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October 16, 2023

Four factors that will decide the Phillies-Diamondbacks NLCS matchup

Ahead of the 2023 NLCS between the Phillies and Diamondbacks, here are the key elements that will decide the NL pennant.

For the second time in as many seasons, the Philadelphia Phillies are headed to the National League Championship Series. In between the Phillies and back-to-back pennants are the red-hot Arizona Diamondbacks, who won just 84 games in the regular season but have rattled off five straight wins to open their playoff run, dismantling the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers.

When the seven-game series begins at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night, there are some key dynamics to keep an eye on:

The Phillies' rotation depth

The Phillies will almost always have an overwhelming advantage when it comes to front-line starting pitching. It doesn’t get much better than Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, but the Diamondbacks have their own pair of aces who can hold their own: Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly are capable of matching the Phillies’ top two starters pitch for pitch.

Gallen and Kelly have already been announced as Game 1 and 2 starters by Arizona manager Torey Lovullo. The starting pitching advantage in those games still likely goes to the Phillies, but by a margin considerably slimmer than it would be against the average opponent.

Once the teams have to utilize their starting pitching depth, though, the Phillies are given a chance to pull away. Phillies manager Rob Thomson is expected to hand the ball to Ranger Suárez in Game 3, with either Taijuan Walker or Cristopher Sánchez likely going in Game 4. Arizona, meanwhile, is expected to tab rookie Brandon Pfaadt for Game 3, with their plans for Game 4 up in the air.

While the Phillies have multiple sensible options to start Game 4 on top of their impressive bullpen depth, the Diamondbacks have some tough calls to make, beginning as early as Game 3. They simply have to win when Gallen and Kelly are going:

Player  Starts IP ERAWHIP 
Brandon Pfaadt 1896.0 5.721.41 
Ryne Nelson  27 144.0 5.31 1.42 
Zach Davies 18 82.1 7.00 1.66 

Neutralizing Corbin Carroll

Arizona’s lineup is spearheaded by Carroll, a prodigious 23 year-old who is widely expected to be named the National League Rookie of the Year. Carroll had 65 extra-base hits in his first full season, including 25 home runs, and topped it off by becoming one of the league’s best baserunners, swiping 54 bags while only being caught stealing five times.

Carroll’s on-base skills and speed make for a lethal combination for the opposition. He is the straw that stirs the drink for this Diamondbacks offense, and preventing him from continuing his otherworldly postseason (1.389 OPS) will be one of Thomson’s top priorities.

The plan will be rather simple, though: when Wheeler and Nola are not on the mound, they must use left-handed pitching against Carroll, whose numbers dip significantly against southpaws:

 2023 vs. AVG OBPSLG wRC+* 
RHP  .286.369 .552 146 
LHP  .283.339 .382 98 

Carroll is a full-blown superstar when he is facing right-handed pitching. Against lefties, though, he is slightly below-average at the plate. Luckily for Thomson, his roster has several capable lefty arms. Expect Carroll to see a whole lot of José Alvarado, Gregory Soto, Matt Strahm, Sánchez and Suárez.

Diamondbacks’ lack of left-handers

Lovullo does not have the same luck as his counterpart. The Diamondbacks do not have any left-handed starting pitching, which means the Phillies can keep Brandon Marsh in their lineup and have their optimal batting order for every game. It could do a lot of good for the struggling Kyle Schwarber, in addition to three Phillies lefties hitting well right now in Marsh, Bryce Harper and Bryson Stott.

Arizona did have three left-handed relief pitchers on their NLDS roster, but it remains unclear how trustworthy those three actually are: Andrew Saalfrank has only 11.2 major league innings under his belt between the regular season and playoffs (though he has impressively not allowed a run in those innings), Kyle Nelson put up decent but unspectacular regular season numbers and has yet to be used in a playoff game, and Joe Mantiply posted a 4.62 ERA in 35 appearances this season, the worst of his career over a full season.

Schwarber Time

In 27 plate appearances so far in the postseason, Schwarber has done very little damage: across the Phillies’ six games, he has just two singles, two doubles and no home runs. As the Phillies’ 2023 playoff run continues to resemble that of a year ago, here’s another parallel: Schwarber had just one single as his only hit in the team’s first six games last year.

Starting in the NLCS, though, Schwarber was phenomenal, all the way through the end of the World Series. He clobbered three home runs in the NLCS and World Series, totaling six bombs across 11 games.

Schwarber’s career-long track record of postseason success suggests he will soon break out of this slump and give the top of the Phillies’ lineup the kind of power they have been accustomed to during his two years in Philadelphia.

If Schwarber recaptures his elite power at the top of a batting order that features a trio of scorching bats in Trea Turner, Harper and Nick Castellanos… watch out.

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