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As Phillies fans looked towards this three-game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks, there was one suggestion frequently made: the Phillies should tank the series to screw over the San Francisco Giants. The Giants, of course, kicked the Phillies out of the NLCS last year. Additionally, they unnecessarily started a bench-clearing brawl with the Phillies recently, adding to the bad blood between the two teams’ fans. At the moment, the Diamondbacks lead the Giants by two games and would match up with the Phillies in the NLDS if the season ended today. The only way the Phillies wouldn’t face an NL West team is if the winner of the NL Central finished with a worse winning percentage than the winner of the NL West (assuming the Atlanta Braves take the Wild Card).
But are the D-Backs enough of a pushover where the Phillies should want to meet up with them over the Giants in the post-season? I’m not so sure. The D-Backs have a +27 run differential, better than the Giants’ -9. While the Phillies smash both of them at +137, the D-Backs are the tougher match-up simply based on run differential.
Comparing both teams’ starters at each position reinforces this point.
Going by wRC+ (the wOBA-based version of OPS+ where 100 is average and above is above-average, below is below-average), the D-Backs have the better hitter at six of eight positions. Note that the D-Backs have had to use various first basemen, now sitting with Paul Goldschmidt at the moment. The Giants have had their share of turnover as well, with Eli Whiteside getting the lion’s share of the playing time at catcher since Buster Posey was railroaded by Scott Cousins in late May. Recent acquisition Carlos Beltran has been sidelined as well and may go on the disabled list soon if he doesn’t see improvement.
This comparison uses xFIP-, which is an xFIP-based version of wRC+ where lower is better and 100 is average. It should come as no surprise that the Giants grade out better here, but the D-Backs are no pushovers. Currently, three of their starters are vastly out-performing their xFIP: Ian Kennedy (-0.48), Joe Saunders (-0.56), and Josh Collmenter (-0.59). While Giants pitchers are also out-performing their xFIP, some of it is better explained by batted ball abilities, defense, and park effects. (See my examination of Matt Cain at Baseball Prospectus from February.) On an interesting note, the D-Backs recently had to deal with the injury to Jason Marquis. They have many options to choose from, including Zach Duke and Micah Owings, as well as prospects Jarrod Parker and Wade Miley.
Again, not really a surprise that the Giants lead here. However, closer Brian Wilson has been vastly out-performing his xFIP. Compared to the last couple years, Wilson’s strikeouts are way down and the walks are way up, but he is still getting results. That could have a lot to do with the cavernous confines of AT&T Park as much as anything — Wilson’s road ERA is more than a full run higher than his home ERA. The Giants’ real stud has been Sergio Romo, whose 1.67 ERA is, stunningly, exactly in line with his 1.63 xFIP. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is over 13. The D-Backs don’t have nearly as much dominance late in the game, but J.J. Putz has been solid with good peripherals including a 3.47 xFIP.
From the Phillies’ perspective, choosing between the two teams is a bit of “pick your own poison”. While the Phillies would be the overwhelming favorites in any match-up, they would need to muster up some offense against the Giants, or they would have to attempt to completely silence the potent D-Back bats, something few teams have done so far this year. Either way, the Phillies’ biggest opponents in the post-season will be themselves and randomness in the universe. Whether it’s the D-Backs or Giants, the Phillies have to take care of themselves first.