Technically, this is as close the Diamondbacks have been to the World Series since their middle of the order was Eric Byrnes, Tony Clark and Mark Reynolds. All they have to do is win four games. There are 26 other teams that would kill for that kind of chance right now. Those teams will have to win 100 games or so just to get to the World Series. The Diamondbacks are still in a good spot, relatively speaking.
Realistically, though, it feels like the Diamondbacks haven’t been further away from the World Series since their 110th loss in 2021. That’s how thoroughly the Phillies pummeled them back in Philadelphia, where they’ll have to go back eventually if they want to win this series. Game 2 was as demoralizing as they come, and now they’re starting a rookie in a game that’s as close to a must-win as any can be outside of an elimination game.
The good news? All the Diamondbacks need to do is win four games out of the next five. The last time they did that, you have to go all the way back to last week, when they won their fifth straight postseason game to knock out the Dodgers. One game at a time. It’s all they can do.
(I’m skeptical. But it’s baseball, a sport that loves to give wet willies and doesn’t care who gets them. Maybe the Phillies will be next?)
NLCS Game 3: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Start time: 5:07 p.m. ET on TBS
Pitching matchup: Brandon Pfaadt vs. Ranger Suárez
Game 3 pitching matchup
Diamondbacks: RHP Brandon Pfaadt
2023 stats: 3-9, 5.72 ERA, 96 innings, 94 strikeouts, 1.41 WHIP
The good news is that 75 other pitchers in baseball history have allowed 20 homers or more in 100 or fewer innings. Pfaadt’s season was an outlier, but it wasn’t a freakishly egregious outlier, then. Heck, there’s even been a Diamondbacks pitcher who’s done it before. Where my Barry Enright fans at?
The bad news is that Pfaadt has allowed a lot of home runs in his short major-league career, and he’ll be facing a team that has hit roughly 383 home runs since the postseason has started. It’s not just the majors that have given him the homer hiccups; his career HR/9 in the minors is 1.5, which is on the higher side, even after you adjust for Reno and the Pacific Coast League.
The neutral news is that Pfaadt has been pitching just fine over the last month. Not great, mind you. His last quality start was August 18. But he’s been pitching just fine. He’s given his team a chance to win in his recent starts, and he’s on a short leash: he’ll probably throw no more than four or five innings, and that’s if he’s rolling. After the Diamondbacks’ two aces couldn’t help them win, they’ll take a chance with the rookie who’s been just fine. It’s a helpful change of pace.
Phillies: LHP Ranger Suárez
2023 stats: 4-6, 4.18 ERA, 125 innings, 119 strikeouts, 1.42 WHIP
If you’ve been keeping up with the postseason so far, you know what you’re getting with Suárez. He’s a nibbler in the best possible sense. In an era where every Tom, Dick and Harry can throw 97 mph, it’s refreshing to see a lefty whose approach is centered on pitches that are too good to take, but not too easy to hit.
Every season, Suárez throws fewer pitches in the strike zone than the average major leaguer. But it’s not because he’s inconsistent with his mechanics; it’s because he’s consistent with them. He’s also typically above average when it comes to contact on pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s a frustrator, not a dominator.
The Diamondbacks hit lefties slightly worse this season as a whole, but Christian Walker, Gabriel Moreno, Ketel Marte and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. all hit them well. Add in Evan Longoria, and it gets even better. Tommy Pham had weirdo reverse splits this year, but don’t believe them. This is a starting lineup that’s well-suited to do damage against a lefty if they can lay off the pitches on the fringes of the zone.
Which is much easier typed than done. Mostly, though, the Diamondbacks are just happy that it’s not Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola. They’ll take their chances.
Game 3 X-factor
The Phillies’ road power
The Phillies hit 117 home runs in Citizens Bank Park this season and 103 on the road. That’s not surprising. Most teams hit better in their home park, assuming they play in a ballpark that isn’t cavernous.
This postseason, the Phillies have hit 17 dingers at home and two on the road. Now, that’s in no small part because they didn’t even have a road game against the Marlins, and they had just two against the Braves. This doesn’t have to be predictive or indicative of some larger concern. It’s an opportunity thing.
Except you know that those homers in Philly were contagious. The fans demanded them, and who likes to disappoint their fans, right?
If they keep doing it in Arizona, it’ll be a way to take the crowd right out of the game.
“I’m an eternal optimist, and I have to be. I believe in our team and that we can compete against anybody in any circumstances. I did make that comment that we could be playing on the moon, and I don’t care. We have to go do what we do best.”
— Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, accidentally giving Rob Manfred ideas about future neutral site locations
(Top photo of Schwarber: Bill Streicher / USA TODAY)