Diamondbacks Face First True Test of Young Season against Phillies

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The Arizona Diamondbacks have gotten off to a great start in 2018. In fact, you could not have asked for a much better start to the 20th anniversary season. After a win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday, the D-Backs became the first National League team since the 2003 San Francisco Giants to win their first seven series of the new campaign. In addition, in a stretch of 18 of 21 games against NL West opponents, the D-Backs are 13-5.

As a result, they have built a fairly comfortable lead in the division. At 15-6, Arizona entered Wednesday’s action leading the division by four games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Colorado Rockies are in third, 4.5 games behind Arizona. The San Francisco Giants are in fourth, 5.5 games out of first and the San Diego Padres bring up the rear at 7.5 games out.

Last season, the NL West was the most competitive division in Major League Baseball. It was the only division to send three teams to the postseason. The Dodgers won the division and the D-Backs beat the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game. It has been a different story so far this season. Colorado is the next best team, but they are at .500. As a result, the D-Backs are tied with the Boston Red Sox (American League East) for the largest division lead.

The D-Backs have beaten the teams they are supposed to beat. But this team has not faced a true test. The St. Louis Cardinals, whom the D-Backs took two of three from at Busch Stadium, are tied for first place but beat up on the worst team in baseball, the Cincinnati Reds, to get there.

A three-game series against the red hot Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park will present the D-Backs with a challenge. We will find out a lot about this team, including how they handle adversity, after Thursday.

Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies jump out of the dugout to celebrate Aaron Altherr‘s game-winning, walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning during a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park on April 22, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies won 3-2 in 11 innings. Source: Hunter Martin/Getty Images North America

Scouting the Phillies

After a 1-4 start that included some odd decisions by first year manager Gabe Kapler, the Phillies have flipped the script. Following a walkoff win on Sunday, Philadelphia completed a four-game sweep of their in-state rival, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Only the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros, both riding six-game win streaks entering Monday, are hotter right now.

But the biggest challenge for the D-Backs will be trying to beat Philadelphia at home. Yes, the D-Backs are 6-3 on the road this season, but the Phillies’ 9-1 record at home is the best in the majors and past results rarely outweigh current mojo. However, the D-Backs have won seven straight games in Philly and are 12-5 in their last 17.

The @Dbacks, atop the National League entering Tuesday, face a tough test against the upstart Phillies in Pennsylvania this week.Click To Tweet

But this Phillies team is different than in years past. After winning 65 games last season, the front office acquired Carlos Santana, Jake Arrieta, Pat Neshek, and others to provide veteran leadership. It has paid dividends, but Philly is where they are because of the best starting rotation (3.01 ERA) and the fifth-best bullpen (3.13 ERA) in the NL. The Phillies are not hitting well as a team but rank second in runs scored with runners in scoring position (88), and have two of the hotter hitters in the NL in Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera.

The Phillies probably feel the same way, but if the D-Backs are going to keep their series winning streak alive, everything will have to click.

Key to the Series

This series will likely come down to the Diamondbacks ability to hit right-handed pitching. The D-Backs have struggled to hit everybody this season, evidenced by the fifth-worst batting average (.225) in the major leagues. But against righties, both starters and relievers, the Diamondbacks have hit .219, which ranks 25th. Arizona’s splits against righties and lefties are drastic.

Against RHP: .219/.307/.358, .665 OPS, 49 runs

Against LHP: .233/.307/.459/.766 OPS, 46 runs

The average is not that much better, but the slugging percentage and OPS are more than 100 points higher and only the Colorado Rockies have scored more runs off southpaws in the majors than the Diamondbacks.

The D-Backs will face three right-handers in the series; Vince Velasquez (1-2, 3.80 ERA), Arrieta (2-0, 2.04 ERA), and Ben Lively (0-1, 4.64 ERA).

If the Diamondbacks are going to win this series, they will have to hit righties. Paul Goldschmidt is hitting .407 in his last 12 games after a slow start, but he is hitting only .205 against righties. He will have to step up against them. The D-Backs will also still be without their best hitter against right-handers, Jake Lamb, who is hitting .385 in 13 at-bats against them.

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