Well here we go.
The next stop in the MLB Playoffs is in the state Pennsylvania and goes through Bryce Harper and a terrifying green mutant. On paper, this might seem easier than a series against the 100 win, top-two offense of the Dodgers, there is no such thing as an easy match up in October. This is a tried and tested team that has both had to fight to get to it’s current position in the playoffs, having made it through the equally difficult Braves, as well as previously in the postseason, having made the World Series just last year.
I highly recommend reading Jim’s very thorough article breaking down the relative strengths and weaknesses of these two teams. I’ll leave the generalizations to that post, and focus more directly on the pitching matchups themselves.
Game 1 — 10/16, 5:07 PM: Zac Gallen vs. Zack Wheeler
Wheeler has came out of the gate strong this postseason. Against Miami, he went 6 2⁄3 inning of one run baseball, giving up five hits, no walks, and eight strikeouts in route to a Philly win. His second start against Atlanta, however, was the one game that the Phillies have lost so far this postseason. It was a 6 1⁄3 inning performance this time, with three hits, a walk, and ten strikeouts. But three runs, two earned, came around to score. Eventually, the Phillies lost 5-4, and he received a no decision.
The Diamondbacks have squared off against Wheeler twice this season. They won the first game, back in May at Citizen’s Bank Park after scoring four runs with two home runs. However they lost the second game in June (by a score of 15-3, which is thankfully not relevant as neither Zach Davies or Josh Rojas will be pitching this game) when Wheeler went six innings of one run ball, at Chase.
I think that’s going to be significant, as Wheeler has not been as good at home as he has been on the road. Raw ERA is 4.13 at home vs. 3.16 at home, an entire run difference. A huge part of that has come from the sheer number of home runs he has given up in Philadelphia, 13 compared to just seven on the road. The Diamondbacks have shown that they can hit the long ball when needed this post season, and if they can employ the same strategies they used against Kershaw and Lynn, they should see some success.
In the other half of the innings, Zac Gallen has just as much of an issue with his home/road splits. It hasn’t been too much of an issue so far, having given up only two runs in both of his starts. However, he’s played with fire during those games, giving up five hits in both, three walks in the Wild Card and two in the NLDS. He only faced the Phils once this season, in Philadelphia. Ultimately, his line says he gave up two runs, but he left with a lead, and the two runs charged to him were inherited runners given up by Ginkle. That seems like a good building block going into this start.
Game 2 — 10/16. 5:07 PM: Merrill Kelly vs. Aaron Nola
Aaron Nola also started the postseason strong for Philedelphia. His first start in October came against the Marlins and threw seven scoreless, three hit innings. Only recorded three strikeouts, but they clearly weren’t needed. Not quite as strong in his second start, much like Wheeler, but strong enough, throwing 5 2⁄3 inning, six hits, one walk, nine strike outs, and two earned runs. He did not really factor much into either game, though, as the Phillies won them 7-1 and 10-2 respectively.
Nola faced the Diamondbacks once in the regular season, ending the game with the line of 6 2⁄3 IP, six hits, one walk, nine strike outs, and four earned runs given up. According to Steven, he had one bad inning, but got ahead of the Arizona hitters 0-1 a whopping 14 times during the course of his game. Hard to read too much into a game that had so many positive and negative aspects, but it does show that the Diamondbacks can have success against Nola, even if that game resulted in a loss.
Finally, Nola had the more expected home/away splits this season than Gallen or Wheeler. His home ERA is about two runs lower at Citizen’s Bank Park and opponent’s batting average is about fifty points lower.
Merrill Kelly only pitched in one of the series against the Phillies. It was fine, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. Six innings, three runs, no decision. He’s only had one start ever in CPB, but it was a gem of a game 2019. 7 2⁄3 scoreless innings, three hits, no walks, and five strikeouts.
Reminder for everyone, I am a fan, a homer, and incredibly biased. I am not a journalist.
That being said, I think the Diamondbacks sweep the first two games. They’ve had success against both pitchers, and both Gallen and Kelly have had success against the Phillies in the past. The real X factor is going to be the Phillies defense. They are one of the worst in the league. 27th worst according to Fangraphs. That’s going to leave them vulnerable to the Dbacks running game. Look for the team to turn singles into doubles, take extra bases, and yes, even run on Realmuto, who despite his reputation has a -4 DRS this season. I think that alone tips the scales in favor of the Diamondbacks. Only one way to find out, though. Go Dbacks!