Diamondbacks-Phillies NLCS preview: Clubs confident after hot starts to postseason

Oct 16, 2023, 11:28 AM | Updated: 12:57 pm

PHILADELPHIA — Confidence is high for the two hottest teams in the National League, a pair of wild cards that have yet to play with elimination on the line.

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies took down respective division rivals with at least 14 more regular season wins in the NLDS to compete for a pennant.

The D-backs overpowered the Dodgers in a sweep, while the Phillies eliminated the 104-win Braves, winning the final two games in front of a deafening Citizens Bank Park crowd the Diamondbacks will face in Game 1 of the NLCS on Monday.

“I’ve said this numerous times in the last couple of weeks that I think a lot of people counted us out even from the start of the season. But the 26 guys in that clubhouse or however many guys put on the uniform this year and helped us get to where we’re at I don’t think are surprised,” D-backs ace Zac Gallen said. “I think we all expect to kind of be in this position, expect to succeed. We’re just glad we’re doing it at the right time.”

“I would say they’re playing a lot like us right now. They’re hot. That’s what the postseason is all about,” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “When you get in a rhythm, you get confidence, you get momentum, and that’s something that they’ve really played with this postseason. The most daunting thing about them right now is how much confidence they’re playing with.”

Through the division series, the Phillies and D-backs stood atop MLB’s postseason leaderboard for home runs, slugging, OPS, steals and team ERA.

Despite the similar success, the two teams are very different in their construction and path to the 2023 postseason.

Philadelphia looks to take one step further after losing the World Series to the Houston Astros in six games last year.

The D-backs are in a historic turnaround, as no team in MLB history had gone from 110 losses to the championship series two years later.

Philadelphia has a top five payroll with free agent stars such as Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Game 1 starter Zack Wheeler partnered with homegrown contributors. The Phillies finished May a below .500 team but went 65-42 the rest of the way to claim the top wild card spot.

Arizona was a first-place team through June and crawled out of an 8-25 stretch to capture the third wild card. Its payroll is in the 20s, as the backbone of the roster is built on talent from the farm system (Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, Geraldo Perdomo), savvy trades (Ketel Marte, Gabriel Moreno, Gallen) and free agent fliers over the years who have panned out in a major way (Christian Walker, Merrill Kelly).

“It’s satisfying to be here in this moment to this point. We have a lot of work left to do,” D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said. “Our goal is to win the World Series. That’s been our goal since day one. I know it hasn’t always looked the brightest for us, but yeah, it’s satisfying to be playing in the middle of October when the alternative is being at home.”

In five games, Arizona has scored 30 runs in five playoff games after producing three runs over the final four days of the regular season.

Eight of nine starters in the batting order have homered in a significant uptick of power. Arizona slugged .408 as a team in the first 162 games, and that mark has jumped to .530 in the postseason.

“Knowing that the guy behind you is going to put together a good at-bat and could be dangerous in the eyes of the opponent, they’re forced to pick who they’re going to go after,” Walker said.

“Right now it’s not a clear answer on our lineup. Everybody is playing their role really well. Everybody is getting jobs done. People are getting on base.”

The Phillies have powered through the postseason, as well, with Harper, Nick Castellanos and Turner accounting for nine of 13 home runs. Philadelphia’s lineup had six hitters blast 20 home runs in the regular season and third third-highest scoring offense since the start of August.

The D-backs and Phillies can strike in ways beside power, as they both have the speed to create scoring opportunities when on base. Realmuto said the Phillies will need to pay extra attention to Diamondbacks on the bases.

Gallen is tasked with limiting the damage in Game 1 for Arizona with Merrill Kelly starting Game 2.

Gallen versus Wheeler is a duel of aces who have stepped up in the postseason with a combined 2.59 ERA over 24.1 innings in October. Both bullpens possess a sub-2.00 ERA this postseason after strong closes to the regular season.

“Zack is one of the best in the league, one of the best in the National League. It will be fun,” Gallen said. “That’s a good team over there. It’s a good lineup, good bullpen. I think we match up for the most part pretty close to identical.”

First pitch of the best-of-seven series is at 5:07 p.m. on 98.7 and the Arizona Sports app.

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