The Arizona Diamondbacks are headed to the World Series. How about that one, huh? A team that lost 110 games in 2021 is headed to the 2023 World Series. They needed to win four of five games in order to do so, which means the Phillies blew a 2-0 lead. They also had a 3-2 lead going home, where they hadn’t yet lost in the playoffs, and the Diamondbacks won two to take the series in shocking fashion.
So how did it happen? How did the Phillies blow a 2-0 and 3-2 lead in the NLCS? Let’s take a look.
1. The Diamondbacks played well
First things first, I absolutely loathe fully putting the blame on one team in a series while glossing over the exploits of the winning team. The Diamondbacks won this series by playing great baseball. Give lots of credit to the Games 6 and 7 Arizona starting pitchers Merrill Kelly and Brandon Pfaadt. Pfaadt had an amazing series and kept his team in a nail-biter in Game 3. The bullpen group of Paul Sewald, Kevin Ginkel, Ryan Thompson and Andrew Saalfrank were great.
Offensively, Ketel Marte was a star (and MVP). Corbin Carroll showed up with an incredible Game 7. Alek Thomas and Gabriel Moreno got some huge hits. How about Geraldo Perdomo getting seven hits from the nine hole and playing his customary excellent defense at shortstop? Tommy Pham didn’t do much in the series, but his home run in Game 6 set the tone. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. played really well in Games 6 and 7.
The Diamondbacks were great. When it was 2-0 Phillies, most people — including myself, I’ll own it — believed the series was over and it might not even come back to Philadelphia. Instead, the D-backs scratched and clawed their way to two wins to shift the series back to Citizens Bank Park and then played two of the best games they played all year to clinch the NL pennant.
Please, give them credit and an even greater plea: Don’t misconstrue the rest of this piece as taking anything away from the D-backs.
In Game 3, Kimbrel entered the game with a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the ninth. He would walk two and allow two singles while only recording one out. The Diamondbacks won the game to cut the Phillies’ series lead to 2-1.
In Game 4, the Phillies took a 5-3 lead to the bottom of the eighth. Tasking an MLB reliever with a holding a two-run lead for six outs shouldn’t be a tall order. It didn’t take long for Kimbrel to blow it. He allowed a double before a lineout. And then Alek Thomas hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer to tie the game.
We can loop Rob Thomson in here because the Phillies manager absolutely should have removed Kimbrel after the Thomas homer. Instead, he left him in far too long. A strikeout followed, but then Kimbrel gave up a single before hitting Carroll with a pitch. Finally, Kimbrel was removed but the damage had been done. One of the runners he left behind scored what would prove to be the game-winning run.
Kimbrel had no control and no command. When he did actually throw strikes, the pitches were very hittable — and the Diamondbacks hit them.
We can toss out Game 3 if we so desire, but the bottom line is the Phillies win this series in five if Kimbrel doesn’t throw Game 4 away.
3. The Phillies stopped hitting
Again, we’ve got to credit the Diamondbacks pitchers first and foremost. Kelly’s and Pfaadt’s stuff in the last two games looked nasty. Ginkel’s slider was beautiful, Thompson did his deception thing and, most importantly, the D-backs mostly kept the Phillies in the yard. It had been a parade of home runs for the home team in that ballpark before Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS, but they hit just one solo homer in those last two games.
Let’s take a look at how the boom-or-bust Phillies offense performed in the back portion of the series:
- Trea Turner went 0 for 12 in the last three games.
- Bryce Harper went 0 for 7 with three strikeouts in the final two games.
- Nick Castellanos went 0 for 20 with 10 strikeouts in Games 2-7.
- Kyle Schwarber was 1 for 5 with a double in the last two games.
The Phillies scored 39 runs while going 6-0 at home in the playoffs until Game 6. Once they returned from Arizona, they went 0-2 with three runs scored. They were 11 for 63 (.175) in those last two games while going 2 for 17 with runners in scoring position. They left 17 runners on base.
That’s a good formula to lose a series that was right there for the taking.