ESPN9 Minute Reading
The 2023 World Series matchup is set.
Starting Friday, the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks will battle for the Commissioner’s Trophy in a meeting of powerful lineups and dominant starting pitchers.
A night after the Rangers booked their first trip to the Fall Classic since 2011 with a Game 7 win over the Houston Astros, the Diamondbacks continued their impressive run with a 4-2 Game 7 victory in Philadelphia. .
What did October teach us about each of these teams? What does each team need to do to come out on top? And which players will be the difference makers for the two sides? ESPN MLB experts Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez, Jesse Rogers and David Schoenfield break it down.
What is the most compelling thing about the Rangers this postseason?
Doolittle: The explosiveness of the offense is the unique characteristic of the Rangers, but during the playoffs what puts them on top is the performance of their top two starters pitchers. Simply put, Texas would not be in the World Series without the consistent performances of Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi.
Eovaldi built on his former playoff reputation and has fully established himself as one of the great October pitchers of the last decade — at least. Montgomery was almost as good (with a clunker mixed in there, in the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles). Montgomery became Bruce Bochy’s new “MadBum” (Madison Bumgarner), drawing a Game 7 bullpen assignment even though Texas’ relief staff was fully rested and ready to go. Two starting pitchers will never lead a club to a championship the way Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did in 2001, but what we see the top two doing with the Rangers is as close to that as we could possibly get.
González: The Rangers’ lineup is deep, but Adolis Garcia tops them — more so than Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, the $500 million middle-infield combo that occupies the top of the order. Garcia has become the most dynamic player in Texas. And when he’s hot, his energy is contagious. In his final six at-bats in the ALCS, while booed by unimaginable levels of Houston crowds, he homered three times and drove in nine runs, almost single-handedly ending the season defending- champion Astros. He has driven in 20 runs in 12 playoff games and is just one RBI behind David Freese in 2011 for the most in a postseason. This is a man who just four years ago passed to St. Louis Cardinals — and two years ago by the Rangers themselves, when they appointed him for the task. Amazing.
Why did it (or didn’t it) work against the D-backs in the World Series?
Doolittle: Arizona has never been driven by the performance of any particular starting pitcher or, really, anything else. Whatever it takes to survive a particular series, Torey Lovullo and his team have found it. In Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen, Arizona has a top two capable of keeping Eovaldi and Montgomery. There will be little pressure for that duo to work deep because Lovullo is so aggressive in his use of the bullpen, but if Texas continues to go long, it will effectively start from its big two, which will make things terrible in Arizona. That means Bruce Bochy can effectively moderate his high-leverage relievers and keep his pitching staff fresh when he needs to field a consistent parade of bullpen arms.
González: Garcia’s bat tends to be hot and cold. He OPSed .790 in July and August, then .934 in September. And before that perfect run in that six-inning outing to end a historic LCS streak, he struck out four times in a row, making some ugly which swings a few times. Over the past three seasons, only one person in all of baseball — Eugenio Suarez — has compiled more strikeouts than Garcia, so ups and downs are inevitable with him. The Rangers will just have to hope his surge lasts a week or so. It’s a small sample size, of course, but Garcia is just 2-for-17 with five strikeouts against the D-backs this season, including a combined 0-for-7 showing against Zac Gallen and Brandon Pfaadt (he didn’t face Merrill Kelly).
Who is the one player who needs to deliver for Rangers to be champions from here?
Doolittle: Our perception of who should continue during the playoffs can change rapidly. Corbin Carroll, who looked like a new playoff superstar during the first round against the Brewers, struggled mostly in the NLCS, then went wild in Game 7. Corey Seager, the best player in the playoffs during the Rangers’ first games, struggling. throughout the ALCS — then went wild in Game 7. So you never know how quickly this picture can change.
A player who THERE consistent for the Rangers throughout October has been Marcus Semien — but not in a good way. It’s hard to imagine the Rangers finishing this run off without Semien starting to post some better offensive results. Semien seems to have better swings and approaches in the last two games against Houston, and if that’s a prelude to his breakout in the World Series, look out. The rest of the Rangers’ lineup seems fine — if Semien goes, opposing pitchers will have nowhere to hide.
