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SnakePit Round Table: Brew-hoo

The surprising D-backs continue to surprise.

MLB: Wildcard-Arizona Diamondbacks at Milwaukee Brewers Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The D-backs swept the Brewers in Milwaukee. Discuss.

James: With Gallen and Kelly not available for game one, I was dubious the Diamondbacks could win the series. However, I felt that, if they did, it would indeed be a sweep. If the Diamondbacks could win with a Pfaadt/bullpen game against Burnes, I liked their chances of then coming out and taking game two. Peralta’s ability to generate strikeouts bothered me, but I expected the Diamondbacks to be able to put pressure on him by creating havoc on the bases. I was wrong about how the Diamondbacks would win the series. I expected speed and pressure to play a big part. Instead, the Diamondbacks used the power of the long ball.

Sam: Ever since their impressive showing in crucial games against their wildcard competitors in September, I knew they had it in them. They swept the Cubs in a series with the least favorable possible starting pitcher matchups – surely they could beat the Brewers under similar circumstances. The “how” was more surprising to me: Offensively, they were caught stealing twice, but instead hit three really long home runs and a really long 2-run double in game 1, and then just kept the line moving, nearly batting around in the 5th inning in game 2. And on the pitching side, Gallen was decent and the bullpen flirted with disaster in a couple innings but shut the door every time.

Justin: It was a really good series. It was a pleasure recapping game 1. I will admit after falling behind 3-0, I was getting apprehensive! Pfaadt did leave the game with runners on 2B and 3B, so it could potentially have been worse.

Makakilo: Although sweeping the Brewers was tremendously joyful, the first game was where the magic happened. Two comments from the 2 October Roundtable follow:

  • “My feeling is that the Dbacks have a 50-50 chance to win [Pfaadt’s] start. If Dbacks win, they become the favorites because Gallen and Kelly pitch next.”
  • “And in the first game Pfaadt has very good chances of success because, although he sometimes allows home runs, Brewers’ best [two] home run hitters are much worse than the Dbacks’ best [two] home run hitters.” Bullet lists compared top left-handed hitters and top right-handed hitters.

Looking back, two observations:

  • A contributing factor was that Woodruff (their starter with the highest ERA+) was unavailable for the series due to injury.
  • In general, both teams played excellent defense by stranding the other team’s runners in scoring position.

Steven: Where did the power come from? 4 homers in two games from a team that was in the bottom third of the league and second to last over the second half. They looked lost at times yes, but you can’t question the fight.

Also, the bullpen was just fantastic. And even that is understating things. I’m not expecting this to continue going forward but for the moment we need to celebrate both the manager and front office for continuing to try and improve that group. Thompson a free agent let go by the Rays, Saalfrank a rookie, and Sewald a trade acquisition.

DBacksEurope: That’s October baseball. While writing my NLDS Throwback article I saw that winning teams get an outstanding performance from their aces or have several hitters step up to back up a failing starter. That is what happened with the Diamondbacks. The D-Backs were the only winning playoff team that didn’t use their 1-2 punch atop the rotation. Lucky for them the offence stepped up big time in Game 1 and also did enough in Game 2.

Who was the series MVP? And, no, you can’t cop out and say “the bullpen”!

James: This is a tough one for me. I have three names that are all very close. However, I’ll give the nod to Corbin Carroll. Carroll found a way to apply pressure and make things happen in both games. It was also Carroll’s homer in game one that sparked the team to life after falling behind 3-0. At the time Carroll came to the plate, the Diamondbacks looked tense. They looked like a team worried that the three-run deficit was going to be enough to sink them. When Carroll took Burnes deep, that seemed to change. Suddenly, the Diamondbacks were back in with a chance. Then again, in the second game, it was a Carroll hit that seemed to really set the table for the team to stop pressing so hard when he followed Perdomo’s walk with a double into right. With speed on the bases (second and third) with nobody out, Carroll had properly set the table for the heart of the order. Again, the Diamondbacks seemed to start playing looser. Honourable mentions to Gabriel Moreno and Zac Gallen.

Sam: It really was a team effort, which is a great thing because it means LA can’t just focus on shutting down our single hottest player, something you commonly see in the playoffs. But if I had to pick, I’d follow the WPA leaderboard (per Fangraphs) from the two games combined:

  • Carroll 26.3% + 14.5% = 40.8%
  • Thompson 30.8% + 5.8% = 36.4%
  • Saalfrank 0% + 21.1% = 21.1%
  • Marte 2.2% + 14.5% = 16.7%
  • Ginkel 25.6% - 15.6% = 10.0%

With a bit of separation from the rest, I’ll give it jointly to Carroll on the offensive side and Thompson on the pitching side.

Justin: I am going to go with Corbin Carroll. Longo’s defense in game 1 was great, but he doesn’t get MVP because he went 1-8, with 3 punchouts. Pitching wise, I would give it to Ryan Thompson. Watching Ginkel in the game I recapped was great though. My honorable mentions would be Gallen, Moreno and Walker.

Makakilo: My MVP was Ryan Thompson.

