Surrrrrre, you saw this one coming from miles away, and probably in March, too.
A 74-88 team in the midst of transitioning to a cadre of young talent, one a promising Rookie of the Year candidate who was up just enough last September to give the majors a taste of his talent without compromising his candidacy. Who needed until the season’s last weekend to be assured they were even going to make the post-season, with a modest but certainly not record-breaking 10-win improvement in 2023, and as my colleague Davood Denavi has previously pointed out, a series of controversial non-decisions from the commissioner’s office just to qualify as a fifth playoff seed. Still without a home game in the Wild Card Round.
Sure, they swept the Brewers, a division champion, but hardly world-beaters. Then, they swept the 100-win Dodgers, with the first two coming convincingly, but more blamed LA choking than bestowed praise on Arizona. It was Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman going 1 for 21 and Clayton Kershaw and Bobby Miller each pitching one disastorous early inning that allowed Arizona to advance to the NLCS for only the third time in their quarter-century history.
And even when they used some late-innings heroics to tie the Phillies at 2-2, the blame went to the Philly bullpen and the lack of the manic Philadelphia crowd, not to the D-Backs’ resilience. And when Philly rebounded with a convincing win in Arizona’s final home game and sent the series back to Citizens’ Bank Bandbox, surely order had been restored?
Har de HAR de har HAR.
Arizona not only quieted the Phanatics, they outright extinguished them. And as CBS Sports’ Zack Pereles recounted, more effectively than we’ve seen in similar circumstances by almost any previous playoff team:
- Trea Turner and Bryce Harper went a combined 0 for 15 over Games 6 and 7. Both had been on fire before that.
- Nick Castellanos hit .391 — with plenty of heroic and historic moments — in the Wild Card Series and NLDS combined. He went 1 for 24 (.042) in the NLCS.
And in the process, they saw some truly incredible performances under such pressure-packed circumstances by some unlikely and heretofore mostly unknown names, including that Rookie of the Year candidate:
- Corbin Carroll, quiet most of the series, became the first player ever to have three hits and multiple steals in a Game 7. Fittingly, he also caught the final out.
- Carroll wasn’t the only youngster to star. Fellow rookie Brandon Pfaadt threw four solid innings, and second-year catcher Gabriel Moreno had two hits, including the go-ahead RBI single.
- Ketel Marte was named NLCS MVP after running his postseason hitting streak to 16 games — a record to begin a career.
- Five Arizona relievers combined for five scoreless innings. The late-inning guys — Kevin Ginkel and Paul Sewald — were lights-out again. Overall, they threw 8 2/3 shutout innings in this series.
As THE ATHLETIC’s Sam Blum reported. confidence for these cocky kids, and unbridled enthusiasm even amidst recent despair was rampant:
Just two years ago, they entered the season planning to be competitive. Instead, they lost 110 games. That wasn’t a tank job. It was an unexpected failure of epic proportions. And one from which they had to pick up the pieces.
They’re now going to the World Series, a thought that very recently seemed beyond comprehension.
“I’ve thought about it (tonight) 100 times. I’ve thought about it 110 times,” manager Torey Lovullo said when asked if his mind has wandered back to that painful 2021 season. “I can’t wrap my arms around it. We’re a small-market organization, and we’ve done it from within.”
For the undoubtedly heartbroken Phillies fans–pure and simple, you got beat by an even more resillient version of yourselves, and you are forever refrained from chiding any Dodger fans for how their stars can choke in a two-game sample. .048 by Mookie and Freddie still beats the Blutarski accomplishment of Turner and Harper, not to mention Castellanos’ .042.
For any Fox executives who were praying for some semblance of a large-market team to continue their ratings surge in the World Series: shame on you. First off, Dallas and Phoenix aren’t exactly Milwaukee; they both rank in the Top 15 (so much for Lovello’s small market theory), and you own good stations in both markets. And this matchup of Cinderellas is almost unprecedented in its magnitude–these teams combined for the fewest total wins (174) of any previous World Series combatants, their combined 11th seeds the highest total in that category as well, and while Arizona has that unlikely and gut-crushing 2001 title that they got quicker in their history (four years) than any MLB team before and since, they’ve not even been back to the Series since.
And Texas? They were one strike away twice from ending a half-century of futility after finally getting back-to-back league titles, only to see the Cardinals’ David Freese rip their hearts out in a memorable Game 6 that saw them ultimately lose in seven.
A seven game series between “small” market teams with compelling storylines. There’s an audience out there for it, I assure you. We’ve just had two excellent examples of that in the LCS, and ratings are up, BTW.
Here’s hoping we get another dose of that beginning Friday night.