D-backs clinch NL Wild Card spot, 1st postseason berth since 2017

Sep 30, 2023, 7:35 PM | Updated: 11:18 pm

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks clinched a spot in the 2023 postseason as a National League Wild Card team on Saturday.

The D-backs needed either a win over the Houston Astros at Chase Field or a loss by the Cincinnati Reds to punch their ticket. Before the end of Diamondbacks-Astros game, the Reds fell to the St. Louis Cardinals 15-6.

The D-backs fell to Houston, 1-0.

This is Arizona’s seventh playoff berth in franchise history and first since 2017. The NL playoff field is set.

The Diamondbacks will participate in a best-of-three NL Wild Card Series at either the Philadelphia Phillies or Milwaukee Brewers starting Tuesday. Their playoff seeding has yet to be determined after they entered Saturday with a half-game lead over the Miami Marlins for the second wild card spot. Miami also clinched Saturday by beating the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Milwaukee hosts the third wild card team after winning the NL Central, while the Phillies will take on the second wild card team. The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers have a bye until the National League Division Series.

The Diamondbacks hit rock bottom with 110 losses in 2021, but manager Torey Lovullo knew the youth movement was coming. Last year, they jumped to 74 wins with top prospects Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas reaching the major leagues.

Their brand of baseball centered around speed, patient hitting and playing stellar defense started to form, and the front office pushed the envelope with an offseason trade to add catcher Gabriel Moreno and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from the Toronto Blue Jays for Daulton Varsho.

The club also etched its trust in Carroll as the franchise player with a long-term contract.

The D-backs became the third MLB team to reach the playoffs within three years of losing 110 games, according to MLB researcher Sarah Langs.

D-backs’ path to playoffs

The D-backs became one of baseball’s best clubs over the first half of the 2023 campaign, finishing June at 49-34 in first place of the NL West. Carroll, Gurriel, pitcher Zac Gallen and shortstop Geraldo Perdomo made the All-Star Game.

Then the roller coaster dropped, as Arizona went 10-26 over its next 34 games and dipped below .500. Starter Merrill Kelly and Moreno spent time on the injured list, while unforced errors and blown leads cost the D-backs wins.

“Looking back, I’m glad that we didn’t start to do any big knee-jerk reactions to rewrite how we’re going to win,” first baseman Christian Walker said. “I think we’re a better team now because of that, we’ve learned how to endure a tough struggle and not panic and not freak out.”

The Diamondbacks turned their fortune in the middle of August with 11 wins in 13 games.

A bullpen turnaround, cleaner defense and base running along with hot hitting from Carroll, Moreno and Ketel Marte especially helped right the ship.

Arizona took care of business against its wild card foes down the stretch, as the D-backs won six of seven games across two series against the Cubs to jump over them in the standings. They swept a two-game set against the Giants, who fell out of the race.

“The coaches kept coaching their butts off and continued to deliver these messages that we are that team that went 15, 16 games over .500. It wasn’t a fluke, we can handle this,” Lovullo told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo. “We never wavered from what our standards were, what our values were. We just felt very good about this group and its ability to adapt, adjust and grow every single day.”

Gallen and Kelly started Friday and Saturday, respectively, against the Astros. Neither will be ready to start Game 1 of the wild card round on normal rest.

Arizona is short on starting pitching, something Lovullo and his staff will have to traverse in the playoffs. He said his rotation consists of Gallen, Kelly and TBA. Brandon Pfaadt and Ryne Nelson can provide length as starters or with openers.

This Diamondbacks roster does not have a lot of postseason experience, either. Four of Arizona’s nine starters in the batting order on Saturday were 23 years old: Carroll, Thomas, Moreno and Perdomo.

Closer Paul Sewald and relievers Miguel Castro and Ryan Thompson are the only pitchers on the staff with postseason innings.

It has been six years for 2017 holdovers Marte and Walker.

But MLB’s postseason can be unpredictable with wild card teams winning the NL pennant last year (Phillies) and in 2019 (Washington Nationals).

“Just get in,” has been expressed various times this year, and despite the extreme ups and downs from a team with plenty of youth, the Diamondbacks did.

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