ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Diamondbacks-Rangers World Series preview: Pitching, defense

Oct 27, 2023, 1:45 PM

Zac Gallen...

Zac Gallen #23 of the Arizona Diamondbacks throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning during Game Five of the Championship Series at Chase Field on October 21, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

ARLINGTON — The Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers climbed out of their division cellars in 2021 to reach the World Series two years later.

The D-backs came back from down 2-0 and then 3-2 against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS to win their first pennant since 2001.

The Rangers played an ALCS against the Houston Astros in which the road team won every game, and Texas captured the final two in Minute Maid Park to reach the Fall Classic for the first time since 2011. The Rangers are one of six MLB teams without a World Series trophy.

Game 1 from Arlington is set for Friday at 5:03 p.m.

Diamondbacks-Rangers preview: Defense

Starting pitching

The D-backs will roll with the same rotation they used in the NLCS: Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Brandon Pfaadt and they’ll figure out Game 4.

The Rangers have not made such proclamations beyond starting Nathan Eovladi in Game 1. Southpaw Jordan Montgomery took the ball in Game 1 in the NLCS, while veteran Max Scherzer started Games 3 and 7 after a month off due to injury.

The D-backs lost three of four starts by Gallen and Kelly against Philadelphia, including both Gallen games. He has eclipsed the 230-inning mark and highlighted execution being the main issue in the NLCS (nine runs in 11 innings).

“I feel like I didn’t help the guys that much, so I’m looking to try and pull my weight this time around,” Gallen said. “But for me, it’s really just about executing pitches. We’ve got only a handful of games left so give it my all and see what happens.”

Kelly put up five one-run innings in Game 6, and the rookie Pfaadt had himself a series with 9.2 innings and two earned runs.

The D-backs have leaned on their 1A and 1B this year, but Pfaadt has reliably kept scoring down this postseason, as he continues to come into his own as a major leaguer.

Eovaldi and Montgomery have been everything the Rangers could have asked for as veterans helping this team take the next step. Eovaldi came over as a free agent and has won all four of his postseason starts with a 2.42 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.

He threw in the 2018 World Series for the Boston Red Sox but not as a starter.

“Coming in, having Game 1, trying to set a tone for the team, there’s a lot of pressure with that, but also a lot of excitement,” Eovaldi said. “But definitely ready for this opportunity to go out there, compete against a really good lineup.”

Montgomery was a midseason trade addition who helped stabilize the top of the rotation over the final two months (2.76 ERA).

Scherzer has not thrown much for them (10 games, including playoffs) since getting traded by the Mets at the deadline due to a right teres major injury.

In Game 4 of the ALCS, the Rangers tried regular season starters in lefty Andrew Heaney and righty Dane Dunning before turning to the bullpen.

The Rangers also shelled out for former Mets star Jacob deGrom over the winter, but he has missed most of the season due to Tommy John surgery.

So both teams will be relying on a top-end duo while hoping to get the most out of their No. 3s and don’t have obvious set starters for Game 4.

Advantage: Wash

Bullpen

The Diamondbacks’ bullpen has been a marvel this postseason. If you take out the 10-0 loss to the Phillies in Game 2, the unit has gone 67.2 innings with 11 earned runs for an ERA of 1.46.

It has been a continuation of the final five weeks of the regular season when Arizona’s bullpen turned around with closer Paul Sewald and setup man Kevin Ginkel locking down the back end. Side-armer Ryan Thompson joined Arizona after it last faced Texas as a free agent and is now a trusted high-leverage option, and lefty Andrew Saalfrank made his MLB debut in September.

“They go out and collect huge outs all coming from different angles, different stuff, different shapes of their pitches and it’s a very good balance,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said on Thursday. “We did have a lot of blown saves prior to getting Paul to coming in. I think that’s why the run differential is so lopsided and looks a little awkward. I get asked that question.

“Once we got Paul, it sewed up that ninth inning, allowed everybody to fall backwards, gave Kevin Ginkel an opportunity to be a better version of himself and we took off.”

Sewald is a perfect 6-for-6 in save chances this postseason, while Ginkel has nine shutout innings with 13 strikeouts.

The Rangers also made changes to the bullpen this year, although the unit has not been as effective. Only the Angels had a higher home run rate as a bullpen in the final two months of the regular season, in which time Texas’ 4.67 reliever ERA resembled the 2022 D-backs. Texas relievers had the highest barrel rate allowed over the final two months.

Josh Sborz has had a breakout postseason with 8.2 one-run innings, although that’s a small sample for someone with a 5.50 ERA in the regular season (3.75 FIP).

Aroldis Chapman was their big-name trade acquisition for the back end, and he blew a save against the D-backs in their last matchup after Marte took him yard. His ERA jumped from 2.45 with the Royals before the trade to 3.72 in Texas, but the veteran has a career 2.27 ERA in the playoffs and can hit 102 mph.

Texas has tried several arms at closer this year and landed on Jose Leclerc (2.68 ERA) down the stretch.

Advantage: D-backs

Defense

The D-backs committed the fewest errors in baseball this season, followed closely by the Rangers at No. 2.

Both were top seven teams in defensive runs saved, outs above average and ultimate zone rating, and taking a look defender by defender, there are not many holes with either team.

The D-backs’ defense has been sharp this postseason with Gold Glove finalists at first base (Christian Walker), catcher (Gabriel Moreno) and center field (Alek Thomas).

The Rangers know firsthand what Thomas can do when he gets a read on a ball:

Leody Taveras and Adolis Garcia had terrific years in the outfield, as the latter has one of the best outfield arms in the league.

Catcher Jonah Heim, second baseman Marcus Semien, shortstop Corey Seager and first baseman Nathaniel Lowe all received Gold Glove nominations in the infield.

Heim was tied for fourth among catchers in outs above average this year with five. Moreno was first with nine.

“I think if you look at both clubs, it’s amazing how close we are as far as errors, both teams play well defensively,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said on Thursday.

“I’ve always been a big believer in pitching, defense, we talked about it this spring. Every team does, I know that. But that has to show up every day. Hitting and pitching, it’s going to come and go, but we need to catch the ball and don’t beat ourselves.”

Advantage: Wash

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