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SnakePit Round Table: Down goes LA!

That went quite well, I would say

MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

What about that NLDS?

DBacksEurope: The Diamondbacks have made history. Never in their own history did they sweep a team as big as the Dodgers and with that much difference. Do this NLDS again and the Diamondbacks probably sweep the Dodgers again: they never stood a chance against this Arizona team.

Keegan: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. It was a perfect storm of events. The Diamondbacks on all sides of the game played the best baseball they have this season while the converse was true for the Dodgers. Betts, Freeman, Muncy, and Martinez could have made up for their pitching woes, but not to be outshadowed by the offense the Diamondbacks pitching staff was lights out. No matter what happens for the rest of the postseason they deserve to be proud of their accomplishment.

James: As I said when the playoffs started, I think it is absurd to have 12 of 30 teams making the postseason. That doesn’t detract one iota from my enjoyment of Arizona taking advantage of that change to the rules and putting the beat-down on the DDodgers of all teams to make their first NLCS appearance since 2007.As Keegan pointed out, the Diamondbacks played their best ball of the season when it mattered most. That it was the Dodgers that Arizona eliminated just inflates how important the series win was even more. This NLDS is arguably the second biggest series win in franchise history.

Makakilo: Historic.

Spencer: It was great! I thoroughly believed the trek through Milwaukee and LA would be harder than the one through Philly and Atlanta. I am glad the team met that challenge and hope they are ready for Philly and the state of Texas. I was disappointed to find out the discourse all over AZ fandom was about the announcing though, not the actual play on the field. I was still on vacation for the start of the series and then got sick for the end, so I hadn’t been online. When I finally ventured back out, I was appalled at how the entire fanbase had turned an AMAZING, DOMINANT 3 game SWEEP of the Dodgers into an opportunity to proudly show “little brother” syndrome about how much airtime our team/state/players got versus the largest, best franchise of the last decade. I was embarrassed (not in the least because personally, I hadn’t noticed any bias in the two games I fully watched - although I was sick, so I’m not exactly the best source for that).

I have been known to call out this fanbase throughout the season from time-to-time (if this has hurt you, sorry; I believe in being honest and fair in all aspects of my life so I’ll call your BS when it reaches unnecessary heights), but this one in particular made me cringe and laugh: as a group (nearly 100% united mind you) we got angry at a talking head for “disrespecting” our team the same way half the base did all season…

Mini rant over.

Sam: Exactly how we all dreamed the series going. Right? Sometimes dreams do come true.

Who was the series MVP?

DBacksEurope: Tough to choose one. I will probably go with Gabriel Moreno. We were all a bit scared he wouldn’t play after the knock on his head and now are a bit worried about the hand. It shows how important he has been in this series. Great defense and also knocked in 5 runs, one of the biggest offensive threats in this series. But if you pick either Tommy Pham, Ketel Marte or Corbin Carroll or Christian Walker…heck, why not Alek Thomas or Lourdes Gurriel Jr.? I’ll high five you on each one of them.

Keegan: How do you choose just one? I’ll go unconventional here and give praise to Brandon Pfaadt. This is a guy who is still trying to find his footing as a viable MLB pitcher and has his best start of the season in a huge series clinching game. I’ll admit I was worried that the Dodgers would begin to claw their way back into the series starting against him, but he locked it down. Not the biggest contributor in this series, but my hat is off to him.

James: I’ll be boring and select Gabriel Moreno. He got the key hits when they were needed, all while being a top-notch backstop as well. I think the icing on the cake, and the real “statement moment” of the series was Moreno having to come out of the dugout and return to the plate after his home run was ruled foul, only to hit the next pitch he saw into the seats in a no-doubt about it sort of fashion. I think that moment truly helped to define what was coming next - the Dodgers going home.

Makakilo: Series MVP was team offense. This series, the team scored 19 runs in a three-game sweep of the Dodgers. Although great describes their streak of 16 games with a home run in the playoffs, amazing describes their four home runs in one inning. Best four total offensive WPAs were Marte (.150), Gurriel Jr (.136), Walker (.135), and Carroll (.105).

Runners up:

  • The Bullpen. An awesome relief appearance happened in game 2, Ryan Thompson (.206 WPA). And other awesome appearances included Sewald (.100 and .077), Ginkel (.096 and .077), Mantiply (.074), and Saalfrank (.065)
  • .183 WPA, Brandon Pfaadt: He pitched a great game against a team with All-Star batters. This series, he was the starting pitcher with the highest WPA.

Spencer: I’m with Makakilo here. The offense understood their job this series: score runs and keep the opponent on edge. And they came prepared. All logic going in showed that the Arizona offense would need to score often and in bunches to keep the Dodgers’ offense at bay. They met that (lack of) challenge head on.

