ARLINGTON, Texas — The Diamondbacks have been pretty busy, what with winning the pennant and traveling here for the World Series, which begins on Friday against the Rangers, but they have had enough time to check the TV listings, and they haven’t liked what they’ve seen.
Last week, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo promised on an episode of his MLB Network show, High Heat, that he would “retire on the spot” if the Diamondbacks won the National League Championship Series over the Phillies. Two days later, Arizona did just that.
And yet … “High Heat is still on,” says closer Paul Sewald.
He grins. The Diamondbacks are loving this.
Sewald and the Diamondbacks have embraced their role as the target of doubters going into the World Series against the Rangers.
Joe Rondone/The Republic/USA TODAY NETWORK
Every team convinces itself that no one believes in them. The Diamondbacks might actually be right.
They won 84 games and were outscored in the regular season, but here they sit, four wins from a championship, having beaten the 92-win Brewers, the 100-win Dodgers and the 90-win Phillies. They attribute most of their success to their talent and their self-belief. But a little of it, they say, comes from a desire to prove the doubters wrong.
“When you feel like you’re constantly not given the credit that you deserve, I feel like we start to crave that underdog role,” says first baseman Christian Walker. “And it’s like, ‘Oh, who’s gonna bet against this this time? Who’s gonna be sleeping on us this series?’ And it’s been that way all year. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Also fun is keeping track of who said what. On Wednesday, the day after they won the pennant, Sewald tweeted “receipt season” with three screenshots of moments pundits doubted them. Rookie right fielder Corbin Carroll has taken delight in seeing the face of a local news anchor who pronounced the season over in August and has had to return to the ballpark day after day since. Seemingly everyone took note when Philadelphia backup catcher Garrett Stubbs said after the Phillies went up 2–0 that if they won the series in Phoenix, they would celebrate in the Chase Field swimming pool.
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Arizona’s players acknowledge that the haters might have a point. At the beginning of the season, FanGraphs gave the Diamondbacks better odds to finish last than it did to make it even to the Division Series. After a scorching start, Arizona played .333 ball in July, a 54-win pace. But GM Mike Hazen bought at the deadline anyway—trading prospects for Sewald, outfielder Tommy Pham and infielder Jace Peterson—only to watch the team play .444 ball in August, a 72-win pace. As late as Aug. 11, the Diamondbacks were under .500. They barely slithered into the final wild-card spot.
“We didn’t play the first 162 like we’ve played the last month or so, obviously,” says Sewald. “This is our best brand of baseball. We were leading the National League on June 1—obviously I wasn’t part of the team [yet]—but our peak is as good as anybody’s peak. Maybe we didn’t play at our peak nearly as much as other teams in the league did. So I think that’s probably how I’d say it. Our peak is great. We are young and hadn’t been there a lot and maybe our low point was probably a longer low point than most of the best teams had.”
He adds, “The good teams just seem to flatten their curve quicker than the teams that aren’t quite as good. But, like I said, our peak is as good as anybody’s peak. We just had to try and figure out how to get to that, and we found it in October, which is the most important time to find it. The last three months kind of were a little steeper than we probably needed.”
Carroll in particular has taken delight in seeing a skeptical local news anchor continue to cover the team after critiquing the club in August.
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports
Reliever Andrew Saalfrank has heard a lot about payroll disparities: According to Spotrac, the Diamondbacks spent $119 million on their roster (No. 21 in MLB), while the Brewers spent $125 million (No. 19), the Dodgers spent $240 million (No. 6), the Phillies spent $245 million (No. 5) and the Rangers spent $251 million (No. 4).
“It makes sense why there’s a lot of doubters, haters, non-believers out there,” he says. But, “the roster that this team has five, 10 years from now is going to be worth a lot of money. We just happened to do it before the dollar signs are next to those guys’ names.”
So they understand the complaints. But they don’t buy into them.
“We’re playing against the best teams in the world, and we’re winning,” says Walker. “We’re beating them. So it’s like, we do deserve to be here. Like, people talk about letting wild cards in and this and that. It’s like, we’re playing five-game series, seven-game series against really, really good teams. You can’t fake a seven-game series. You don’t just get lucky. I think all that kind of fizzles out when you keep winning, and here we are. There’s two teams left. There’s one game on TV every night. And that’s us. We’re part of that. It makes me proud to be a part of this group, for sure. I get it. I’m not blaming anybody. I totally get it. But that being said, we look around the clubhouse and it’s like, ‘No, no, we belong here.’”
They are about to play in the World Series. And their skeptics are not.