By: Andy Jachim
A pair of 100-loss teams from 2021 will get to fight for the crown two years later. The five-seeded Texas Rangers out of the American League against the six-seeded Arizona Diamondbacks from the National League. They were underdogs to get out of the Wild Card round and never held home-field advantage throughout these playoffs. Now, here they are, each four wins away from baseball immortality.
Except for those fan bases whose teams got bounced at any point in these playoffs, this series is a win for the baseball community. Two franchises that aren’t perennial pennant contenders get their shot at glory.
For Arizona, it’s only their second World Series appearance in the franchise’s history. Their lone pennant before 2023 came back in 2001, where they stunned the Yankees on the classic Luis Gonzalez walk-off bloop single in game seven against Mariano Rivera.
Here in 2023, the D-Backs only needed to win 84 ball games to find themselves playing late into October, and the youth in their bullpen and everyday position players have elevated them to a whole new level in these playoffs.
Amongst their young core, it’s the Chicago kid, Alek Thomas who has been a real catalyst for making this offense go in October. Thomas has four long balls in the playoffs up to this point, already the most hit by a D-Back in a postseason in franchise history.
Ketel Marte, the leader of this position player group, got rewarded with the NLCS MVP. Marte hit nearly .400 in the CS (.387) and posted an impressive .987 OPS. He’s also got a hit in every single postseason contest in 2023.
To compliment Marte and these young everyday guys, the Arizona pitching staff has been electric all October long. Even after they dropped the first two games of the NLCS with Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly on the bump, this team and staff found a way to claw back. A lot of that is thanks to Brandon Pfaadt.
The 25-year-old rookie right-hander didn’t have a crazy regular season. Pfaadt finished the year with a 5.72 ERA and a 3-9 record over 96 innings tossed. October has brought out a whole new dog in Pfaadt, as the D-Backs have won all four starts made by the Lousiville native. After a rougher Wild Card round start in Milwaukee, Pfaadt threw two starts scoreless starts over 10 innings against the Dodgers and Phillies. The most recent start made by the right-hander was the biggest in his career to this point. In a rowdy environment at the Bank, Pfaadt was able to get through four frames and allow just two runs against a potent Phillies offense that was seeing him for the second time in less than a week.
The bullpen is pieced together with some solid young arms and veteran closer Paul Sewald. The group tossed nine scoreless innings on the road in games six and seven of the NLCS when it was needed the most. Kevin Ginkel has been complete nails as well, the former Arizona Wildcast has thrown nine scoreless frames of his own in the postseason. Plus, he’s your typical psychotic relief pitcher, so that’s sweet.
Coming back down 3-2 and taking a pair of games on back-to-back nights at the Bank, this D-Back squad has fought through it all on their trip to the fall classic.
It will be Bruce Bochy’s Texas Rangers who will look to put an end to this underdog run from Arizona, but the five seed out of the American League have been underdogs in their own right this postseason. Bochy returning to the dugout and winning a pennant right away is almost poetic. Known for leading the Giants to three titles in the 2010s, Bochy is a pure winner through and through.
It took this Rangers squad going back to Houston down 3-2 to take games six and seven from the defending champs to clinch their first pennant since 2011.
A stacked lineup and a dominant one-two punch in the rotation have carried Texas to this point. Adolis Garcia put on a show in the ALCS and rightfully was awarded the MVP of the series. Possessing an OPS of nearly 1.300 is insane and clubbing five homers while driving in 15 runs is the type of production Rangers fans could only dream of from their budding superstar in the fall classic.
Another experienced bat that’s all too familiar with late October baseball has been a major catalyst for Bochy as well. Corey Seager has led the charge in several key statistical categories through this postseason. Leading the Rangers in average (.333) and on-base percentage (.483) has been massive for a team that was able to win 90 games in the regular season.
If I had told you in March that the Rangers acquired Max Scherzer at the deadline and won the pennant, you would have believed that it was Scherzer and Jacob DeGrom who got them there. Instead, Mad Max has been battling injuries and struggling since returning, and DeGrom needed Tommy John back in the spring. Instead, it’s been a pair of different arms that have come through. A playoff beast in Nate Eovaldi and deadline acquisition Jordan Montgomery have been dealing and deserve a lot of the credit for the Rangers’ third World Series appearance in franchise history.
Eovaldi has a 4-0 record, 28 punchouts, a 2.42 ERA, and a 0.96 WHIP in these playoffs. Montgomery on the other side is 3-0 with a team-best 2.16 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. The one thing with this staff that many people in baseball had claimed would be this team’s ultimate downfall is the bullpen. Despite getting Montgomery and Mad Max, it was believed that the Rangers didn’t do enough to add more to this group of relievers to get a deep postseason run.
Picking up veteran reliever Aroldis Chapman at the end of June from Kansas City was a promising start. Still, no other notable name was added to the Rangers’ stable by the August 1 deadline. It has been young closer Jose Leclerc and 29-year-old right-hander Josh Sborz who have stepped up in a major way to silence the doubters on this Texas bullpen. Leclerc has picked up 3 massive saves and Sborz is sporting a 1.04 ERA through 8.2 innings tossed in this stretch.
When it comes to picking a winner in this series, it seems obvious. Then again, these playoffs have been anything but normal. This could be a rather entertaining series, and I hope it is. With Arizona’s only other World Series appearance being their victory in 2001, and Texas dropping back-to-back fall classics in 2010 and 2011, this will be a long time coming for one organization. If I had to make a choice here, I’m siding with the Rangers. I won’t choose to go against Bruce Bochy in the World Series, and his squad has all the makings of a champion. Either way, this should be a fun series to watch and I’m very much looking forward to the next week or so of baseball to come.
Final Verdict: Texas wins the title in 6 games