Sam: It really was the epitome of a team victory. The offense had big innings, with hits up and down the lineup. The three starters were all solid, with Pfaadt surprisingly the most impressive given his performance and the score. In the bullpen, Thompson bailed out Saalfrank in game 2, then Saalfrank bailed out Thompson in game 3.

To underscore this fact, no one player reached even 20% WPA, which is remarkable given that team’s the total WPA must be 150%. Instead, eight players contributed at least 10%: Pfaadt, Sewald, Ginkel, Marte, Walker, Gurriel, Gallen and Carroll. That’s four hitters and four pitchers, and doesn’t even include Gabriel Moreno, who hit 2 crucial home runs but only got 8.8% WPA in all, or Merrill Kelly, whose 6⅓ shutout innings only earned 4.8% WPA due to the offense’s dominant start in game 1.

At what point did you start to genuinely believe Arizona would advance?

DBacksEurope: I was asleep when they won every game haha! But anyhow, I wouldn’t have believed it anyway until after the third game was over.

Keegan: Unironically not until the home run barrage against Lance Lynn. Such is the life of a Valley sports fan I suppose. It wasn’t long ago we saw the Suns blow a 2-0 series lead in a best of seven, so I kept that in the back of my mind. But Perdomo, Marte, Walker and Moreno destroyed Lynn, Pfaadt locked it down and that’s the moment it felt real to me.

James: I began to believe Arizona might advance after they took Game 2 in Los Angeles. Needing to win only one of the next three games, I felt Arizona was in the driver’s seat. I did not think they would sweep the series until Moreno came out and hit the second fourth home run of the inning against Lance Lynn. That was the moment I felt as if the nail had well and truly been put into the Dodgers’ season. Even if the Dodgers came back in that game, I felt as if Arizona would simply “find a way” after that.

Makakilo: My confidence was beyond my optimism after winning game two, knowing that the team offense had broken out, knowing how awesome the bullpen had been in the playoffs, knowing that Kelly and Gallen would be starting pitchers for games 4 and 5, and knowing that in the remaining games the Diamondbacks had home field advantage.

Spencer: The first thought crossed my mind when we knocked Kershaw. But I didn’t genuinely believe it until the Moreno homer that counted. At that point, it felt inevitable and impervious to anything they could throw back at us.

Sam: I guess I have a different notion of “belief” than most of you. I thought they were clearly favored to win the series after the first inning of game 1. As in, I would have made a bet at even odds in that direction, if I were a gambler.

Did you agree with pulling Brandon Pfaadt so early in Game 3?

DBacksEurope: Of course, he had kept the damage limited. No need to defy the odds, at that moment the bullpen, that had performed well until then, was probably the best chance to sweep this series.

Keegan: As you can probably tell by now, no. But that’s why I’m not an MLB manager. I’d have let him at least complete the sixth.

James: I had a brief exchange with Jack where I voiced my skepticism about the move. Pfaadt was cruising to that point and had a very manageable pitch count. I would have left him in for two more outs or at least a run. My concern was that I did not expect the Dodgers to be shut out in the game. I didn’t want Torey to burn through too much bullpen covering up middle innings that Pfaadt seemed in a good position to handle. Because of his efficiency, Pfaadt was still not facing a times through the order penalty. Nor did he have Betts and Freeman coming up right away. I felt Pfaadt should have probably finished the fifth inning. I would have felt better about Pfaadt struggling a bit but getting through the fifth (and maybe the sixth) than letting Ryan Thompson stay out on the mound as long as Lovullo left him out there. That said, I did appreciate the cutthroat mentality displayed by Lovullo to not let the Dodgers think they could get anything going without immediate response.

Makakilo: It looked like Brent Strom was about to congratulate Brandon Pfaadt as he walked into the dugout. Then the commercial break happened. Seeing their interaction could have told me whether there was a problem that the Dodgers had not yet seen or whether he was replaced for matchup reasons.

My guess is matchup reasons. The next batter would have been Jason Heyward. In August, In five PAs vs Pfaadt, he hit the ball deep to right field three times (one of those was a 2-run homer). In this game, in Heyward’s first PA Pfaadt almost walked him (starting out 3-0). Lovullo did not let history repeat – he went with a left-handed pitcher (Mantiply) against the left-handed Heyward. Lovullo’s move caused the Dodgers Manager to counter with one of his limited bench replacements (Chris Taylor, right-handed batter.) The result was great for the Diamondbacks because the Dodger base runner was stranded without scoring.

Spencer: To borrow from the movie I, Robot, it worked didn’t it?

