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Phillies vs. Diamondbacks: Bryce Harper powers early homer barrage in Game 1 win

The Philadelphia Phillies take a 1-0 lead in the NLCS after a 5-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 1.

The Philadelphia Phillies dominated the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, securing a 5-3 victory. The reigning NL champs displayed their power with early home runs from Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, and Nick Castellanos. This marked the first time in his career that D-backs ace Zac Gallen allowed three home runs in the first two innings of a start.

On the other side, Philly starter Zack Wheeler delivered another impressive postseason performance, while the bullpen, led by Rob Thomson, managed to preserve the lead in the late innings, although it was a precarious task at times.

With a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, the Phillies are now only three wins away from reaching the World Series for the second consecutive year. Prior to their loss in Game 1, the Diamondbacks had been undefeated with a 5-0 record in the postseason.

Let's delve into some key takeaways from the opening game of the 2023 NLCS.

The game started with a bang as Phillies slugger and leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber wasted no time and crushed a first-pitch fastball from Zac Gallen, sending it deep into the Philadelphia night. The ball left Schwarber's bat at an astounding speed of 117.1 mph and traveled 420 feet, giving the Phillies an early 1-0 lead. This marked Schwarber's fourth career postseason leadoff home run, setting an all-time record. In his 59 career playoff games, Schwarber has now hit a total of 16 home runs.

Just two batters later, Bryce Harper, celebrating his 31st birthday, also took advantage of a first-pitch fastball from Gallen and sent it over the fence, extending the Phillies' lead to 2-0.

Nick Castellanos, known for his warrior-like approach, had already hit two home runs in each of the last two games of the NLDS against the Braves. In Game 1 of the NLCS, he continued his impressive form by hitting yet another home run. This marked Castellanos' fifth home run in his last eight at-bats, dating back to Game 3 of the NLDS. His remarkable feat of hitting five home runs in three postseason games puts him in the elite company of Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, earning him a place among the playoff gods. Additionally, the Phillies' total of 12 home runs in the three-game span set a new playoff record.

Zack Wheeler, the Phillies' ace, delivered a dominant performance, pitching six innings of stellar baseball. He allowed only three hits, struck out eight batters, and didn't issue a single walk. Wheeler relied heavily on his mid-90s fastball, which, combined with his excellent extension, made it even more challenging for the Diamondbacks' hitters. He induced 17 swings and misses and retired 15 consecutive batters at one point. The only blemish on Wheeler's outing was a sixth-inning home run by Geraldo Perdomo, although the expected batting average of that hit was only .140, indicating some bad luck for Wheeler.

Wheeler's postseason track record has been impressive, with a career ERA of 2.59 in eight playoff starts, accompanied by 51 strikeouts and only eight walks. His Game 1 performance further solidified his reputation as a reliable postseason performer.

With the Diamondbacks now trailing 0-1 in the series, history tells us that teams losing Game 1 on the road have a 68.5% chance of losing the series. These teams also tend to lose Game 2 55.6% of the time. However, if the Diamondbacks manage to win Game 2, they can turn the series into a best-of-five format and seize home-field advantage away from the Phillies. The stakes will undoubtedly be high in the upcoming game.

The pivotal second game of the series will take place in Philadelphia, featuring a matchup between right-hander Merrill Kelly of the Diamondbacks and Phillies co-ace Aaron Nola. Kelly is coming off a strong start against the Dodgers in the NLDS, while Nola has been exceptional this postseason, boasting a 1.42 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. The Phillies' victory in Game 1 adds to their impressive playoff record at Citizens Bank Park, where they now hold a 27-11 record. Additionally, they remain undefeated at home this postseason, with a perfect 5-0 record.

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