But while that was an extremely unlikely matchup, especially the D’backs portion of the equation, that doesn’t mean this showdown isn’t a good one. In fact, it is pretty darn interesting, even knowing both teams are just two years removed from losing more than 100 games.
Rebuilding or retooling doesn’t have to take as long if you have a farm system ready to go, which was the case with the Rangers and D’backs.
The path these teams took to the World Series was very different, with the Rangers coughing up a 2½-game lead in the American League West during the final four days of the regular season and the D’backs having a good September before dropping into the final National League wild-card spot. Both lost tiebreakers to sink them into worse seeding. The D’backs also had a negative run differential at minus-15 and are still in the red despite outscoring their postseason foes 51-41.
But the postseason washes away those blemishes. The Rangers won their first seven postseason games, eliminating the Tampa Bay Rays on the road, then the top-seeded Baltimore Orioles before outlasting the defending World Series champion Houston Astros — who overtook the Rangers to win the West — in a seven-game AL Championship Series. Meanwhile, the D’backs swept the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card Series, then the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers before overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the NLCS to upset last year’s World Series runner-up, the Philadelphia Phillies, in seven games.
With that background, here is a postion-by-position breakdown of the Rangers-D’backs series that begins Friday with Texas hosting the first two games before shifting to Arizona.
By the way, I don’t care about TV ratings. Only TV executives and team owners have a vested interest in that due to ad dollars and future contracts.
Projected Batting Order
Gabriel Moreno was acquired by the D’backs in the offseason from the Toronto Blue Jays (along with outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.) in exchange for catcher-outfielder Daulton Varsho. Moreno was a top prospect stuck behind Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen and the Blue Jays wanted to upgrade their outfield. At the time, it was thought of to be a pretty fair trade. But with how Moreno has played following Carson Kelly’s season-ending broken arm in spring training and subsequent release, the deal appears favorable from the Arizona perspective. Not only does Moreno handle the staff well, but he has been a clutch hitter. He has been dinged up a couple of times this postseason, most notably the concussion sustained in Game 2 against the Brewers, but that comes with putting on the tools of ignorance.
Jonah Heim is fairly similar to Moreno in overall production, he just doesn’t have the hype considering the Rangers are his fourth franchise. Heim struggled offensively in the second half due to a wrist injury. But he handles the staff well.
At a premium power position, neither the Rangers’ Nathaniel Lowe nor the D’backs’ Christian Walker have exactly lived up to expectations this postseason. Lowe has three homers and a .224 batting average in the postseason, while Walker has gone deep once and is hitting .174 after hitting 33 homers this season. Lowe has yet to fully tap into his immense power as he had just 17 regular-season homers. As has been well-documented, Lowe’s mother is battling brain cancer and that could be holding him back on the field. Walker, meanwhile, appears to be pressing.
Advantage: Slim edge to Rangers.
If you compared the Rangers’ Marcus Semien to the D’backs’ Ketel Marte before the postseason, you would have thought this spot would be a no-brainer in Texas’ favor. Not so fast. Semien slashed .276/.348/.478 with 29 homers and 100 RBIs in the regular season, starting and batting leadoff all 162 games, likely garnering down-ballot AL MVP votes. Marte wasn’t that far behind with a .276/.358/.485 slash line, 25 homers, and 82 RBIs. Semien’s postseason production has been down, hitting just .192 at .192/.276/.231 with no homers and two RBIs, while Marte has been on fire with a .358/.382/.684, two homers, and seven RBIs. He has hit in all 12 postseason games this season and set the MLB record with a 16-game hitting streak to open his playoff career. Marte has been the heartbeat of the D’backs’ offense as key contributors other than Moreno have been inconsistent or are struggling. That the Rangers have been able to get to the Fall Classic without getting much offensively from Semien says more about the depth of the lineup.
Josh Jung has had a really nice rookie season for the Rangers and that has continued in the postseason, with three more homers following 23 in the regular season. He has a .289/.320/.600 slash line and has not been overwhelmed by the intensity of the playoffs. The D’backs, meanwhile, are trotting out 38-year-old Evan Longoria, who, until the postseason began, hadn’t started consecutive games at third base since June 29-30. But Longoria, who hit .223 in the regular season, has had a couple of moments in the postseason, particularly against the Brewers. He is often replaced late by Emmanuel Rivera. Rivera started at third in Game 7 of the NLCS with Longoria as the DH, but that caused a shuffle in the outfield.
Arizona’s Geraldo Perdomo has picked up his offensive contributions from the regular season, when he hit six homers with a .246/.353/.359 slash line. The 24-year-old has a pair of homers and is slashing .278/.366/.444. But while that is nice for the D’backs, Perdomo is no match for Rangers star Corey Seager. A leading AL MVP candidate, Seager had been fairly silent in the postseason before coming alive in Game 7 of the ALCS with three hits and his second homer this postseason. That could be trouble for the D’backs if Seager is ready to go on a tear.
Evan Carter did not make his MLB debut for the Rangers until Sept. 8, just 10 days after turning 21. That he is now hitting third in a potent Rangers offense speaks to Carter’s talent. He earned the nickname “Full Count Carter” in the minors for his propensity to work the count and accrued 1.6 bWAR in just 23 regular-season games. That has continued in the six weeks since his call-up. Carter has yet to go deep in the postseason after five homers in the regular season. Carter has been benched in favor of veteran Robbie Grossman vs. left-handers, but the top three D’backs starters are all right-handers. Gurriel, the other half of the D’backs’ haul in the Moreno trade, has been one of the steady veterans on a young roster. Gurriel, who went deep 24 times in the regular season, has added a pair of long balls in the playoffs.