  • For game one, his .309 WPA was the highest of any D-back (Carroll at .236 was second highest). Game one was worth the most credit because it was where the magic happened.
  • Ryan Thompson was a serendipity addition when the D-backs signed him as a free agent on 19 August of this season. Meanwhile, Corbin Carroll will almost certainly win Rookie-of-the-Year.
  • WPA (Sam’s method but WPA data from Baseball Reference’s Stathead had a few differences from Fangraphs). WPA total for 2 games was a very close race (Thompson .367 & Carroll.375). I picked Ryan Thompson.

Defensive play of the series would go to Evan Longoria for a leaping catch of a line drive and throwing to second base for a double play. His amazing play ended a bases-loaded threat to score runs.

Steven: It’s Corbin Carroll. His first ever postseason appearance and he showed such poise against some of the best pitchers in the league. He was in the middle of every rally, the spark in every inning and the only blemish is a caught stealing. Go figure.

DBacksEurope: I have to admit that it was the offence, because they scored 11 runs and Gallen did not go that deep in his performance, like other pitchers did in the other Wild Card games. Corbin Carroll was most important, I agree, but honourable mention goes out to Ketel Marte, Gabriel Moreno and Christian Walker.

How can the D-backs beat the Dodgers?

James: The Diamondbacks need to limit the big innings in order to give themselves a fighting chance. It doesn’t matter who the Diamondbacks send to the mound, the Dodgers are going to find ways to score. They really are that good. The Dodgers scoring a run here and a run there is not the issue. The issue is allowing them to put up big innings or, worse yet, string together multiple crooked number innings. Sure, it would be nice to shut them out. But the team needs to not focus on that. They need to focus on keeping the damage minimized. They can help themselves a great deal by getting off to a quick start. Don’t wait until the sixth inning to finally scratch across a run.

Getting on the board early keeps the pressure on the Dodgers and allows Arizona some wiggle room with regard to just how much they can afford the Dodgers finding ways to score. Taking advantage of prime scoring opportunities will be important. The Diamondbacks cannot afford to be stranding runners in scoring position that got there with less than two out. Lastly, unless it is an elimination game, if the Dodgers get themselves out to a big lead, Arizona needs to be willing to let the pitcher on the mound stay out there and eat it. The Arizona bullpen is still not the sort of bullpen one wishes to rely too heavily on. The last thing they can afford is to waste bullets in a lost cause. Save those bullets for survival or for when there is a chance to put the Dodgers away in a game or the series.

Sam: Mostly don’t be overawed by the Dodgers. This is the same team that they won 5 of 8 from back in April, with a rotation that has only lost key contributors since then, and will be leaning on rookies who will have their own postseason jitters to work through. Unlike in 2017, the Dbacks didn’t have to use up their two best starters just to survive a single game two days beforehand. Their pitching is in fact lined up now, with that awkward off-day between games 1 and 2 lining up Gallen and Kelly to pitch four of the games. Go 3-1 in those and they’re in.

Contrary to what James says, I don’t want Torey to fret one bit over bullpen usage in these games. There are three built-in off days between the five games, and Gallen and Kelly are starting in 4 of the 5. I mean, if it’s the bottom of the 8th and they’re already down 7-1, then sure, let Frias pitch. But if they’re only down 3-1, I want the A bullpen keeping it right there.

Justin: We have beaten the 2023 Dodgers. Don’t get star struck. We aren’t facing 2014 Kershaw or 2015 Greinke.

Now that I look, apparently, we went 5-8 against the Dodgers this year. Seems like we had more wins, but we did get swept 3 straight at the end of August and in a 2 game series earlier in the month. So that would be 5-3 in the first 8 contests.

Makakilo: The Diamondbacks can compete with the Dodgers for the following reasons:

Schedule. Schedule allows Gallen and Kelly to pitch four of the five games.

Defense. Both teams have excellent defense (Defensive Runs Saved, DRS, per The Fielding Bible). Excluding DRS from infield and outfield shifts, for the regular season the Dodgers earned 34 DRS and the Diamondbacks earned 41 DRS. The Diamondbacks were better at first base and third base, the Diamondbacks were slightly better in the outfield (19 DRS vs 16 DRS). while the Dodgers were better at second base and shortstop.

Young players with stamina for the post-season. The Diamondbacks have four 23 years old players (Carroll, Moreno, Perdomo, and Thomas), plus 21 years old Jordan Lawler. That compares favorably to the Dodgers with Miguel Vargas (23 years old) and James Outman (26 years old).

Stolen Bases. Corbin Carroll isn’t the only threat to steal bases.

During the regular season the Dodgers hit more homers, but the Diamondbacks had more non-homer hits. Two comparisons follow:

Homers were about the same most games (only the total homers differed greatly):

  • Games with zero homers: Diamondbacks 35.2%, Dodgers 22.2%
  • Games with 1 or 2 homers: Diamondbacks 56.2%, Dodgers 56.8%
  • Games with 3+ homers: Diamondbacks 8.6%, Dodgers 21.0%

Although top Dodger batters have more barrels per PA, the Diamondbacks compare competitively in hard-hit percentage and average exit velocity. See the following table of top batters (Data from Baseball Savant):

Steven: Your studs have to be studs and the offense needs to continue to produce, simple as that. It starts with Merrill Kelly on Saturday, who needs to set the tone with a great outing. Good isn’t good enough anymore. Styme the Dodgers offense and let the young kids run amok on the basepaths and we’re golden.

