With the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers cruising into the MLB playoffs, and the Philadelphia Phillies peaking at the right time, it is easy to overlook the rest of the resilient squads vying for the National League crown. Contrary to what the top of the standings show, it might not be business as usual in 2023. The Arizona Diamondbacks are one potential disruptor who can upend the entire NL hierarchy.
There were fans and pundits alike who believed that Torey Lovullo's club deserved to be on the watch list heading into this season, but they have progressed beyond anyone's wildest expectations. The D-backs are 82-73, narrowly in position to clinch their first postseason berth since 2017. There have been several opportunities to slide into obscurity, but they just keep clawing their way back into contention.
Corbin Carroll is not just the future of the franchise, he is presently its most important player. Christian Walker has quietly exceeded 30 home runs and 90 RBIs for the second-straight year. Zac Gallen is a true workhorse at the top of the starting rotation and Merrill Kelly has been one of the most underrated pitchers in the game the last two seasons. This group is dangerous right now.
But inexperience and lack of pitching depth could be Arizona's ultimate undoing. These final seven games will obviously be critical to the team's October prospects, as one minor tweak could be the difference between just a nice story and a fairy-tale one. It is always best to prepare for the worst, so let's take a look at the Diamondbacks' nightmare 2023 MLB playoffs seeding scenario and matchup.
— MLB (@MLB) September 24, 2023
The No. 5 seed could spell doom for D-backs
Neither manager Torey Lovullo, his players nor fans can really afford to look ahead right now. Arizona is clinging to a half-game lead over the Chicago Cubs in the second NL Wild Card position, while being just one-and-a-half-games clear of the equally-scrappy Miami Marlins for the final slot. This squad has survived hardship throughout the year, though, and I am not going to have doubt in crunch time.
Assuming the Diamondbacks do put a proper bow on their 2023 campaign, they will be more well-quipped than people might realize to make legitimate noise in the postseason. Despite not collectively thriving at the plate (rank in middle of the pack in most offensive categories) or the mound (20th in ERA), they excel in vital areas.
Aside from the Tampa Bay Rays, no other expected playoff team steals more bases than Arizona. That talent is nicely complimented by a low strikeout rate. These small-ball attributes have long been conducive to October success but should be especially impactful based on the 2023 rules of play. Ending the regular season in a huge series against the desperate Houston Astros is also a great warm-up for do-or-die baseball.
Translation: the Diamondbacks are a sleeper in the NL bracket. That being said, Lady Luck might still need to stop by Chase Field in the next week to ensure they have the best possible path. Ironically, that might mean actually sliding down the standings.
A No. 4-5 seed MLB playoffs matchup with Phillies is a nightmare
It is asinine to encourage a club who is fighting for its postseason life to lose, and we will not do so here. But we have to point out the D-backs' worst potential draw. As is the case for any hypothetical No. 5 seed, Philadelphia is a highly concerning first-round opponent.
I hate to be the guy who jumps on the bandwagon and lists the Milwaukee Brewers as a dream draw, but the Phillies just have too much ammunition in their lineup. Arizona is particularly vulnerable, considering it does not have a viable third starting pitcher to throw out in the best-of three Wild Card round. Trusting Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly to lead a two-game sweep of Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Nick Castellanos, among others, is asking a lot.
The Diamondbacks need a bit more time against such a loaded offense. A best-of-seven NLCS presents Corbin Carroll and company with far more favorable odds to pull off an upset. This streaky group needs a little more time to figure things out when facing top-tier competition. That means a meeting in Milwaukee is the safest route to take.
"If I needed one at-bat to win a baseball game, this is my guy… the moment is never gonna get too big for Bryce Harper."#MLBNow breaks down Bryce Harper's evolution as a hitter as the @Phillies barrel towards the Postseason.@Boporter16Bo | @JonHeyman pic.twitter.com/KLIufRZKSC
— MLB Now (@MLBNow) September 25, 2023
Diamondbacks must tread lightly going forward
While being a better option on paper, the Brewers are no slouch. Pitching reigns supreme in October and they have been here before. But Gallen and Kelly can hold their own against the imposing duo of Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, while the D-backs can edge out Milwaukee's feeble offense (.240 batting average ranks 23rd).
Yes, going through the Brew Crew also entails locking up with the daunting Dodgers. The Diamondbacks know them well, though, and were dead even in the head-to-head battle before a disastrous road trip to LA at the end of August. Arizona has a fighting chance versus the Boys in Blue, especially since the Dodgers will be under much more pressure to win.
As long as this franchise ends its MLB playoffs drought, everything else is gravy. But that gravy could last a lot longer if the D-backs avoid the Phillies in the opening round.