Checkmate, Diamondbacks? Braves Bounce Back, and More Notes

The Arizona Diamondbacks are cruising, the Atlanta Braves stole a necessary win, and the playoffs are just heating up. Here are some notes on what has already been a memorable October.

Checkmate, Diamondbacks? Braves Bounce Back, and More Notes

Diamondbacks in Command

Arizona looked like an unconvincing Wild Card team at the start of the postseason. Their offense was lackluster and their pitching staff would be rooted in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly having a fantastic stretch. That part of the plan has gone perfectly while the offense has become a dangerous force instead of a liability. After another impressive win against the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-2, it might just be checkmate.

The Diamondbacks ranked 25th in team wRC+ in the second half of the regular season. In the postseason, the Diamondbacks have instead jumped on every starting pitcher they have encountered. Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Clayton Kershaw, and now, Bobby Miller.

Corbin Carroll continues to show why he has taken over the national stage. In Tuesday’s win, he went 1-for-2 with¬†three walks and a stolen base. His single came on a slider at the bottom of the zone. One of Carroll’s most impressive traits is his ability to hit breaking balls, including a .314 batting average against sliders this season, according to BaseballSavant.

Tommy Pham and Ketel Marte contributed with 2-for-5 performances and a stolen base each. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had an RBI single in the first inning and later tacked on a solo home run. The Diamondbacks have been getting crucial performances from the top half of their lineup in a manner that was not always a guarantee as the regular season came to an end.

Diamondbacks Beat the Fastball

One notable factor in the Diamondbacks overwhelming Bobby Miller was their ability to fend off Miller’s fastball. He was routinely reaching triple-digits with the pitch, but only forced one whiff on thirteen swings on the fastball. His other offerings were not sharp enough to make up for this deficit.

Miller’s erratic command was another problem. He had some uncompetitive pitches that added to his toil as he worked through tough at-bats. The Diamondbacks’ hitters were not biting at his breaking balls that all too often were poor misses. There is bound to be some silliness in the postseason, given the nature of this beloved sport, but it will take something miraculous for the Dodgers to pull off a reverse sweep if they cannot gather their starting pitching.

Zac Gallen Gets it Done

Gallen was firmly in the Cy Young race for much of the season. The Diamondbacks need him to pitch like this for them to pull off a deep run, but he is thoroughly equipped for the job. When Gallen is pitching well, he is a wonder to watch.

Gallen went 5 1/3 innings while allowing two runs on five hits. He struck out four while allowing two walks. However, it felt like the Dodgers never had a good read on Gallen’s arsenal. In the first inning, a tight play at first base allowed Freddie Freeman to reach on an infield single. Max Muncy followed with a full-count walk, but it seemed more like a calculated risk on Gallen’s part as he threw a knuckle curve to try baiting out a swing. Gallen followed up with a strikeout to end the inning.

Gallen cruised through the next three innings apart from the solo home run he allowed to J. D. Martinez on a fastball over the heart of the zone. That was the only major mistake the Dodgers exploited. Even as Gallen was pulled from the game, it is hard to say he was pitching poorly. In the sixth inning,¬† Gallen forced a weak groundout from Will Smith. Muncy hit a blooper (66.5 MPH exit velocity) to shallow right field and a weak single from Martinez (83.7 MPH) that just got over Marte’s head. They were good pieces of hitting, but the Dodgers were still unable to barrel up Gallen.

The Diamondbacks have seen their October run go better than expected. Gallen and Kelly are going to be the driving forces in the rotation, but they will have to rely on others to go deep in series. On the brink of the Championship Series, Brandon Pfaadt will start Game 3. If the offense keeps going and the bullpen continues to pitch well, the Diamondbacks might do something special.

Zack Wheeler Dominates Braves

Despite the Philadelphia Phillies eventually losing in a 4-5 game, Zack Wheeler deserves credit for his exceptional start. Wheeler and Aaron Nola have the capability to lead the Phillies to the World Series when they are at their best. The Phillies couldn’t ask for more from what they have seen so far.

After the Phillies shutout the Braves in Game 1, Wheeler came in hot with 6 1/3 innings while allowing two runs. A third unearned run came across, but that’s a note for a future paragraph. Wheeler reached ten strikeouts as the Braves struggled to make contact on his breaking balls. Across 29 pitches on his sweeper and curveball, the Braves only put two balls into play, while whiffing on eight of their thirteen swings.

A pitcher’s dominance doesn’t last forever, though, even when he’s pitching so well. Against a talented team like the Braves, it only seems like a matter of time before they figure out a pitcher or find their own rhythm again. The two hardest hit balls in the game by either team came against Wheeler in the seventh inning. Matt Olson led off the inning with a single on a middle-middle fastball. Wheeler got one more strikeout before Travis d’Arnaud kickstarted the Braves’ comeback with a first-pitch home run, a sweeper that was similarly left hanging in the zone.

Braves Still Searching, or Are They Back?

Atlanta dominated the regular season thanks to their otherworldly offense. That side of their team seemed dormant through the start of this series. They were shutout in Game 1 and were not faring much better against Wheeler in Game 2.

A thrilling comeback powered by d’Arnaud’s homer and Austin Riley‘s own two-run mash in the eighth inning showed signs of life for a Braves team that were heavy favorites entering the postseason due to their offensive skill. Even with this comeback, are the Braves in their groove again? The Braves managed five hits in Game 1, stranding seven runners. In Game 2, despite scoring five runs, Atlanta had a meager four hits. An error allowed a run to score in the sixth inning, but that is an unreliable way to win. The error was all the more punishing for the Phillies who ended up losing by a single run. The Braves were able to score with their power surge, but struggled to generate much pressure throughout the game.

It might be the catalyst in this series. The Braves are too dangerous to shut down for an entire series and they just stole a win right from the Phillies’ hands. If this was an omen of what is to come, the Phillies might have missed their last major opportunity to freeze the Braves’ offense. As mentioned, the Braves have had a shockingly low amount of offensive pressure and only had one walk in Game 2. The drama is brewing in a series all baseball fans can get behind. Who will make the decisive adjustments?

Max Fried‘s Struggles

Atlanta has a lot of firepower on offense, but their pitching is much more concerning. Spencer Strider is an exceptional talent, but after that, the Braves’ starting pitching options are not a dominant group. Max Fried took his shot on Tuesday, but with little success.

Fried worked four laborious innings while allowing three runs. In just those four innings, he had 95 pitches, in large part due to his four walks. His curveball was his most used pitch, but even with plenty of swing-and-misses, he struggled to locate the ball. He barely threw half of his pitches for strikes, especially leaning on breaking balls early in counts that often left him behind. If he gets his next start this postseason, it will be important watch Fried’s efficiency. His wide arsenal can work through a lineup multiple times, but that becomes a lot more difficult when every inning is a marathon.

The Braves pitching is one of the most important determinants in this series. Players like Bryce Elder and AJ Smith-Shawver are promising talents, but inconsistent and risky against this Phillies lineup. The Braves head to Philadelphia with a 1-1 series due to their offensive comeback and fantastic defensive finish, but questions still remain.

Main Image: Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

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