DBacksEurope: They can beat the Dodgers if Gallen and Kelly go old school and pitch 8-9 innings and we go 5 games. If not, we probably get swept again or lose 3-1. To be honest, if they can do that they can win the World Series.

What are the causes for concern?

James: Pitching in general, the bullpen in particular. The Los Angeles lineup is relentless. It is very easy to go from cruising to giving up a three-run inning. The Arizona bullpen is not exactly a lights-out bullpen. As such, they need Gallen and Kelly to gut out some quality starts. They need the good version of Pfaadt to show up. Then, they also need the bullpen to be both effective and efficient. As long as the pitching and defense can limit the Los Angeles damage, the Diamondbacks have a chance. Even when the Snakes’ bats go cold, they often have runners in scoring position just by reaching first. One fluke play can change an inning or the game. But the Diamondbacks need to keep themselves in a clase enough game for that to come into play.

Sam: That Dodgers lineup is still fearsome, and while their April matchups went well, the August series was inauspicious, as Gallen and Kelly got lit up at Dodger Stadium and the Dodgers were able to eek out a couple close wins at Chase in the midst of the 9-game losing streak.

Justin: What James said.

Makakilo: The Dodgers and Diamondbacks have a lot of comeback wins (38 and 43), and a lot of blown leads (34 and 38). This season the Dodgers had 45 blowout wins (5 or more runs) out of 100 wins. My concern is whether the score stays close enough for the Diamondbacks to stage a comeback win. Happily, the Diamondbacks bullpen has recently been awesome, so hopefully they will keep the score close.

Steven: The Dodgers MVP candidates, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. As much as Carroll is the battery that powers the Dbacks, these two combine to lead the Dodgers and are at the center of everything they do. You won’t be able to completely shut them down, but can you limit their damage with runners on base?

DBacksEurope: Every pitcher not named Zac Gallen or Merrill Kelly and maybe Paul Sewald or Kevin Ginkel.

Who will win the other Division Series?

James: Time to revise my answer here as I misread the question the first time around. I’m going with the Braves in the other NLDS. They are the most complete team in baseball and may actually be even better than their record indicates. The Orioles have managed to do what they need to in order to stay out front all season long. I’ll take them, especially since they are rested. Despite all the turnover, it is still not a good idea to bet against the Astros. They still have some big game players on that roster.

Sam: I really have no reason to doubt each of the home teams’ advantages. The Braves drew perhaps the toughest opponent in the Phillies, who just dominated the Marlins and showed their postseason prowess last year, but the Braves are the best team in the majors. So by default, I’d expect the Astros, Orioles and Braves to make it to the respective CS’s.

Justin: Baltimore, Houston and Atlanta.

Makakilo: The Braves (by far the best team in the Majors), the Orioles (with 48 comeback wins they have more comebacks than a team known for comebacks - the Diamondbacks with 43), and the Twins/Astros is too close to call.

Steven: Braves, Astros, and Rangers. Braves look like a juggernaut, The Astros have the experience, and I saw the Rangers show all year, including against the Rays, that they have the bats and pitching to compete.

DBacksEurope: The teams with the best starting pitchers, because you only need 3. I think all series have the potential to go to 5 games and I believe that we have the worst odds of all teams. I’ll take the Braves over the Phillies in 4, the Orioles over the Rangers in 5 and the Twins over the Astros in 5.

Steve Irwin has you pinned down in a headlock, what cool facts does he tell the audience about you and your habitat?

James: See here, the North American Introvert in his natural surroundings. You can tell we’ve caught him in his home by the copious amount of chocolate and books scattered about. You can also see here, there is a complete lack of accommodations in this habitat for others. The introvert leaves only enough comfortable space for himself and it is quite the project to dig out from the inside to reach the outside world and even harder for outsiders to find their way in.

Sam: Witness how his species has adapted to the threat of disease by leaning more and more on new, electronic forms of communication. With these new capabilities, he communicates frequently with close family, friends, and even strangers with whom he shares an affinity, like for a sports team from a region he’s only visited once.

Makakilo: Only a few feet away we see a black and white cat sitting on the office bookcase waiting to pounce. One wonders by what stealthy method the subject manages to type his posts. The cat ignores his given name, Xander, unless it’s dinner time.

The name of this region is Makakilo, which means observing eyes in Hawaiian. Outside his office window we observe several crown flower plants. They are a host plant for Monarch butterflies, which can often be seen on their leaves. And to the left is a guava tree, with some not-yet-yellow guavas, although it’s near the end of its fruiting season. To the right on the lava wall are not-yet-red dragon fruits.

DBacksEurope: “Crikey”. I am a city kid so I don’t think Steve Irwin would be able to say much more about me and my habitat haha. How about Steve Irwin’s telling about James though, that is some serious psychological analysis, man!