The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
How does a below average team wind up in the World Series?

The Arizona Diamondbacks claimed the last wild-card spot in the National League with an 84-78 record, barely beating out the Chicago Cubs who had 83 wins. By most measures, the Diamondbacks were a below average team during the regular season, yet they found themselves as the National League champion with a berth in the World Series facing the Texas Rangers.

In two stats that measure overall batting and pitching performance, the Diamondbacks had a 98 OPS+ and 98 ERA+, both slightly below league average. The team’s season run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed) was minus 15. Their record against teams with winning records was 40-50. Arizona’s second-place finish in the West Division was a whopping 16 games behind the Dodgers.

A first blush, it seemed the Diamondbacks didn’t belong in the playoffs. That’s what I had postulated to my baseball buddies. The team didn’t have players whose names rolled off the tip of our tongue, you know--MVPs, Cy Young Award winners, and other long-time All-Stars.

So how do you figure that they would sweep their way into the National League Championship Series? It was impressive the way they sent Milwaukee and Los Angeles packing without a victory in the Wild Card Series and Division Series, respectively. You could somewhat rationalize their wins over the Brewers who weren’t exactly a powerhouse team during the regular season. But their three-game sweep of the Dodgers seemed out of character for the Dodgers who had defeated the Diamondbacks in eight of their 13 regular-season games, on their way to winning 100 games (second most in the NL).

The Dodgers must have forgotten how to hit, collecting only 17 hits in three NLDS games. Plus, none of the Dodgers’ starting pitchers went more than three innings. Some observers claim the extended layoff the Dodgers enjoyed by clinching the division early and drawing the bye in the first round of the playoffs was to blame for their poor performance.

It appeared as though Philadelphia would put the upstart Diamondback in their place by convincingly winning the first two games of the NLCS, behind the pitching of starters Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Phillies hitters banged out six home runs in the two games, including three by Kyle Schwaber.

But the Diamondbacks weren’t ready to check out, as they evened the series at home. Ketel Marte demonstrated why he’s the unsung star of the team by going 5-for-9 in Arizona’s two wins. Wheeler stopped the Diamondbacks from sweeping at home, as he picked up his third win of the postseason in Game 5.

With Nola (3-0 in the postseason) slated to start in Game 6, it looked promising that the Phillies would be returning to the World Series. Yet the surprising Diamondbacks had other ideas. They took a tactic out of the Phillies’ playbook and got ahead early in Game 6. Nola was flat, and the D’backs won handily to force a Game 7.

It was Philadelphia’s turn to forget how to hit in Game 7, as six Diamondback pitchers held the Phillies to five hits, none after the fifth inning. Rookie Corbin Carroll provided the spark at bat and on the bases. The D’backs were grinders, bringing “small ball” back into the game.

The Diamondbacks returned to the World Series for the first time since 2001, when they prevented the Yankees from winning their fourth straight world championship ring. As of Saturday, they were even with the Rangers after two games. Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly pitched the game of his life, shutting down the Rangers’ big bats in Game 2. The Series could very well go seven games.

The Diamondbacks have shown us in the postseason that every team starts out with a 0-0 record, regardless of whether they won 104 games (like the Atlanta Braves) or 84 (like Arizona) in the regular season. And they have proved “small ball” still has a place in the game.

If you’re wondering whether any other team in history has pulled off what the Diamondbacks are attempting, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series after winning only 83 regular-season games.

Many of us learned about the athleticism and grit of several relatively unfamiliar players on the Diamondbacks’ roster. Whether they end up winning the World Series or not, I have a feeling they won’t be taking opposing teams, or the fans, by surprise in the coming seasons, like they’ve done this year.

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