Originally found on Fox Sports:
Major League Baseball
Oct. 27, 2023 1:20 a.m. ET
It all comes down to this, the Arizona Diamondbacks versus the Texas Rangers. Just like everybody expected. So many baseball teams have to pretend that nobody believed in them. But that’s true for these clubs who both outlasted more experienced opponents by stealing Games 6 and 7 of their respective league championship series on the road.
Texas features a more star-studded group, but Arizona has supreme house-money energy heading into the World Series. Texas has a slew of veterans on massive contracts, Arizona’s squad was built internally with young talent.
So, while the Rangers look like favorites on paper, the D-backs have spent the past three weeks shredding expectations. In an October full of shocking twists and out-of-nowhere upsets, this matchup is a fitting conclusion.
With that, let’s break down the matchup.
When are they playing?
Friday, Game 1: Diamondbacks at Rangers – 8:03 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Sports app)Saturday, Game 2: Diamondbacks at Rangers – 8:03 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Sports app)Monday, Game 3: Rangers at Diamondbacks – 8:03 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Sports app)Tuesday, Game 4: Rangers at Diamondbacks – 8:03 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Sports app)Wednesday, Game 5 (if necessary): Rangers at Diamondbacks – 8:03 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Sports app)Friday, Game 6 (if necessary): Diamondbacks at Rangers – 8:03 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Sports app)Saturday, Game 7 (if necessary): Diamondbacks at Rangers – 8:03 p.m. ET (FOX, FOX Sports app)
By this point in October, there are few secrets. Both the Rangers and Diamondbacks will dance with the pitching plan that got ’em to the Fall Classic. Deviation now reads as panic. There’s a minor shuffle because Texas got aggressive in its Game 7, but besides that, don’t expect much to change. We know who the horses are, but let’s read them out.
Game 1 will be Arizona’s Zac Gallen against Texas’ Nathan Eovaldi. Gallen lost both of his starts against Philly in the NLCS, but that won’t change the calculus one bit. The goggled righty, a likely top five NL Cy Young finisher, is this club’s ace, rock, stopper and best pitcher by a desert mile.
He’ll match up against Eovaldi, who started Game 2 in the previous three rounds. But the October vet gets the Game 1 call after the club’s usual series opener, Jordan Montgomery, tossed 2 1/3 scoreless relief innings in ALCS Game 7 on Monday. Montgomery, who’s shined in 14 starts with Texas since being acquired at the deadline, will take the additional day of rest and start Game 2 instead. He’ll be opposite the 35-year-old Merrill Kelly, who delivered a sensational outing in Philly to win Game 6.
Game 3 will likely offer a fascinating pitching matchup: 25-year-old rookie Brandon Pfaadt versus 39-year-old future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer. It sounds unhinged, but Pfaadt is probably the better option right now. He came up huge in two crucial starts against the Phillies in the NLCS, while Scherzer has looked shaky in both of his postseason outings after returning from a shoulder strain.
While Arizona went full bullpen carousel in its Game 4, Texas tried (and failed) to squeeze length from a Andrew Heaney/Dane Dunning piggyback. Whether the Rangers abandon the Hean-dog starting strategy or decide to let Dunning (3.70 ERA in 172 2/3 innings this year) ride remains to be seen. The D-backs have more guys they can go to — Joe Mantiply/Ryan Thompson/Andrew Saalfrank/Kevin Ginkel/Paul Sewald is becoming the stuff of postseason legend — but for fewer innings than Texas’ Heaney/Dunning/Cody Bradford trio.
Who has the better lineup?
Arizona’s offense is built around forcing the issue, running those bases, timely hits and the occasional long ball. It’s a solid lineup playing out of its mind right now, except for Corbin Carroll (who broke out of a schneid with a fantastic Game 7) and Christian Walker (who looks like he’s trying to hit a cannonball with a plastic spork). Gabriel Moreno and NLCS MVP Ketel Marte have been scorching, while the rest of the group did just enough against Philly to eke out the win.
But the Rangers are a different animal. If Arizona’s lineup is a scalpel, Texas’ is a stick of dynamite, a live grenade in a room of gasoline. During the regular season, the Rangers finished top five (if not first) in every nearly relevant offensive statistical category. There are no weak spots. Corey Seager could have won the AL MVP if he hadn’t missed so much time with injuries (and one Shohei Ohtani). Adolis García just hit five bombs on his way to the ALCS MVP. Mitch Garver and Nathaniel Lowe are getting hot at the right time. Arizona just quieted an equally dangerous Phillies lineup, but the Rangers are a more selective and patient group.
What are the X-factors?
Carroll made a small mechanical adjustment before Game 7, then he had his best game of the postseason. That the Diamondbacks even made it a series without him and Walker is remarkable, but they’ll need Carroll to show up. The dude went 25 bombs/54 steals as a rookie!Arizona’s running game was stymied by J.T. Realmuto & Co. for much of the NLCS before breaking out late on in the series. How much the D-backs can run on Texas catcher Jonah Heim is a storyline to keep an eye on. Heim is an above-average thrower (on the same level as Realmuto), but Texas’ arms aren’t quite as good at holding runners on.Defensively, these are two of the best teams in the bigs. Texas and Arizona were ranked second and third in FanGraphs’ defensive value metric. Neither team is liable to kick the ball around, but Moreno probably gives the D-backs a slight edge, all things considered.At this point, Texas’ offense is as reliable as it gets. That group has performed all season, all playoffs. And Arizona’s righty-heavy starting pitching gives Texas’ lefty hitters a nice advantage. How they fare with Kelly’s elite changeup is one thing to keep an eye on, though.Texas’ starting pitching behind Eovaldi and Montgomery is also a big storyline. Houston bludgeoned Rangers starters in ALCS Games 3 and 4. Scherzer looks rusty after missing so much time on the shelf. Also, he’s 39. Heaney and Dunning were great in the ALDS against Baltimore, but were overmatched against the ‘Stros. Compare that to Arizona, which won all three NLCS games started by pitchers other than Gallen and Kelly. Pfaadt delivered two fantastic outings and the bullpen jamboree was sufficient in Game 4.The Rangers’ Achilles heel remains the bullpen. During the regular season, Texas’ relievers blew saves and games by the dozen. The postseason, so far, has been a different story. Josh Sborz and José Leclerc have been mostly spectacular in high leverage. Against all odds, Aroldis Chapman has dodged disaster. Everyone else has been good enough. Whether that trend continues against Arizona might decide the series.
Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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