The Arizona Diamondbacks are going to the 2023 World Series
More than 12 hours after it became reality, I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet. Barely two years ago, we were cursing Josh Van Meter, as his home-run in Game #162 robbed us of the first overall draft pick, and meant we lost "only" 110 games. Yet here we are: champions of the National League for first time in twenty-two years. Even during the season, there were points where making the playoffs seemed highly unlikely. They were 8-16 in July, and followed that by losing their first nine games in August. Even the SnakePit was asking if it was the end for Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo. But things turned around. You might have seen that. But going 9-3 against the Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies in the playoffs?
I literally couldn't watch
Speaking about not seeing things, I did not see a single pitch live of Game 7. I had it all planned out: clear my desk at work by 5 pm (I finish at 6:30) and settle in. But I got tasked with training a new employee, and that took me to the end of the day instead. I had to follow along on Gameday, as the D-backs fell behind. I then helped Mrs. SnakePit put up Halloween decorations, one hand holding my phone. The D-backs came back to take the lead. At this point, the superstitious part of me decided I could not possibly risk jinxing the team by turning on the actual game. If they lost, I’d never forgive myself. It was therefore Gameday for me, the rest of the way, until the ball dropped into Corbin Carroll's glove.
I don't think I have ever stared so hard at my phone in my life, as I did during that ninth inning. It seemed like an eternity between every pitch, as if the operator was delayed, furiously typing up some momentous incident. Even down to the final strike, it seemed like an age between the red dot appearing to indicate a strike, and the word “Foul” appearing on the screen. Then, we finally got the blue dot instead, followed seconds later by the words “In play, out(s)”. That’s how I will remember the Arizona Diamondbacks going to the World Series in 2023. Maybe it’ll stick better than them winning the NLCS in 2001, of which I have absolutely no memories at all!
Confounding the experts
Just a couple of weeks ago, Arizona snuck in to the postseason, through the grace of others, the final team on the National League side of the bracket. Nobody gave them a chance. Even though the field was reduced to 12 teams, their World Series odds were still barely shy of 50-1. When ESPN'a "experts" predicted the outcome of the Wild-card Series against the Brewers, only 3 of 27 picked the D-backs. Things got worse from there. All 11 of MLB's "experts" on the Division Series picked the Dodgers, only one even expecting the series to pass four games. In the Championship Series, ESPN went 10-1 (thank you, David Schoenfield!) for the Phillies.
Survival of the fittest
Two games in, the Phillies were up 2-0 and had outscored the Diamondbacks 15-3. But the Diamondbacks evolved. In particular, they changed the way they pitched to the opposing hitters. They simply stayed out of the middle of the plate. In the first two games, Arizona starters allowed six home-runs in 10.2 innings. The rest of the way, three in 20.2 innings (not counting the bullpen game). They got the Phillies hitters to chase, and the results were much better, especially back in Citizen’s Bank Park, where Merrill Kelly and Brandon Pfaadt combined to strike out 15 over nine innings. As a result, Philadelphia scored the same number of run in Games 3-7, as they did in 1-2. Arizona adapted. They did not.
Ketel Marte may have won the Most Valuable Player award, and justifiably so, hitting .387 for the series. But there were no shortage of candidates on the D-backs who deserve mention. Alek Thomas, who in limited time had a .937 OPS. Gabriel Moreno, whose +48% WP led our position players. Jose Herrera, for precisely zero playing time, but not shooting his mouth off like the Phillies’ back-up catcher. But if there is an unsung hero, it’s Kevin Ginkel. 4.2 scoreless innings with five K’s, and no bigger performance than the five outs last night, first stranding two runners then K’ing the side. It’s a remarkable story of redemption for a man who was DFA’d in November 2021, after a 6.50 ERA over the previous two seasons.
That said, I also want to copy in a comment by ‘Hacks on today’s Snake Bytes to the permanent record (Google does not index comments). He makes a very worthwhile point about Christian Walker.
After two fine early playoff rounds, with a combined ops over 1.000, he hit absolutely miserably this series (.091). Overmatched on high fastballs, pathetic jam shots to end rallies. Time and again he looked like the embodiment of failure.
But it’s a big mistake to think he didnt contribute. Not just with his methodical, and frankly impeccable, play at first base, which turned throwing errors into inning ending putouts and which more generally has a calming effect on his infielders. He’s also stolen four bases this postseason, including two in Philly - which is two more than Trea Turner. Of course, Walker’s one of the slowest guys on the field. He did it working with McKay and getting reads on individual Philly pitchers, including lefties staring right at him. He did it because he’s not settling for a stereotype of what a slow first baseman is or should be.
But the most valuable thing he did in the NLCS, as woeful as he looked in so many ABs, was draw more walks (7) than any two of his teammates combined. More than any Phillie, except Schwarber (8), who was channeling Babe Ruth. Those walks really mattered, moving the line to other hitters who aren’t slumping and eventually turning the lineup over for teammates to be heroes. That’s what Torey means by being ‘connected’. A connected team is a dangerous team. It’s one thing to be good or talented. It’s another to be connected.
The Phillies had two chances, two games, to clinch this at home. And three of their top players, all dangerous offensive talents earning a combined $75M this year, went 0 for 23 with a grand total of one walk over those two contests. That’s Turner, Harper and Castellanos. Talented but perhaps not quite as connected. Walker didnt hit worth a damn either, but over two elimination games reached safely three times. Their failures were far more costly.
The Diamondbacks mantra, or one of them, is not getting too high or too low. We think of it in terms of demeanor - and it is. But it also manifests on the field, in the way players play. Especially when things arent going well for them individually. That’s the whole point. You don’t collapse. You keep your composure and find other ways to contribute. I know in a way it’s silly to talk about Walker first, but I think he embodied that.
A difficult decision
You may remember this from the start of the playoffs:
The D-backs are now four games away from making this bet a winner. The question is, do I now hedge my bet? By that, I now wager $2,500 or thereabout on the Rangers to win the Series. This would mean I’m guaranteed to end up about that amount, regardless of who is victorious. It guarantees me half the amount, rather than the current situation where it’s all or nothing. The financially-cautious side of me likes this. But there’s something which feels disloyal, almost to the point of disrespect, to bet against the D-backs. They have rewarded my faith so far in an unimpeachable manner, and I want to keep the faith on my side. But what does the SnakePit think?
Should I hedge my bet and wager on the Rangers?
This poll is closed
Yes, that’s $2,500 you’re guaranteed
No, stay loyal to the D-backs
And on to the World Series!
I’m not sure if we’ll attend. If I hedged my bets, the tickets would cost about the entire amount of my winning wager (Mrs. S refuses to make the ascent to nosebleed alley), and that’s before $100 for parking, the inevitable chaos in/out of Chase Field and at the stadium itself. Put bluntly: we’re too old for that shit. We watched Game 6 + 7 in 2001 at Farrelli’s Cinema Supper Club, and would be fine with doing something similar this year. Anyone know of any places with very large screens screening the game? Coincidentally, the schedule for this World Series will see games taking place on exactly the same dates as in 2001, including a Halloween World Series. Here’s to a similar result!