PHILADELPHIA -- Coming into the 2023 season, the D-backs were clear about what the team’s identity was going to be. While capable, they likely weren’t going to outslug teams on most nights. Instead, they were going to try to outpitch their opponents and come up with timely hits.
But perhaps most importantly, given the speed and athleticism on the roster, they were going to wreak havoc on the basepaths.
During the regular season, almost nobody did that better than the D-backs. They stole 166 bases, which was second in the Majors behind the Reds, who finished with 190. Arizona’s ability to swipe bags and take the extra base in key situations quickly resulted in the organization adopting “Embrace the Chaos” as its slogan.
In the National League Championship Series against the Phillies, the D-backs haven’t had many opportunities to play the style that got them to this point. They didn’t steal any bases in the first two games of the series, which has played a role in falling into a 2-0 hole following a 10-0 blowout loss to Philadelphia in Game 2 at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday.
“We've got to play Diamondback baseball,” said D-backs manager Torey Lovullo. “What we watched out there was not anything that we have done for a long period of time. So we've got to regroup. We have to regroup the troops and find a way to get it done.”
On Monday, Corbin Carroll led off the game with a broken-bat single against Phillies right-hander Zack Wheeler. Carroll, who led the team and was third in the Majors with 54 stolen bases during the regular season, never made an attempt to steal second and was stranded at first.
The situation repeated itself to start Game 2 on Tuesday. Carroll reached base safely on a Trea Turner error to open the first. With the D-backs looking for some momentum following the Game 1 loss, it appeared to be a prime opportunity for Carroll to try and get into scoring position for the middle of the order. Instead, Carroll stayed put, and the next three batters were retired to quickly end the inning.
“He was slide-stepping every pitch to keep him there,” Lovullo said of Phillies starter Aaron Nola. “I didn’t want to run into an out. I want to be aggressive. It’s definitely in our DNA, and we know how to do it. But he was slide-stepping the majority of the time.”
In the fourth, this time down by two runs, the D-backs had another chance to create some stress on the bases. With Ketel Marte leading off the frame with a single, Tommy Pham worked a full count against Nola. Marte, however, never made an attempt for second. Pham ultimately grounded to third base, and a diving Alec Bohm was able to get the force at second. The D-backs ended up leaving a pair of runners aboard.
Arizona came into this series having stolen seven bases this postseason. But running against Philadelphia -- particularly Wheeler and Nola -- has been a challenge for teams lately. Wheeler only allowed three stolen bases this season, the fewest by any qualified starter in the NL. Dating back to 2020, Wheeler has only given up 13 steals.
“Clearly, I don’t think Corbin was feeling 100 percent comfortable, and Wheeler did a good job,” Lovullo said before Game 2. “Whatever it was, he did a really nice job of getting the ball to his catcher, which was preventing us from getting a really good consistent look at him.”
Nola, on the other hand, has been a bit more susceptible to steals. The right-hander allowed 21 stolen bases this season, but switched to the side-step Lovullo alluded to over the last month of the season. That different look has made him more effective. Throw in the fact that catcher J.T. Realmuto has the quickest pop time in the Majors, and it becomes easier to see why the D-backs have been more cautious in the NLCS.
It won’t get much easier for Arizona in Game 3, as expected starter left-hander Ranger Suárez allowed only seven stolen bases during the regular season. In Game 1 of the NLDS, Suárez and Realmuto combined to get Atlanta's Ozzie Albies in the lone stolen-base attempt against the duo this October.
“I don’t wanna talk too much about our gameplan or anything or kind of what we saw,” Carroll said. “But in my eyes and in the eyes of the coaches, it didn’t seem like there was much opportunity to run.”
As Carroll pointed out, the D-backs’ offense has been held quiet by the Phillies’ pitching staff. In fact, Tuesday was the first time Arizona had been shut out in 47 postseason games. Pham and Christian Walker, the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, have combined for just one hit. Alek Thomas, another speed threat, hasn’t gotten going, either.
If the D-backs want to make this a series when they return home, they’ll have to get back to playing their brand of baseball. They need to find a better way of getting on base. And when they do, they need to create chaos.
“It starts with the bats, right?” Carroll said. “We have to get on base and we have to hit, you know? When we don’t get on base, we’re not going to look like the team you expect us to look like.”