On the eve of the rematch of a very lopsided 2021 NLCS, I present to you; The 2022 NLCS Deep Dive.
367 days ago today the feel-good Arizona Diamondbacks, who were projected to win just 73 games on the year, made their way into the National League Championship Series against the Phillies.
The plucky underdog Diamondbacks had maneuvered their way into a series against STL in the Wild Card round and eked it out in the final game of a 3 game series. The plucky underdog Diamondbacks then took on an offensive juggernaut in Washington and fought through extra innings in a deciding Game 5 to win the series.
367 days ago the Championship Series’ started. The 100 win Mariners vs the 106 win Blue Jays. Seattle, who had knocked off the defending World Champion Red Sox vs the regular season wins leading Blue Jays. Two behemoths battling for the right to represent the American League in the World Series. On the National League side of things you had the 98 win Phillies who had taken home 2 of the last 3 World Series trophies and were on a mission after a dominant NLDS showing against an underrated Giants squad.
And then there was Arizona. A .500 team who had thrown on a disguise, pretended liked they belonged and faked it until they made it.
367 days ago Tristan Dailey took that disguise off and pulled the Diamondbacks pants down on national television when he threw the first ever no-hitter in NLCS history. A 15 strikeout performance that saw Dailey take a sledgehammer to Arizona’s Yellow Brick Road.
The series had just 1 game played, but we all knew the result. Phillies in 4 was inevitable.
367 days later it’s time for Round 2.
Round 2 features a lot of the same characters for the Phillies. 7 of their 9 members of the starting lineup are returning from their World Series winning squad. The 2 newbies? Just the Ivan Hakanson, a top 100 prospect and Ernesto Almiron, the number 1 overall prospect. The rich get richer. No big deal.
Noticeably missing from this Philadelphia crew though is the guy who pantsed them in Game 1 a year ago – Tristan Dailey. In his place this year as the teams number 1 starter is R.J. Hansen. And how did he do in that role this year? He led the league in strikeouts. A true next-man-up mentality.
So if the Phillies are returning their team from a year ago, you’d imagine their counterparts would do the same since they exceeded expectations, right? Wrong.
Only 1 player remains in the starting lineup for the D-Backs from last years playoffs: Joe Young. Only 1 pitcher remains as a postseason starter: Pancho Escobar. Only 2 bullpen pitchers return from last years playoffs: Abel Jones and Bobby Young.
A flurry of offseason moves signaled that the team realized they had maxed out their potential in the 2021 season and it was time to make the NLCS an expectation rather than a destination.
74 games into the season the team was 37-37, 11 games back of the division and had already made 2 major midseason trades. The NLCS was more of a pipe dream than an expectation at this point, but the team wasn’t ready to give up on the pursuit of greatness just yet.
By the deadline the team had crawled to 10 games over .500 and just 7 games back of the division lead. It was make it or break it time for the season and Arizona decided to go for it. Jonas Lantigua, Juan Encarnacion, Sam Scott, Paco Rodriguez and Chris Singleton would all become D-Backs by the end of the day. The D-Backs were all in.
Meanwhile at the deadline Philadelphia had a MLB-best 75 wins and an insane 19 game division lead. So did they need to go to the extremes transactionally that Arizona did? No. Did they still make a move anyhow? You bet they did! All-Star RP Kevin Quackenbush made his way to Philly.
Quackenbush was an addition to the the teams 2022 all stars, of which they have 5 to Arizona’s 1. The Phillies playoff roster combines for a total of 20 all-star appearances throughout their careers compared to just 8 for Arizona.
Now, is that indicative of a talent discrepancy or is it more to do with age and experience? Considering the fact that Philly touts the 5th oldest team in the major leagues while Arizona is the 2nd youngest major league crew it is a fair question.
The reason that this age gap exists is due to the budget that each team has available to them. Philly is in the top 10 in each of Season Tickets, Media Revenue & Merchandising while Arizona ranks dead last in all 3 categories. Because of this, Arizona is stuck with a league-low 94m budget while Philadelphia has the 7th ranked $230m budget.
But nonetheless you do the best you can with what you have available to you. For the Phillies that means a league-best 108 wins. A franchise record. For the Diamondbacks it means a league-best record since June 14th of 66-28.
Two teams who’ve clearly had different paths in getting to the postseason, but now that they’re here have been dominant. The Phillies outscored the Rockies 24-4 in the NLDS in their first handful of meaningful games since the 2021 World Series. An absurd 20-run difference. Arizona outscored the Giants 14-3 and have allowed just 7 runs in their last 5 games.
Philadelphia comes in as the rightful favorite. They’re eying their 4th World Series win in 5 years. Maikel Franco is headed for his 5th MVP in 6 years. R.J Hansen has a real case for Cy Young. The most explosive offense in the league and a defense that makes you earn your runs.
But this year its no cake walk on the other side. Arizona is a different team than they were 367 days ago. Both literally and figuratively. No more 81-81 cinderella who is happy to be here. This was the expectation from opening day.
The Phillies remain big bad Goliath, but it is important for Philadelphia to understand that Arizona is no longer David.