (remember, this was a rare thing in May), and then won it on an RBI single by Alec Bohm in the bottom of the 10th.

In mid-June, the Phillies travelled to Arizona for a four-game set. The Diamondbacks outlasted the Phillies 9-8 in the opener, but the Phillies rallied to take the next three, including a pair of one-run wins.

The Diamondbacks: Offensive machine?

Based on the way they’ve ambushed just about every starting pitcher they’ve faced this postseason; you might think the D’Backs had an elite offense. But for the season, they ranked a mediocre seventh in runs scored, and aren’t especially good at anything except stealing bases.

The lineup is led by hitters who are good, but probably a step below elite in Christian Walker, Ketel Marte, and presumptive rookie of the year Corbin Carroll. The key to their postseason run has been that unlike most of the deposed teams, these players have continued to hit well in the playoffs.

Are they going to be able to continue to hit this well against a Phillies staff that just shut down the Braves’ lineup? It’s possible, but unlikely. Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez are all pitching well, and while I’m not that confident in Taijuan Walker in game four, it’s not like he’s a complete liability.

As they showed against the Braves, it might not always be pretty, but the Phillies have enough bullpen arms to maneuver through difficult late-inning matchups. The lefthanded Carroll is going to get very familiar with Jose Alvarado and Matt Strahm, and it appears that Seranthony Dominguez might once again be a viable option against the tough right-handers.

It should also be noted that on Monday will be five days since the Diamondbacks last played a game. And as we know, a layoff of more than four days is deadly to even the best offense and can simply not be overcome.

What about the pitching?

They might not be Johnson and Curt Schilling, but Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly are about as good a front of the rotation as there is in today’s game. But after those two, things go downhill fast. The likely third starter is Brandon Pfaadt, who pitched well against the Dodgers, but based on how the majority of his season went, there’s no reason to expect him to do it again.

After that, who knows? The Diamondbacks might try a bullpen game. Maybe they use Ryne Nelson (5.31 ERA) or Slade Cecconi (4.33 ERA). Does that seem like a sound strategy against a Phillies lineup that just hit six home runs in single playoff game?

The Arizona bullpen is fine, with midseason acquisition Paul Sewald stabilizing the closer role. Joe Mantiply will probably be called on to face Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper in the late innings. He’s been good thus far in the playoffs, but the one time he faced the Phillies this season, he was knocked around for four runs in three innings.

Homefield advantage

The Diamondbacks play their home games at Chase Field, and the consensus of the baseball world is that it’s a boring stadium. The park has a retractable roof, but it’s rarely opened because a chance to get out of the heat is one of the few selling points of going to a Diamondbacks game.

The stadium has a pool in the outfield (but don’t get too excited, because only the riches get to use it), and the Diamondbacks players celebrated their NLDS win in it.

That’s fun and all, but can you imagine what the Phillies players would have done if they had a pool at their disposal? I’m pretty sure that they’d be looking for a new backup catcher right now after the unfortunate drowning death of Garrett Stubbs.

As for the Arizona home crowd, it’s been loud at appropriate moments this postseason, but it’s telling when players are saying things like this:

For some reason, the World Baseball Classic chose to have games at Chase Field, because when you have a chance to showcase a mundane stadium in one of the country’s hottest regions, you have to take it. The Arizona fans were blessed with a chance to watch true greatness in action as Trea Turner took assault on foreign pitching:

Playing well at Chase is nothing new for Turner. In 29 career games at the park, he has eight home runs to go along with a 1.107 OPS.

I don’t think anyone will argue that there will be a slight difference between the home crowd energy at the two stadiums. And the Diamondbacks know it.

When the games are in Arizona, the fans will assuredly be pumped up by the presence of their mascot, Baxter.

It’s better than the Braves’ attempt at a Phanatic knockoff, and at least the social media manager has the sense to not engage with Phillies fans on Twitter. But that is not a good mascot. How is it that these teams have multi-million-dollar marketing departments and still end up with mascots that look worse than you see at Division II colleges?

Notice that the above clip shows a snake mascot. Why isn’t the Diamondbacks’ mascot a snake? Are they worried that a snake would frighten children? Because if I’m a kid and see that inbred-looking bobcat coming at me, I’m headed in the opposite direction.

The official explanation is that the mascot is a bobcat because the stadium used to be named Bank One Ballpark), and so he was a BOB-cat. And that official explanation is stupid. Any franchise with that kind of poor decision making does not deserve success.

A few words about Arizona

Let’s be real here: Arizona kind of sucks. The state is known for having a really big hole in the ground and for getting insanely hot.

In recent news, they held a Super Bowl there which will be remembered for having one of the worst fields ever. Their football team willingly hired Jonathan Gannon to be its head coach, a move which is going about as well as expected. (Thanks for beating the Cowboys though!)

I visited Arizona once, and we took a scenic airplane ride over the Grand Canyon. The problem was that the plane wasn’t air conditioned, and between the heat and the swooping down for closer looks, a bunch of people got sick. My father refused to get back on the plane for the return flight.


The closest thing these teams have to history is the #GoDBacks affair in 2012. Twitter had not yet descended into the cesspool of recent years, so the Diamondbacks thought it would be fun to have posts with the hastag #GoDBacks be displayed on their scoreboard.

In addition to having many people question who the “God Backs” were, Phillies fans found out about the campaign and did what Phillies fans do.

Closing thought

Maybe there isn’t a rivalry with these teams, but a playoff series is a great way to start one. But I expect most of the bad feelings after this one to be on the Diamondbacks’ side.

The D’Backs have been a great story thus far through the playoffs. They weren’t favored in either of their first two series, but that hasn’t bothered them one bit. They’ve got good players playing well, and that’s a good formula for success.

But it feels like the Phillies’ top players can cancel out (if not outdo) the best D’Backs players, and the Phillies’ superior depth will shine through, especially in an extended series. The Phillies’ success has come despite not getting much from the likes of Kyle Schwarber and Alec Bohm, and those guys are capable of stepping up even if Turner, Bryce Harper, or Nick Castellanos cool down a bit. And I don’t think the D’backs pitching is capable of holding down the Phillies once you get past the top tier.

The Diamondbacks will prove feisty, but the series will ultimately end in game six with another raucous pennant-winning celebration at Citizens Bank Park.

2023 player review: Dalton Guthrie

Rise and Phight: 12/11/2023

Happy Smarty-Days

We want Dallas!