Diamondbacks, Marlins, Rangers, Astros capture final playoff spots

PHOENIX – This is not the way the Arizona Diamondbacks wanted to earn a spot in post-season play. With an offense spurring and coughing on fumes, Arizona qualified for the NL wild-card playoffs by virtue of a Cincinnati loss to St. Louis.

The result is a date with either the Brewers or Phillies and that series begins Tuesday.

For now, the maladies of the past few days were drowned in an ocean of champagne and optimism. In the three games leading up to qualifying for post-season play, the Diamondbacks dropped three straight and managed two runs in those three contests.

Despite dropping a 1-0 decision to the Houston Astros before 36,789 in Chase Field on Saturday, the Diamondbacks live to play another day. In the Houston half of the ninth inning, the video board showed the final out in St. Louis where the Cardinals defeated Cincinnati and vaulted Arizona into the post-season.

At the same time, the Marlins secured the final NL wild-card spot with a win in Pittsburgh. Playoff pairings could be decided on Sunday.

The Marlins stand at 84-76 and the Diamondbacks are 84-77. If the Diamondbacks win and the Marlins lose, the final seeding cannot be determined until completion of a game between Miami and the Mets. That game on Sept. 28 was suspended and the Marlins held a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth.

For now, the Diamondbacks qualified for October baseball for the first time since 2017 and their seventh trip in franchise history. Their journey to the post-season is the first for Maimi in 20 years.

In the American League, the Astros, by virtue of their win over Arizona, jump into the post-season for the seventh straight season. Also qualifying is the Texas Rangers. The winner of the AL West between the Astros and Rangers will be decided on Sunday.

From the perspective of a recent arrival, the vision of the Diamondbacks driving toward post-season clearly caught the attention of Tommy Pham. A journeyman outfielder traded from the New York Mets on Aug. 1, 2023 for infielder Jeremy Rodriquez, Pham, a 35-year-old veteran of 10 major league seasons, stepped into manager Torey Lovullo’s line-up as the designated hitter, produced a .240 batting average but delivered key hits down the stretch.

“When I arrived here, we were trying to get the wheels back on the train tracks,” Pham said amid the chaos of the celebration. “I found a team with a lot of heart, and a lot of energy. We were just trying to get into that winning culture. It took some time, but we got on a roll and did enough to get into the playoffs. You just want to get in because anything can happen in the post-season. We have a young team, very athletic, two really good pitchers and the bullpen is starting to take form.”

What’s ahead, according to Pham, is obvious.

“We will need some big hits in the post-season,” he added. “I have to do my job and I’m happy we got in. The odds were against us, and anything can happen when you get into the post-season.”

With the playoffs next week, Lovullo fired his two major bullets in the Houston series. Zac Gallen, who remains a candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, and Merrill Kelly are considered the top of Lovullo’s rotation. While Lovullo is likely to go with “an opener” for the Sunday regular-season finale Sunday against Houston, there is a strong possibility that rookie righthander Brandon Pfaadt (3-9, 5.72) could open the postseason on Tuesday. That would put Gallen on his normal five-day routine and pitch in game two.

Now that the Diamondbacks are on the post-season highway, Kelly, who dropped that 1-0 decision Saturday, said his team displayed resiliency at critical times.

“The season has been a lot of ups and downs and started out really well,” he said. “Then it went south really fast. That could have affected us throughout the season. I’m proud of our guys that we were not able to do that, to come back, right the ship, and put us where we are today.”

Verlander climbing the ladder … during their 1-0 win on Saturday, Houston starter Justin Verlander recorded five strikeouts. That pushed his career total to 3342 Ks and now tied with Phil Nieko for 13th on the all-time strikeout list. The win increased his season mark to 13-8 (257 career wins) and moved into 40th place, all-time just ahead of Andy Pettie (256).

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