González: It’s easy: Jose Leclerc. Those who haven’t been following the Rangers this postseason may not be too familiar with him, but he’s become the closest and most important reliever. The Rangers have navigated this entire year with a shaky bullpen, and as the stakes continue to rise, it’s becoming clear that Bochy is relying on a few pitchers with close late leads. One of them is Josh Sborz. And perhaps the only one is Leclerc, who has converted almost as many saves in this postseason (three) as he did in the entire regular season (four). The 29-year-old right-hander has been excellent this year, with a 2.68 ERA and 67 strikeouts — though also 28 walks — in 67 innings. He can pitch more than one inning, and will undoubtedly be called upon to do so in the World Series.
What has been the most impressive thing about the D-backs this postseason?
Rogers: Everyone? But really, it’s their ability to adjust quickly — whether that’s to a chaotic crowd, a weak player or a struggling reliever. They mix and match all over the place, and there’s a manager willing to put his neck on the line. Simply put, they take chances to get them where they are. Whatever you think of the matchup, it’s not good to anoint the Rangers after what the D-backs have done this postseason. Every part of their roster has helped them to this point. There is no reason to change now.
Schoenfield: That they have achieved even though their stars never carried the load. After a hot start to the postseason — 6-for-12 with two home runs in his first three games — Corbin Carroll was a non-factor until losing in the NLCS finale with three hits, two two runs, two steals. bases and a sack fly. The Diamondbacks lost both of Zac Gallen’s starts against the Phillies. Christian Walker, who led the team with 33 home runs, had two hits and drove in two runs in the NLCS. And yet, they somehow won all three of those non-Gallen/non-Merrill Kelly games, when everyone thought the only way they could upset the Phillies was for Gallen and Kelly to dominate. Top down, left right, nothing about this postseason team has added up — but they’re still playing baseball.
Why did it (or didn’t it) work against the Rangers in the World Series?
Rogers: Now that they’ve made it this far, why would anyone say the D-backs can’t keep doing their thing all the way to a title? This is a team that seems to have a different hero every game. And here’s another key to the D-backs’ success: They’re coming home this postseason. That’s a big question mark come October. They were sprinkled in just enough to keep the opposition honest. In fact, it was Alek Thomas — a part time starter — who led them with four. It’s hard to imagine a conventional series win — there are bound to be some grinding moments — but Arizona could pull off a surprise one.
Schoenfield: Seems unlikely, doesn’t it? You can only rely so much on Brandon Pfaadt or Alek Thomas, and Ketel Marte can’t be the only player who can consistently run the offense. Once again, the Diamondbacks took advantage of the Phillies’ biggest weakness — Craig Kimbrel — to win Games 3 and 4, and unlike the Rangers, there was a late-game bullpen lockdown even as closer Jose Leclerc is sketchy and also working hard this postseason. But what you have to do is beat the opponent in seven games, not outscore them.
However, it feels like the keys are once again Gallen and Kelly. The Rangers lineup finished the ALCS scoring 20 runs in the final two games. They have home-field advantage where their OPS in the regular season is more than 100 points higher than on the road (they hit 143 home runs at home, 90 on the road). Since the Diamondbacks will have to rely heavily on the bullpen in Games 3 and 4 and then in Game 7 if it goes the distance, it will be important for Gallen and Kelly to give them some length as well.
Who is the one player who must deliver for the D-backs to become champs from here?
Rogers: Gabriel Moreno. It may sound strange to pick a rookie catcher, but his impact on the Diamondbacks today cannot be overstated. He’s been moved into the lineup and now has to call another good series against an offensive powerhouse. It’s a lot to ask — but it’s every round, and he just keeps coming. Don’t forget his rocket arm, either — the Rangers didn’t run much during the regular season, but they have that tool in their toolbox. If Moreno can continue what he is doing, he is a big reason why the Diamondbacks are in this.
Schoenfield: Carroll. They need to score runs to beat the Rangers, which means they need production from someone other than Marte at the top of the order. Until Game 7, when he seemed to be more than himself, Carroll looked a little overmatched against the Phillies until his big Game 7, and maybe the fatigue of the long season caught up with him. His groundball rate went from 45% in the regular season to 55% in the postseason (and 65% in the NLCS); he clearly has issues driving the ball. Maybe it’s a slump — and maybe his late breakout points to as much — but if it’s fatigue, the Arizona offense could be in trouble.