Reds-Diamondbacks series showcased young talent on competitive stage

Aug 28, 2023, 8:56 AM | Updated: 8:57 am

Reds Elly De La Cruz Diamondbacks...

Elly De La Cruz #44 of the Cincinnati Reds reacts after striking out against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the ninth inning at Chase Field on August 24, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks rookie phenom Corbin Carroll couldn’t help but notice something when looking at the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup over the weekend.

“It’s like the whole team is rookies,” Carroll said.

The D-backs and Reds put on a showcase of the two youngest teams in the National League pennant race during their four-game series at Chase Field.

The Reds have the fourth-youngest offense in baseball at an average of 26.8 years, while Arizona is eighth at 27.4 years. Both teams also started two rookies each on the mound, while the Reds had six rookies in their starting nine every game.

The four-game show involved clutch hitting from the young players, 11 stolen bases, athletic plays all over the diamond and mistakes like errors, base running miscues and missed cutoff men.

Carroll and the D-backs won three of four games, all of which were decided by three or fewer runs.

“It’s an exciting team to watch,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “We got Corbin Carroll and a couple of other very young players, they’ve got several young players. I wonder what they’re all thinking about one another as they’re watching the others compete. That’s just where my brain goes. That’s like kids on a little league diamond … I think that’s what they probably go back to. They’re just out there having fun.”

Corbin Carroll and Elly De La Cruz clash

Carroll and Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz have made headlines for outstanding athletic feats all year, which came to a head in Sunday’s series finale.

The D-backs outfielder blasted a ball to the center-field wall. Carroll hummed around the bases at 30.4 feet per second, elite speed that he’s used as a weapon all year.

Carroll got the wave home, but De La Cruz fired a missile at 99.7 mph to home for the second-fasted tracked assist since 2015. He has the top spot on the leaderboard, too.

Carroll, the NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner with 4.7 fWAR, still dominated the series offensively at 6-for-12 with two triples, a double and a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning to win the series opener.

It wasn’t just about each teams’ star

D-backs 23-year-old catcher Gabriel Moreno also stood out at 5-for-11 with his first career triple and exceptional defense.

Arizona’s young starters Brandon Pfaadt and Slade Cecconi did their jobs, combining to throw 11 innings with three earned runs between them.

On the other side, Reds rookie southpaw Brandon Williamson provided six scoreless innings to go toe-to-toe with Merrill Kelly in the series opener.

The Reds received big moments from each of their rookies in the lineup, as well.

Matt McLain, second to Carroll in fWAR among MLB rookies at 3.4, homered to start a four-run comeback on Saturday.

Spencer Steer doubled in extra innings to drive in a run, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand followed with an RBI single. Will Benson hit a grand slam on Friday in a losing effort.

“It’s fun. We have a tendency to forget how young our team is because being around them every day, they’re fun to be around but they really act like they’ve been here before in a lot of ways,” Reds manager David Bell said. “They’re playing well, fun to be around. They are young, but they’re playing ahead of their years.”

The Reds have 11 rookies, the most in the major leagues on an active roster. Their trio of McLain, De La Cruz and Steer are the first trio of rookie teammates each with 10 home runs and stolen bases with over a month left to play. 

Both clubs have battled adversity.

The D-backs are climbing out of an 0-9 start to August after an 8-16 July with 12 wins in 15 games.

The Reds caught fire in June and July, including a series sweep of the D-backs last month, but have stumbled in August at 9-15.

“Last month we played, we were just playing good baseball,” Steer said. “I think they are just as good of a team as last month and they obviously showed that this series. They’re fighting for a spot for a clear reason, too.”

The two squads will continue to face new tests against their older NL Wild Card competitors down the stretch. Arizona gets the Chicago Cubs for two series and the San Francisco Giants again in the final month.

The Reds’ next two series come against the Cubs and Giants.

“When I see them, I see a lot of us,” Lovullo said. “Really good, young, talented players who are coming on very strong. When you connect the concepts and the ideas, and you get some consistent pitching, you get the train rolling a little bit.”

The next time the two sides will meet is set for 2024 unless they match up in the postseason.

Arizona climbed 1.5 games ahead of the Reds for the third wild card spot and now gets to turn the page with the Los Angeles Dodgers on the slate starting Monday.

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Reds-Diamondbacks series showcased young talent on competitive stage