Griff’s 2023 World Series Preview
Diamondbacks vs. Rangers promises good baseball, bad ratings
WC Arizona Diamondbacks (84-77; 9-3) vs. WC Texas Rangers (90-72; 9-3)
G 1-2 at Globe Life Field
Friday (8:03 p.m.) – RH Zac Gallen (2-2, 5.24) vs. RH Nate Eovaldi (4-0, 2.42)
Saturday (8:03 p.m.) – RH Merrill Kelly (2-1, 2.65) vs. LH Jordan Montgomery (3-0, 2.16)
G 3-4-*5 at Chase Field
Monday (8:03 p.m.) – RH Max Scherzer (0-1, 9.45) vs. RH Brandon Pfaadt (0-0, 2.70)
Tuesday (8:03 p.m.) – LH Andrew Heaney (0-0, 6.75) vs. Bullpen
*Wednesday (8:03 p.m.) – RH Nate Eovaldi (4-0, 2.42) vs. RH Zac Gallen (2-2, 5.24)
G *6-*7at Globe Life Field
*Friday (8:03 p.m.) – RH Merrill Kelly (2-1, 2.65) vs. LH Jordan Montgomery (3-0, 2.16)
*Saturday (8:03 p.m.) – TBA vs. TBA
This is a World Series unlike any other. Baseball purists can be fascinated by the matchup of two franchises that have historically combined for a total of one career World Series title – Arizona over the Yankees in 2001 -- but the FOX host TV network is not quite so thrilled. These are two Sun Belt based opponents, excluding MLB’s marquee cities, teams, time zones and biggest broadcast markets. Imagine, for comparison purposes, an NBA Final featuring the Suns and Mavericks, or a Stanley Cup final with the Coyotes and the Dallas Stars. Be prepared for low ratings and compelling baseball.
RECORD LOW COMBINED WIN TOTAL: The AL features a 90-win champion – the Rangers, while the NL features Arizona, the NL’s sixth seed, with just 84W. The combined total of 174 regular-season victories is the lowest to compete for the championship (in a full season) in 120 years. Here are the Lowest-5 combined win totals for World Series opponents: 174W in 2023 Diamondbacks vs. Rangers; 176W in 1973 A’s over Mets; 177W in 2014 Giants over Royals; 178W in 1997 Marlins over Indians; 178W in 2006 Cardinals over Tigers.
WILDCARD QUALIFIERS TO WORLD SERIES CHAMPS: This is the second time the Fall Classic has featured two wildcard teams. The only other time was 2002, when the Angels beat the Giants in seven. Following is a list of the seven previous wildcard WS champions: 1997 Marlins over Indians; 2002 Angels over Giants; 2003 Marlins over Yankees; 2004 Red Sox over Cardinals; 2011 Cardinals over Rangers; 2014 Giants over Royals; 2019 Nationals over Astros.
PAYROLL RANK: The Rangers opening day payroll, for its 26-man roster, ranked ninth out of 30 MLB teams, at $195.8-million. The D’backs ranked 21st at $116.1-million. That means there are eight teams, including the Blue Jays (7th, $209.9M) that have fanbases that are disgruntled and accusatory that their team did not make the World Series, despite outspending the two teams that did.
BLUE JAYS CONNECTIONS: For those very odd fans that base their rooting preferences on the number of Blue Jays connections with each competing team, here is a brief comparison:
Rangers/Jays: 2B Marcus Semien was an All-Star with the Jays in 2021, signing a one-year deal as a free agent, completing his conversion from shortstop to second base, while setting an MLB record for home runs at the position. RH Dane Dunning was selected by the Jays in the 34th round of the 2013 draft but did not sign. C Jonah Heim was drafted by the Orioles out of a Buffalo high school in 2013.
D’backs/Jays: C Gabby Moreno was signed and developed by Jays and traded, along with fellow international free agent signee LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., for OF Daulton Varsho. (Perhaps the Snakes should ask Jays’ GM Ross Atkins for his ring size.) MGR Torey Lovullo served as Jays’ first-base coach in 2011-12 under MGR John Farrell. RH Miguel Castro was signed as an international free-agent by the Jays and pitched in the majors in 2015, before being included in the key, 2015 deadline, multi-player deal for SS Troy Tulowitzki.
Rangers Road to WS: The Rangers stumbled at the end of the regular season while in control of the AL West squandering a first-round bye, losing on the final Sunday in Seattle, edged out in the head-to-head division tiebreaker, by Houston, who swept three in Phoenix at the same time. You have to believe that the Rangers were steaming about that slithering surrender and rollover by the D’backs against a team with which they were battling for a first-round bye. Most likely any negative Arizona thoughts must have entered their collective psyches, as they performed a fly-over of Arlington on their way to play the Rays in St. Petersburg. MGR Bruce Bochy’s crew regrouped and knocked out the three teams ahead of them with the AL’s best records -- the Rays (2-0), the O’s (3-0), then the Astros taking them to Game 7 at Minute Maid, winning convincingly to advance.
