NLCS Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Philadelphia Phillies

After toppling their respective Goliaths, a couple of tenacious Wild Card clubs are gearing up to face off in the NLCS.

Bryson Stott of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after hitting a grand slam during the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins in Game Two of the Wild Card Series at Citizens Bank Park.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 04: Bryson Stott #5 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after hitting a grand slam during the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins in Game Two of the Wild Card Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 04, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The Arizona Diamondbacks are this year’s team of destiny. The Philadelphia Phillies are the new darlings of October.

The D-backs surpassed all expectations to reach this point. The Phillies proved last year’s magical run was no fluke. Now, they’re set to meet in the NLCS that no one saw coming.

Corbin Carroll is continuing his unbelievable rookie campaign into the playoffs. Trea Turner is leaving no doubt that he’s the superstar the Phillies paid for. Both teams have gotten strong performances from their top starters and back-end bullpen arms. The veterans are producing. The young guys have been up to the task.

This might be the pairing no one expected. But it could also be a matchup for the ages. Aces against aces. Rookies taking on legends. The underdogs facing the defending NL champs.

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Here’s how they match up.

The Season Series (Phillies Won 4-3)

The Diamondbacks have had the Phillies’ number in the recent past. Until this year, the last time Philadelphia won the season series with Arizona was in 2015. From 2016-22, the D-backs went 25-14 against the Phillies, outscoring them 208-164.

In 2023, the Phillies finally flipped the script, taking the season series and outscoring the Snakes 44-34. J.T. Realmuto led the way, slashing .400/.478/1.000 with a 1.478 OPS, while Craig Kimbrel collected two wins and a save in three scoreless appearances.

May 22-24 (ARI Wins 2-1)

  • May 22: ARI 6, PHI 3
  • May 23: ARI 4, PHI 3
  • May 24: PHI 6, ARI 5

June 12-15 (PHI Wins 3-1)

  • June 12: ARI 9, PHI 8
  • June 13: PHI 15, ARI 3
  • June 14: PHI 4, ARI 3
  • June 15: PHI 5, ARI 4

NLCS – Projected Pitching Matchups

NLCS Game One: Zac Gallen vs. Zack Wheeler

Monday, October 16 at 8:07 p.m. ET (Citizens Bank Park)

This makes for one heck of a matchup to open the series. The two Zac(k)s have been some of the most fearsome pitchers in the National League this year, and they both have what it takes to step up and shove in a big game.

So, which team has the edge? Gallen and Wheeler had very similar seasons, but Wheeler has looked more dominant in October:

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Pitcher2023 Regular Season2023 Playoffs
Zac Gallen34 starts, 3.47 ERA, 4.68 K/BB, 5.2 fWAR2 starts, 3.18 ERA, 8 K, 5 BB, 1 HR
Zack Wheeler32 starts, 3.61 ERA, 5.44 K/BB, 5.9 fWAR2 starts, 2.08 ERA, 18 K, 1 BB, 1 HR

Wheeler also has a bit more playoff experience, and more experience pitching deep into the season. It’s close, but in a battle of the aces, Philly has the upper hand.

NLCS Game Two: Merrill Kelly vs. Aaron Nola

Tuesday, October 17 at 8:07 p.m. ET (Citizens Bank Park)

Merrill Kelly is a dependable veteran. Aaron Nola is a Cy Young contender at the best of times and a liability at the worst. With Nola at the top of his game, the Phillies have the edge. That said, the D-backs have the safer no. 2 starter.

For what it’s worth, Nola has certainly been dominant thus far in the playoffs:

Pitcher2023 Regular Season2023 Playoffs
Merrill Kelly30 starts, 3.29 ERA, 2.71 K/BB, 3.2 fWAR1 start, 6.1 IP, 0 ER, 5 K, 2, BB, 0 HR
Aaron Nola32 starts, 4.46 ERA, 4.49 K/KK, 3.9 fWAR2 starts, 12.2 IP, 2 ER, 12 K, 2 BB, 0 HR

Simply put, this one is a toss-up. Nola has better stuff and a higher ceiling, but Kelly has more quality starts and fewer clunkers. It’s a battle of upside against reliability.

