After days of waiting, the NLCS is finally here. In one corner: The Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that wasn’t supposed to get to October at all, much less reach baseball’s final four, but has ripped off five straight wins to reach their first Championship Series since 2007. In the other: the Philadelphia Phillies, reigning NL champs, with all the swagger and confidence in the world after knocking out the MLB-best Atlanta Braves in a four-game war of an NLDS. These teams are ready to square off for a spot in the World Series, with first pitch of Game 1 from Citizens Bank Park set for 8:07 p.m. ET. With each pitching staff rested and ready, it’ll be a battle of aces on the mound, with Zac Gallen (17-9, 3.47 ERA) going for the D-backs and Zack Wheeler (13-6, 3.61) getting the ball for Philly.
The Phillies enter as -166 favorites on the moneyline at DraftKings Sportsbook, with Arizona at +140. The run total is set at 7.5.
Diamondbacks vs. Phillies NLCS Game 1 picks: Monday, October 16
Out: RP Scott McGough (shoulder)
Zac Gallen vs. Zack Wheeler
Gallen was probably leading the NL Cy Young race at the All-Star break thanks to a sensational start (first-half ERA: 3.04), and while he’s cooled off a bit down the stretch, he’s still found a way to eat up quality innings for Arizona. The righty tied for fifth in baseball with 20 quality starts this year, including 18 of at least six innings and two or fewer earned runs, and he’s come through when the D-backs needed him most — both at the end of the regular season (six shutout frames against the Yankees, 6.1 innings of two-run ball against the Astros) and so far in the postseason (six innings, two runs against the Brewers, 5.1 innings and two runs against the Dodgers). Gallen doesn’t have the sort of electric stuff you’d expect from an ace, but when he’s spotting his fastball up and on the edges and getting his changeup and curveball down, he’s awfully tough to hit. The righty has faced the Phillies once this year, giving up two runs over 5.2 innings back in May.
Wheeler had a weirdly snake-bit regular season; it was clear that he was as good as any starter in the NL, but bad batted-ball luck kept his numbers from quite reflecting that reality. The righty was still very good, of course, but the occasional glitch made it hard to think of him as a true ace. This month, however, he’s left no doubt: Wheeler dominated the Marlins in Game 1 of Philly’s Wild Card series, with one run allowed and eight Ks in 6.2 innings of work, then he fanned 10 over 6.1 innings against the fearsome Braves in the NLDS. The righty’s fastball is, quite simply, among the very best in baseball, and it’s been cooking so far in October, sitting in the high 90s and staying above hitters’ bats. That sets up everything else, from his sinker to a wipeout slider. Wheeler has faced Arizona twice this year, with somewhat mixed results: four runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings in May, then six innings of one-run ball with seven Ks in June.
Philly’s homer-happy offense isn’t to be taken lightly, but with pitchers like these, you have to roll with the under. The Phillies’ pitching staff, from top to bottom, might be the best remaining in the playoffs, while Arizona has fallen below this total in three of its last four games despite exploding against Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 of the NLDS. It’s hard to imagine Wheeler giving up more than a run or two, and if that’s the case, that puts a lot of pressure on any offense — even one as explosive as Philly’s.
Pick: Under 7.5
I’ll believe that Philly is capable of losing at the Bank on October when it actually happens. Gallen can keep this game close, but the Phillies have a slight advantage on the mound and a more-than-slight advantage at the plate and in the bullpen. They’re simply the better team, with a starter who’s on a heater right now.
Pick: Phillies -166