Phillies Wheel the Diamondbacks to the Precipice in NLCS Game 5

Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

On the back of a seven-inning near-shutout from ace Zack Wheeler, three round-trippers, and a Bryce Harper steal of home, the Philadelphia Phillies convincingly beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 6-1, to push the latter to the brink of oblivion. The Phillies got to Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen often, scoring two runs in the first, a lead that Arizona never really threatened. The NLCS now heads back to Philadelphia, where the Diamondbacks have to win two games or all that will be left to do is to grab a couple cheesesteaks and a roast pork and fly back home for the winter.

The Phillies got things going quickly with a fun-filled first. The action started with a Kyle Schwarber infield hit and ended with a double steal. Totally Traditional Leadoff Hitter Schwarber’s little dribbler to third against the current iteration of the infield shift was way too far for third baseman Evan Longoria to reach in time, and he legged his way to first. While fans often overestimated the ease with which hitters could magically just go the opposite way during the shift’s heyday — as if that’s so simple against big league pitching — Schwarber actually was fairly good at it. Despite not being quick, even deceptively so, Schwarber ranks 20th since 2015 in groundball hits the opposite way against shifts and shades, with 38 of them in 69 attempts. That .551 BABIP is nearly 100 points above the league average of .460 over the same timeframe!

The Phillies quickly neutralized Gallen’s best out-pitch, his knuckle-curve. Trea Turner’s swing-and-miss was the only one Gallen earned with it all night and he only garnered two additional called strikes. Falling behind on counts, Gallen threw most of his knuckle-curves in the first couple of innings, largely simplifying things and going fastball-changeup with a sprinkling of cutters after that.

Singles by Harper and Bryson Stott drove in Schwarber, and with Harper on third and Stott on first, you got the game’s (literal) bang-bang play. With Stott stealing and the throw going to second, Harper attempted a steal of home, which was successful mainly because of a bad throw from second baseman Ketel Marte that resulted in a scary moment. The errant throw home landed in the dirt to the side where Harper was running, and when catcher Gabriel Moreno tried to grab it, it took him right into Harper’s path, resulting in a solid collision at home, with Moreno’s helmet flying off a good seven or eight feet. Harper initially checked on Moreno, but moved when it was obvious Stott was still running the bases and might have attempted a run home if the Diamondbacks were napping. Thankfully, Moreno appeared to shake it off and didn’t need to be removed from the game, as he already has twice this postseason.

While some may refer to this collision as a dirty play by Harper, that’s not my opinion. It was certainly an unfortunate play, but at the point the ball hit the dirt, Harper was only about a foot and a half to two feet away. I can’t imagine he had time to change his trajectory significantly nor expected Moreno to accidentally try to block him with his head.

Arizona got out of the inning only down 2-0, but that was more than enough for Wheeler. The Phillies starter did give up some hits, but he allowed only two extra-base hits, a double down the third base line by Christian Walker and a home run by Alek Thomas. In all, Wheeler elicited 18 swings-and-misses; he now has three of the top eight games this postseason in terms of whiffs. Wheeler’s postseason excellence has reached the point where you have to mention it as a key part of his résumé. Wheeler’s career WPA after Saturday’s game puts him on the very edge of getting onto the first page of our fancy new postseason leaderboards for pitchers, tying him with Bob Gibson. I normally have to remind people, when looking at ZiPS comps, that there was another Bob Gibson, but in this case, Wheeler’s even with the correct one. Wheeler has two non-quality starts out of 11 in his postseason career and even those weren’t complete disasters, with one a four-run game and one that saw him just missing finishing the sixth.

Wheeler going seven innings coming off a game in which the bullpen took over in the third inning would have been a nice little benefit even if he hadn’t pitched at such a high level. This was only the sixth seven-inning start of this postseason. The first postseason I was old enough to remember watching every game on TV was in 1986; back then, 60% of postseason games had the starting pitcher go at least seven innings (24 of 40 games). Beyond “haha, Dan’s getting old,” this is a notable change even compared to just a decade ago. Even in 2013, well into the Moneyball era, starters went seven innings in more than a quarter of their starts (21 of 76). Quick hooks have evolved well past the point at which they could even be explained by some dark analytics deep state manipulating managers.

Two runs was all the Phillies needed to secure the Game 5 victory, but since they probably wanted to ensure that Craig Kimbrel wasn’t needed in the final act, they added four more runs on three homers over the rest of the game to remove their closer from the mix. Schwarber’s moonshot was the longest, a 461-foot blast to lead off the sixth. That was the longest postseason home run since Schwarber’s 488-foot monster off Yu Darvish last year. To find a longer postseason home run by another player, you have to go back to Luis Robert Jr. in 2020. Off the 19 450-footers of the StatCast era, Schwarber is responsible for four of them.

Harper hit one of his own a batter later and J.T. Realmuto’s two-run shot in the eighth served as an additional reason for fans to start sneaking out to their cars. Arizona made it mildly interesting with a ninth-inning rally off Seranthony Domínguez, but Matt Strahm came in to strike out Corbin Carroll and put an end to any last-minute shenanigans.

The Diamondbacks now face the Philly crowd having to win two, with their best pitcher unavailable. Merrill Kelly will start Game 6 seeking to avenge the team’s Game 2 shellacking and Brandon Pfaadt will likely go again in a possible Game 7.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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7 months ago

Wheeler and Nola are a year or two away from becoming a very interesting HOF case. Jay’s talked a lot about how future voters are going to have to view modern starters under a different lense, since they’re never going to come close to the volume guys from previous eras did, and they’re becoming a perfect example of that.

Among active starters they’re 11th and 12th in WAR, but with upcoming retirements/permanent injuries they should be 3rd and 4th within 2/3 years :

Verlander (obvious HOF)
Kershaw (obvious HOF)
Scherzer (obvious HOF
Grienke (obvious HOF)
Wainwright (compiler)
Sale (the opposite of Wainwright, probably falls short assuming he doesn’t pitch again)
Cole (heading towards obvious HOF, if not already)
deGrom (see Sale, Chris)
Darvish (probably a HOF too if you consider his time in Japan)

If we consider the Verlander-Waino group a previous era (I tend to), then Zack Wheeler is arguably the 2nd or 3rd best pitcher of this generation after Gerrit Cole and whatever you decide to do with deGrom

Last edited 7 months ago by Dmjn53