NLCS Game Three: Ranger Suárez vs. Brandon Pfaadt

Thursday, October 19 at 5:07 p.m. ET (Chase Field)

While the first two matchups could go either way, the Phillies clearly have the advantage in Game 3. With no disrespect to Brandon Pfaadt, a promising rookie, Ranger Suárez is the better pitcher right now:

Pitcher2023 Regular Season2023 Playoffs
Brandon Pfaadt18 starts, 5.72 ERA, 3.62 K/BB, 0.3 fWAR2 starts, 3.86 ERA, 6 K, 1 BB, 1 HR
Ranger Suárez22 starts, 4.18 ERA, 2.48 K/BB, 2.4 fWAR2 starts, 1.04 ERA, 6 K, 1 BB, 1 HR

Pfaadt has done his job in the playoffs, keeping his team in games and pitching long enough to hand the ball over to the best arms in the bullpen. Suárez, however, has gone above and beyond. He was tasked with two starts against Spencer Strider and the Braves in the NLCS – a daunting assignment – and he came through on both occasions.

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NLCS Game Four: TBD vs. TBD

Friday, October 20 at 8:07 p.m. ET (Chase Field)

Here’s where things get interesting. The Diamondbacks will most likely go with a bullpen game. The other options are to go with the rookie Ryne Nelson or to start Gallen on short rest. However, Nelson is hardly reliable enough for such an important start, and Torey Lovullo has already ruled out Gallen (though he could still change his mind).

The Phillies, meanwhile, have a pair of starters who have yet to appear in the postseason – Cristopher Sánchez and Taijuan Walker. Presumably, Rob Thomson will hand the ball to one of those two in Game 4.

Pitcher2023 Regular Season
Cristopher Sánchez18 starts, 3.48 ERA, 5.94 K/BB, 1.8 fWAR
Taijuan Walker31 starts, 4.38 ERA, 1.94 K/BB, 2.5 fWAR

While Arizona’s bullpen has been terrific in the playoffs, there’s a big difference between pitching three or four innings in a game and pitching all nine. Once again, Philadelphia has the edge.

NLCS Game Five: TBD vs. TBD*

Saturday, October 21 at 8:07 p.m. ET (Chase Field)

NLCS Game Six: TBD vs. TBD*

Monday, October 23 at 5:07 p.m. ET (Citizens Bank Park)

NLCS Game Seven: TBD vs. TBD*

Tuesday, October 24 at 8:07 p.m. ET (Citizens Bank Park)

*If necessary

Lineup Comparison

Both the Phillies and Diamondbacks have mashed in the postseason. Arizona has scored more runs per game, but Philadelphia has slightly better numbers in all three triple-slash categories.

Looking back at the regular season, however, it’s impossible to deny that the Phillies have the upper hand. Philadelphia’s lineup is deeper and more reliable. They have more superstar talent at the top of the order, and their role players are more established and accomplished.

