In stunning fashion, the Arizona Diamondbacks powered their way to a Championship Series. The Houston Astros are one step closer to yet another World Series appearance. Here are some key players and notes from the wonderful story that is playoff baseball.
Five Takeaways from the Diamondbacks’ Sweep and More Playoff Notes
Diamondbacks Dominate the Dodgers
Arizona was clearly the underdog entering the series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers were not the same force that they had been in years past, but they were still a talented team (read: Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman). The Diamondbacks didn’t seem to care. With several impressive offensive nights and great pitching, Arizona created a memorable moment in a new era for the franchise.
The D-Backs jumped on the Los Angeles starter in all three games with Lance Lynn being the most recent victim in the final game of the series. In the third inning with the score still tied at 0-0, Geraldo Perdomo launched a fastball over the right field fence. Perdomo had six home runs all season long, so it might have been a sign of things to come. Ketel Marte, Christian Walker, and Gabriel Moreno all tacked on solo knocks of their own to take a commanding 4-0 lead.
Christian Walker is one player to highlight from this series. He struggled through the final month of the regular season with a 78 wRC+, but he still had five home runs in that time. He has continued to hit the ball very, very hard, and that showed up in this series against the Dodgers. He had five hard-hits across the three games. The Diamondbacks had such a decisive series against the Dodgers because they hit so well against each starter. That might not be as easy to repeat going forward. The matchups will only get tougher from here, so Walker’s power will be a major factor in the Diamondbacks’ continued run.
Pfaadt’s Impressive Night
Brandon Pfaadt was the Game 1 starter for Arizona in the Wild Card series against the Milwaukee Brewers. He only managed to go 2 2/3 innings while giving up three runs. The Diamondbacks only needed average pitching from him to make it through the Dodgers series, as the plan is to rely on Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Pfaadt, instead, had a much more impressive showing in his second playoff start.
In front of the Arizona home crowd, Pfaadt went 4 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing two hits and no walks. He is a tantalizing talent, but still raw in some of his skills. He is delivering on baseball’s biggest stage, though, and Diamondbacks fans should be encouraged by his growth for the future. It was very much a “pitch to contact” kind of night for Pfaadt. He lacks the refined stuff to dominate a lineup like Los Angeles with pure strikeouts, but the contact just happened to fall to defenders. The Dodgers only whiffed on three of Pfaadt’s 42 total pitches and managed six hard hits. It is not the type of performance to predict another scoreless outing, but it was good enough to hand a 4-0 lead to the bullpen.
Twins Doomed by Strikeouts
The Minnesota Twins had a terrific run through the end of the season, but ended up falling short against the Houston Astros. They should be back, though. They have a young, talented team with players like Edouard Julien and Royce Lewis. They boast a fantastic pitching staff that just happened to fall prey to Houston’s elite hitters.
The problem for the Twins in their final two losses was their susceptibility to the strikeout. It was always going to be a problem for a team with one of the highest strikeout rates in baseball to cruise through the playoffs, but without a consistent presence on the basepaths to reinforce any home runs they might hit, the Astros made it difficult for the Twins to put up many runs.
In the final game of their season, Minnesota struck out 14 times in 29 at-bats. That’s quite a discouraging number, but it gets worse when you look under the hood. The Twins whiffed on 19 of their 43 swings against Houston starter Jose Urquidy– yes, 44% of the time they swung, it was a big ol’ miss. The Astros relievers kept up the theme, striking out eight batters on their 10 outs.
The second-to-last game was the same story. The Twins struckout 14 times in 29 at-bats, again. The Twins whiffed on half of their swings against starter Christian Javier. This is a tendency that needs to change for the Twins next season. They should certainly be able to contend again, but what changes will they make?
They have an exciting team that finally broke out of a playoff slump, bringing plenty of excitement to the fanbase. There are some budding stars in the lineup and a winnable division. Even as their season comes to an end, it’s easy to get excited about the Twins taking another shot next year.
Astros’ Pitchers Step Up
As discussed in the Twins’ recap, the Astros’ starters had their way with Minnesota’s lineup. From Justin Verlander‘s six scoreless innings to Valdez’s and Urquidy’s scintillating starts, the Astros are putting aside any doubt about their rotation. Despite some inconsistent performances in the regular season, the Astros have every chance to make yet another World Series, but it will come through a tough Texas Rangers lineup.
The positive development of this pitching is important as the Astros struggled at times to make their mark against the Twins’ pitching. The Astros outscored the Twins 20-13, so it isn’t like their offense was lacking, but they received contributions from unexpected places- which is a good thing, of course. Say, for example, Jose Abreu‘s three home runs.
But the Astros’ stars need to perform if the Astros are going to win another World Series. Yordan Alvarez is a singular talent and thrived in the spotlight. Otherwise, there were quiet moments for the top of the Houston lineup. In the series-clinching, 3-2 win, the combination of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker went 0-for-12. In the Astros’ lone loss in the series, those three players went 2-for-10, with both hits being Altuve singles. There might not be too much to worry over. These are all good players who had a down series, but are absolutely capable of carrying the offense. That’s just the thing, though. If they all start hitting? Houston might be en route to yet another championship.
Phillies Offense Just Won’t Stop
This is getting interesting, huh? The Philadelphia Phillies gave the Atlanta Braves a good thumping to take a 2-1 series lead. With their season on the line, the Braves will look to Spencer Strider to shut down this homer-hungry Phillies lineup.
In Thursday’s 10-2 win, the Phillies actually only managed one more hit than the Braves, 11 hits to 10. But there is a reason the home run is such a celebrated play. A brilliant six home run performance is just one more reason to believe the Phillies will make another run at a World Series. Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos had two home runs each. Brandon Marsh chipped in with a 3-for-4 night and his own home run.
Trea Turner is a fascinating story and one of the defining factors of why this Philadelphia team is so dangerous. After so many struggles in the first half, Turner has rebounded into form and proven why he was brought in. Over 20 at-bats this postseason, he has a .400 average with a 1.155 OPS. He had two errors in Philadelphia’s loss, but his addition to the lineup is fundamental to the Phillies’ success. There are few spots in the Phillies’ lineup that offer any reprieve for pitchers.
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