The Rangers franchise had moved from Washington, in 1972, where they had been the Senators, to Texas where they became the Rangers. In 52 years in three different stadiums in Arlington, the relocated franchise has failed to win a championship, losing out in World Series in back-to-back seasons, 2010 to the Giants and in 2011 to the Cardinals. MGR Bochy was the Giants manager in 2010, beating Ron Washington’s Rangers. Now Bochy has a chance to even the score for Texas fans with a win over the Diamondbacks.
Diamondbacks Road to WS: The D’backs may, realistically, have been able to win more than 84 games in ‘23, however they had clinched a wildcard berth prior to the weekend, staged a wild pool party in right field and were swept on the final weekend by the Astros as the Rangers watched in helpless dismay. Great drama for MLB, not so great for the Rangers, who are reputed to have long memories.
The three step road to the Final Four took the Diamondbacks through a sweep of the Central Division winning Brewers (2-0), past the West Division champion (and mortal enemy) Dodgers (3-0) and then over the red-hot, (over)confident Phillies (4-3). The D’backs have been underdogs in every series thus far and it continues. Nice to see former Jays first-base coach, MGR Torey Lovullo back in the World Series, after getting there as a Red Sox coach, under Farrell, in 2012. Arizona is 1-0 lifetime in World Series play, beating the Yankees in seven games in 2001, walking off CL Mariano Rivera and the Bronx Bombers behind the dynamic arms of LH Randy Johnson and RH Curt Schilling.
The World Series will likely be decided by the performances offensively of opposing youth brigades, key players with the Rangers and Diamondbacks who are 25-years-of-age or younger. Whichever set of star, young athletes steps up to embrace the moment will have a distinct advantage. For the Rangers, that “kiddy corps” includes LF Evan Carter, CF Leody Taveras and 3B Josh Jung. The D’backs foursome of offensive kinderglovers is led by C Gabby Moreno, OF Corbin Carroll, CF Alek Thomas and SS Geraldo Perdomo. On the other side of the experience coin, the corps of veteran Rangers seems more impressive on the surface, with the caveat being that the Texas middle infield of SS Corey Seager and 2B Marcus Semien, the heart of the past two seasons and a duo that the front office brought in to Arlington to lead the way, needs to be better. Semien has struggled to impact games in the playoffs, batting leadoff, while Seager has a gaudy 1.127 OPS in the post-season that is full of sound and fury, signifying … not much. If any one player is going to inspire the Rangers offence for the next 10 days, it will be RF Adolis Garcia.
The D’backs veteran group is not what has carried them to this point. More, it is an experienced group that has been along for the October ride, other than one key contributor. That otherwise listless veteran corps of Snakes includes LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 1B Christian Walker, 3B Evan Longoria and RF/DH Tommy Pham. Their equivalent of Adolis Garcia, the man most likely to be a difference-maker, is veteran 2B Ketel Marte, with 19 hits, eight extra-base hits and a .986 OPS in 12 games.
The underdog Diamondbacks, entering the series, seem to have a clear advantage in pitching, especially in middle innings 5-8, when that bridge group of relievers must be manipulated, caressed and cajoled by Bochy and Lovullo, in order to optimize the three-batter lanes that suit them the best and seem to have become the darlings of analytics strategy. The Achilles Heel for the Rangers has been the Aroldis Heel. Brought in from the Royals to bolster their playoff run, a month prior to the trade deadline, LH Aroldis Chapman still throws hard, but there is little trust from the dugout whenever he enters in the eighth, with CL Jose LeClerc being called upon for more than three outs, several times, already. Other Rangers struggling out of the pen have been LH Will Smith and RH Chris Stratton. The closer, Leclerc, who evolved into that role as the season progressed, has been used a lot and often looks jumpy with body language and demeanour, falling behind, putting himself in hitters’ counts, then escaping, more often than not. That could haunt him as the Series proceeds.
The Diamondbacks’ Top 2 starting pitchers – RH Zac Gallen and RH Merrill Kelly -- seem more of a sure thing, expecially as they will be available for four of seven games, but the way that RH Nate Eovaldi and LH Jordan Montgomery have performed, far above expectations, it seems like it has evolved into an even matchup. The biggest rotation gap will be evident in Game 3 where Snakes’ RH Brandon Pfaadt has been dominant, while Rangers’ RH Max Scherzer has been trying to re-find his Hall-of-Fame groove. That G3 matchup could also be a G7 matchup. Advantage Arizona.
The best rule change with the most welcomed impact, surrounds the restrictions on defence that were put in place for the 2023 season. Specifically, is the banning of the shift, bringing the purity of infield athleticism and outfield defence back into the equation. It’s been more easily evident in the infield, with special diving stops and plays in the hole at both short and second base. But it does have a trickle-down effect. It has also meant more exciting and difficult outfield opportunities, with catches and near catches that bring fans out of their seats, due to the infielders needing to stay on the infield dirt every pitch. Each of the two competing World Series teams has already supplied highlight reel moments on defence. At this point in time, the difference in the upcoming series that produces a winner will be impossible to predict, but it can almost be guaranteed that the World Series will be decided on what turns into three or four defensive moments that will live forever.
PREDICTION: Diamondbacks in 7