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Kyle Schwarber (DH).197/.343/.474, 47 HR, 1.4 fWAR
Trea Turner (SS).266/.320/.459, 26 HR, 30 SB, 3.8 fWAR
Bryce Harper (1B).293/.401/.499, 21 HR, 11 SB, 3.3 fWAR
Alec Bohm (3B).274/.327/.437, 20 HR, 1.1 fWAR
Bryson Stott (2B).280/.329/.419, 15 HR, 31 SB, 3.9 fWAR
J.T. Realmuto (C).252/.310/.452, 20 HR, 16 SB, 1.5 fWAR
Nick Castellanos (RF).272/.311/.476, 29 HR, 11 SB, 1.0 fWAR
Brandon Marsh/Christian Pache (LF)M: .277/.372/.458, 12 HR, 3.4 fWAR P: .238/.319/.417, 2 HR, 95 PA
Johan Rojas (CF).302/.342/.430, 2 HR, 14 SB, 1.4 fWAR, 164 PA
Regular season stats, via FanGraphs
Corbin Carroll (RF).285/.362/.506, 25 HR, 76 RBI, 116 R, 54 SB, 6.0 fWAR
Ketel Marte (2B).276/.358/.485, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 4.2 fWAR
Tommy Pham (DH).256/.328/.446, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 22 SB, 1.8 fWAR
Christian Walker (1B).258/.333/.497, 33 HR, 103 RBI, 3.8 fWAR
Gabriel Moreno (C).284/.339/.408, 7 HR, 50 RBI, 1.7 fWAR
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (LF).261/.309/.463, 24 HR, 82 RBI, 2.1 fWAR
Alek Thomas (CF).230/.273/.374, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 0.5 fWAR
Evan Longoria (3B).223/.295/.422, 11 HR, 0.1 fWAR
Geraldo Perdomo (SS).246/.353/.359, 6 HR, 16 SB, 2.7 fWAR
Regular season stats, via FanGraphs

Corbin Carroll might be the best player on either team. Gabriel Moreno is on another planet right now, and Ketel Marte is severely underrated. Still, with Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto, and Brandon Marsh, the Phillies can pummel their opponents with a non-stop barrage of offense.

Bullpen Comparison

Phillies Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel69.012.33.733.6%
José Alvarado41.113.93.953.9%1.742.802.412.35
Jeff Hoffman52.111.93.342.6%2.412.542.573.25
Matt Strahm87.
Gregory Soto60.19.73.351.3%4.622.823.593.83
Orion Kerkering3.
Seranthony Domínguez50.
Regular season stats, via FanGraphs

Diamondbacks Bullpen

Paul Sewald60.211.873.5632.1%3.123.573.76
Kevin Ginkel65.19.643.1750.3%2.482.863.60
Andrew Saalfrank10.15.233.4871.0%
Ryan Thompson30.26.163.3860.0%3.824.334.41
Bryce Jarvis23.24.563.4244.3%
Joe Mantiply39.06.462.0853.8%4.623.854.21
Miguel Castro64.28.353.4843.8%4.314.314.26
Regular season stats, via FanGraphs

I had high praise for the Phillies’ bullpen entering the postseason, and they’ve given me no reason to change my mind. In 18.2 innings, they’ve allowed just three earned runs. Most importantly, the ‘pen is so deep that when one reliever gets into trouble, Rob Thomson can quickly replace him with a fresh arm. That’s precisely how he navigated some tough spots against the Braves in the NLDS.

The D-backs’ relievers have been similarly excellent, although that comes as a bit more of a surprise. Their bullpen was mediocre through the first four months of the season and downright awful in August, despite a deadline deal for closer Paul Sewald.

However, they turned things around in September and carried that newfound success into the playoffs. In 20.1 postseason innings, Arizona’s relievers have a 1.77 ERA and 2.47 FIP. They have struck out 23 batters and walked only eight. Sewald and Kevin Ginkel have been dominant, Joe Mantiply looks more like his 2022 self, and Ryan Thompson has provided some valuable length.

Still, I’m inclined to give the edge to the Phillies. Their bullpen has been better for longer, and their success seems more sustainable.

NLCS Prediction

The Diamondbacks look unstoppable right now. The thing is, the Phillies do too. And when all is said and done, one of these unstoppable teams is going to be stopped.

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The D-backs are the 2022 Phillies, the team that snuck into the postseason and proved they’re far more dangerous than anyone gave them credit for. The Phillies, however, are the 2023 Phillies. They’re that 2022 team, but better in almost every way.

Ultimately, Philadelphia outplayed Arizona on both sides of the ball this season, and there’s no good reason to think that won’t continue. The Diamondbacks have beaten the odds so far, and maybe they’ll continue to do so, but it’s hard to bet against the reigning NL champs.

Phillies in six.