As the Philadelphia Phillies prepare to welcome the Arizona Diamondbacks for the National League Championship Series on Monday night, Phillies fans are getting a crash course on this upstart team out of the NL West.
After being more than familiar with the division rival Braves and, in all honesty, expecting to see the Dodgers in the NLCS, fans will have to quickly learn who these Diamondbacks are and what they're all about.
The Diamondbacks didn't just get lucky in their two postseason sweeps. Sure, they got hot at the right time, but this is a good team that led the NL West until the middle of July. They can do a lot of things well.
The Diamondbacks wear out the basepaths
One aspect of their game that isn't much of a secret is that they like to run. And they're fast. Really fast.
Arizona finished second in the majors with 166 stolen bases this season, led by soon-to-be-named NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll and his 54 thefts. In their five games this postseason, they have seven steals in 10 attempts, five coming in three games against the Dodgers.
In his Saturday afternoon press conference, manager Rob Thomson made it known that he's well aware of the dangers the Diamondbacks pose on the basepaths.
"I really didn't have to read the reports to know that they're really athletic and they got a lot of speed," Thomson said. "They play tremendous defense and cover a lot of space. They run, and when you think they're done running, they're gonna run some more."
Carroll's 54 stolen bases were second only to the recently dispatched Ronald Acuña Jr.'s 73. With a sprint speed of 30.1 ft/s (in the 99th percentile), he's one of the fastest players in the game. You can see why he was only caught five times.
And the Diamondbacks aren't just fast, they're smart. They pick good times to run against vulnerable opposing pitchers.
If you want an example, look no further than Christian Walker, the slugging first baseman who has hit 69 home runs over the last two seasons. He's not known for being fleet-of-foot, with a 26th percentile sprint speed of 26.3 ft/s, but he swiped 11 bags this season without being caught once.
How can the Phillies control the running game?
The good news is that the Phillies have a strong answer behind the plate in J.T. Realmuto. The trusted backstop has a pop time to second base of 1.83 seconds. That puts him first in the majors and will force the Diamondbacks to think twice before running.
Not to be forgotten, backup catcher Garrett Stubbs can also control the running game with a pop time of 1.87 seconds, fifth overall among catchers with at least five attempts.
But it's not all on the catchers. As the old baseball adage goes: bases are stolen on pitchers.
According to Baseball Reference, Phillies pitchers gave up 104 stolen bases this season, with opposing runners having a 79 percent success rate. For reference, the league average for stolen bases against was 117, and the average success rate was 80 percent.
Aaron Nola was the biggest contributor to the team's stolen bases against. He gave up 21 steals in 26 attempts for an 81 percent success rate.
Thomson has asked his staff to improve their control of the running game and not leave it all on Realmuto's shoulders. Nola has made some successful adjustments to his delivery with runners on base, while others, like Craig Kimbrel, are still figuring it out.
"Yeah, just a little bit quicker to the plate," Thomson replied when asked if Kimbrel has been working on his time to the plate. "I wouldn't call it a slide step, but he's trying to be quicker to the plate, so that gives our catchers a chance."
Thomson says he feels good about the Phillies' ability to take care of the basepaths, at least better than he did in the middle of September.
"I feel pretty good about it right now. You know, if you asked me that question a month ago, I would have had a different answer," Thomson said. "But you know, our guys are conscious of it and trying to speed up, trying to give J.T. a chance. And so I feel good about it."
Let's hope the Phillies can reign in Carroll and the speedy Diamondbacks when their best-of-seven NLCS gets going on Monday night.