I didn’t question the move at the time. Torey has done well this October and Pfaadt let a runner on. It was par for the course. I questioned it a little in the Seventh when Thompson let runners on and two runs scored before Saalfrank saved the day. But again, it worked didn’t it?

Sam: I did not. Given game 2, I knew Torey was considering it even before Smith’s double, and posted in the GDT that he should let Pfaadt finish the inning even if he allows one baserunner. Torey was clearly thinking about manipulating the matchups in the bottom of the Dodgers’ order, just as he’d done to great effect in game 2, and wanted to do the same thing in game 3 a cycle earlier, to set up all of his righty relievers.

The problem is that Dave Roberts had already benched Outman in favor of Hernandez, breaking up that “lefty lane” with a righty. So the only downstream effect of bringing in Mantiply in the 5th was replacing Heyward with Taylor for the rest of the game.

And Taylor was annoying. He did strike out against Mantiply, but later hit an RBI single off Thompson in the 7th and a long fly ball off Sewald in the 9th that would have tied the game in 22 MLB parks. Alek Thomas caught it, thankfully, but Taylor came that close to saving the Dodgers season yet again. Better to have left Pfaadt in there to keep him out of the lineup.

What is your biggest takeaway of the postseason to date?

DBacksEurope: Diamondbacks are a very aggressive team. They look a lot like the 2001 team, although the individual quality of players don’t match up, in that they have a strong 1-2 punch with some very good and aggressive hitters at the top of the batting lineup.

Keegan: It’s a clean slate once it begins. The 162 before does not matter. Exhibit A: The Diamondbacks bullpen has been lights out since October baseball began after being one of the weakest aspects of the team during the season.

James: Probably that, after all these many years, MLB still has not come to grips with the Law of Unintended Consequences. In baseball, any team can win a short series. Wild Card teams upsetting regular season powerhouses is not what MLB had in mind when they expanded the playoffs for that sweet, sweet postseason media money.

Makakilo: Seeing an underdog team win reminds me that fighting spirit and optimism are powerful weapons in slaying a Dodger dragon.

Spencer: The team that can adapt has the best chance. In the postseason, home runs tend to be king. Arizona was not a home run team in the regular season. But they have that potential. Rarely this October have we seen a Carroll Special or weird defensive lapses from teams scared to allow Moreno a stolen base. Yet we have seen a youthful, dynamic, powerful team show up that has extra skills up and down the lineup.

Sam: Starting pitching is still crucial in the playoffs! Only one game so far has even featured a lead change after the 6th inning, the Braves’ dramatic but only win over the Phillies.

Would you change anything about the current playoff structure?

DBacksEurope: No, but MLB will so the Dodger tears can have their own Wild Card matches against a team that has finished below .500

Keegan: Maybe make the Division Series best of 7, but that’s about it.

James: I’ve got something I have started about this already, but here is the gist. Expand to 32 teams already. That is a project that has been on hold for a decade now because of Tampa Bay and Oakland. Then, only eight teams make the playoffs providing an LDS, LCS, and WS.

As far as what they have now, this is about as “fair” as can be made where the wild card teams are truly having to run an unfriendly gauntlet to prove they belong in the tournament.

Makakilo: The current structure contributed much to this season being the most exciting in years. That is not a reason to change it.

Spencer: I like James’ idea to expand to 32 or more teams. But for the postseason in particular, I always liked the option to let the top seeds choose their opponents. Basically, seeds 1 & 2 get to choose if they want to play one of the other teams or want the bye. The choosing goes until all teams have an opponent or have earned a bye. This way the team (it’s probably the GM, but regardless, the team) takes some ownership in their own destiny. And to make the timing work, have the final game of the season start together in the early afternoon East Coast Time then have the choosing “ceremony” happen around 7pm EST. Unless there’s a true cluster in seeding/positions (there won’t be), you don’t run into any issues with Game 163 or makeup games (not that it ever happens anymore).

Sam: With the current setup, I would swap the division-series matchups from how they are now under either (or both) of two conditions: (1) The third wildcard advances out of the wildcard round, or (2) the first wildcard advances and is from the same division as the first seed. The first condition follows the standard argument for reseeding, and the second is the appropriately updated version of the old rule where the first seed doesn’t face the wildcard winner if they’re from the same division. Both would have applied to the NL in 2023.

Once we have 32 teams in eight divisions, I would be strongly against eliminating wildcards as James suggests above – I wouldn’t want a 100+-win team to miss the playoffs because they just happened to play in the same division as another one. With that setup, I liked the last NFL playoff structure before the current one with 2 wildcards and 2 bye teams and approximately the same structure as we have now.