Alek Thomas has been one of the breakout figures in the postseason for the D’backs, hitting four home runs, including a tying solo shot in the eighth inning of NLCS Game 4 that Arizona won 6-5. But Thomas hasn’t stuck in the starting lineup, often sitting against left-handers and Tommy Pham starting in right field. Leody Taveras is the rare defense-first player in the Rangers’ lineup. Taveras does have one postseason homer after hitting 14 in the regular season and adds a little speed, with four stolen bases in the playoffs.
Advantage: Slight edge to D’backs.
A marquee positional matchup. Corbin Carroll lived up to the preseason hype and is the probable NL Rookie of the Year for the D’backs. Carroll slashed .285/.362/.506 with 25 homers and 54 steals, the first rookie in the 25-50 club. In the postseason, Carroll is at .295/.396/.455 with two homers and four steals and provides the ignition for the D’backs’ offense from the leadoff spot. Against left-handers, Carroll slides over to center, with Pham starting in right.
Adolis García took center stage in the ALCS in leading the Rangers past the Astros. He was named ALCS MVP, hitting five homers and driving in 15 while slashing .357/.400/.893, including four hits and two homers in Game 7. Overall this postseason, Garcia is slashing .327/.352/.750 with seven homers and 20 RBIs. the most runs driven in before the World Series in MLB history. Garcia crushed 39 homers during the regular season and drove in 107. Defensively, Garcia has the superior arm over Carroll, a big factor whether Carroll is in right or center. Both are keys to how their teams perform.
Advantage: Slight edge to Rangers.
Mitch Garver has struggled with his defense and battled injuries, limiting his time at catcher. But he can hit, particularly homers, which is why he has settled into the DH role for the Rangers. Garver slashed .270/.370/.500 with 19 homers in 296 at-bats during the regular season and is at .294/.368/.529 with two homers and 11 RBIs in the playoffs. Garver did take a 97 mph fastball to the ribs in Game 7 of the ALCS and eventually was replaced, but Garver said he is good to go for Game 1 of the World Series. The D’backs alternate DHs, with Pham getting a lot of time and slashing .256/.328/.446 for the season with six of his 16 homers and 32 of his 68 RBIs since coming over at the trade deadline from the New York Mets. Longoria also moves to DH when Rivera starts at third.
As you might expect, this is the most volatile position to analyze just because of how fickle starting pitching is in the postseason, much less a World Series. Both teams have three starters they trust — Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and Brandon Pfaadt for the D’backs, Nathan Eovaldi, Jordan Montgomery, and Max Scherzer for the Rangers. Scherzer, who has pitched twice in the last month, both coming in the postseason with less-than-stellar results, has the best reputation of all these starters. The Rangers have the experience edge with Eovaldi also having a good history before this postseason. The well-traveled Montgomery has been very good this postseason. The D’backs’ young guns have stood tall, in particular, Pfaadt, a little-known rookie. What could decide this World Series is which of these pitchers struggles and brings on the bullpen early. Speaking of the bullpen, it is likely that Game 4 could see a bullpen game by both teams.
While the Rangers’ bullpen was pretty bad, posting a 4.77 ERA, in the regular season, that unit has stepped up in the postseason. The Rangers have a 3.72 bullpen ERA and have a .217 opponent batting average. The D’backs, meanwhile, have a 2.94 ERA and .226 opponent batting average. Arizona has struck out 10 more batters in just two-thirds of an inning more than Texas. Josh Sborz has been really good in the postseason for the Rangers, who have not been able to rely on left-handers Aroldis Chapman and Will Smith for consistent outs. Rangers closer José Leclerc has been fun to watch, but he isn’t lights out and has yielded three homers in 10⅓ innings. Paul Sewald, meanwhile, has shored up the back end of the D’backs’ bullpen since coming over from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline. Kevin Ginkel has followed up a really good regular season (2.49 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) with nine scoreless innings and 13 strikeouts to set up Sewald. Ryan Thompson and Andrew Saalfrank have also been reliable for the D’backs.
This comparison isn’t fair. Bruce Bochy, in his first season with the Rangers, won three World Series with the San Francisco Giants in a five-year span and this is his fifth Fall Classic in a 26-year managerial career. Torey Lovullo, meanwhile, is in his seventh season as the D’backs’ skipper and is in his first World Series. Lovullo has made some shrewd moves in the postseason while having Bochy in the dugout has instilled confidence in the Rangers. Lovullo has also used all of the negative media — like constantly reminding that the D’backs were picked fourth in the NL West — as a motivational tool. Managing the bullpen for both managers will be the biggest challenge. Which pitcher will they call upon in an unexpected situation and how will they handle it?
Advantage: Slight edge to Rangers.
If you are keeping score at home, congratulations on being able to count. (Just kidding!) The Rangers have a 7-4-1 advantage in the position analysis, which might seem like a rout. Now, it could turn out that way if Seager, Garcia and the Rangers’ offense continue to deliver like they did in the regular season. Their power plays in the postseason. For the D’backs to keep it close, not only will they need to continue to play with a chip on their shoulder, Carroll will have to continue his Game 7 success and the running game will need to be more of a factor after that was kept in check in the NLCS. Ultimately, it will be the D’backs’ pitching that determines how this World Series goes.
Prediction: Rangers in six.