Three Notes as World Series Heads to Arizona

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers have already put together quite the dramatic showing in the World Series. With the matchup tied 1-1, we’ve seen an 11th-inning walkoff for the Rangers and an explosive win for the Diamondbacks. Here are several key storylines to watch as the World Series continues.

World Series Notes Heading Into Arizona

Desert Baseball

The Diamondbacks had a chance to win Game 1, and boy, that would have been tough for Texas. However, with Adolis García‘s walkoff, the series suddenly put Arizona on edge. With the Diamondbacks’ electric showing in Game 2, the series heads to Chase Field in Phoenix, essentially giving Arizona home home-field advantage for the rest of the series.

Home-field advantage hasn’t necessarily guaranteed much for teams this postseason (ahem, like both teams winning in the final two games of their respective Championship Series). Nonetheless, the Diamondbacks are probably happy to prepare in their own city and play in front of their crowd. The Diamondbacks faced an 0-2 deficit against the Philadelphia Phillies but rallied to end up winning the series. Texas is a different opponent, of course, but Arizona sits in a much easier place than they did in their previous series.

This sets up some interesting matchup discussions. If Arizona can manage to go 2-1 at home, they will head to Texas with a chance to clinch the World Series by winning either game while visiting in Games 6 or 7. Zac Gallen will be able to pitch in the final game in Arizona, as well.

Games 3 and 4 could be the most stressful strategically for the Diamondbacks. Brandon Pfaadt will be tasked with continuing his sensational postseason run while likely running a bullpen game the following day. Having the home crowd at their backs could be a bonus in those tense moments. Likewise, the Rangers will have to deal with a raucous crowd as they manage the part of their rotation that has struggled to put together consistent results this October.

Struggling Starters

Merrill Kelly put together a dominant, seven-inning showing in Game 2 as he shut down the Rangers. Otherwise, both teams have seen the struggles of a marathon season tax their pitchers.

Zac Gallen and Nathan Eovaldi had to scuffle through an anxious Game 1. Gallen, notably, walked four batters. He only walked four batters in a start once in the regular season. Gallen is such an elite pitcher because of his ability to command the strike zone. Is he bearing the side effects of just pitching so much this year? In 2022, Gallen pitched 184 innings. This season, including the postseason, Gallen has pitched 237 1/3 innings. His fastball velocity was actually up one mile per hour in his Game 1 start, but his control was clearly an issue at times. His approach to the Texas lineup seemed solid, but was unable to execute consistently enough against such a dangerous lineup to work a clean game.

Eovaldi had his worst playoff start, as well. He struck out eight and only walked one, but the Diamondbacks managed to string together enough hits to capitalize on the traffic that they did generate. Eovaldi’s splitter was still fantastic at generating whiffs, but his fastball was hit well by the Diamondbacks’ lineup.

Jordan Montgomery is perhaps the most worrisome case for Texas. After his excellent Championship Series, in which he was asked to pitch in Game 7, he seemed fatigued as he grinded through six innings. He gave up eight hard hits without striking out a single batter. His velocity took a serious dip and it was clear the Diamondbacks were able to use this to foul off difficult pitches rather than strike out. Arizona’s ability to put the ball in play and create offense through their baserunning is an avenue that Montgomery will have to rebound on in his next start. With another turn through the rotation on normal rest, Montgomery can still make a big impact on this series.

This takes our attention to Game 3. Max Scherzer is on the mound for Texas. His postseason run has taken place with the backdrop of his recent injury lurking as the easy storyline for his struggles. It is still Max Scherzer that we are talking about, but there have to be some encouraging signs early that his physical form is not a barrier to his performance. The Diamondbacks have already put together an impressive list of starting pitchers that they have jumped on this postseason.

Things will not be any easier for Brandon Pfaadt. The Rangers, like the Phillies, have a sense of aggression in their approach. Pfaadt was scintillating in that series against Philadelphia, but the Rangers have a bundle of hitters who can play a more patient game while still understanding when to get aggressive. Starting pitching is such a crucial aspect for this series if neither team trusts their bullpen to carry a workload. Texas has an opportunity, with their deep lineup, to score a punch early on a young pitcher and force the Diamondbacks to burn through their relievers before a likely bullpen game.

Unexpected Heroes and Struggling Veterans

The Rangers entered this series as favorites largely because of their ability to score against anybody with a serious power approach. Corey Seager, Adolis García, Josh Jung, you name it. They have oodles of players capable of launching one out of the park. Mitch Garver, especially, has been receiving more attention this World Series after an excellent regular season. Garver had 344 plate appearances this year, which was his most since 2019. Despite playing only 87 games, he was fifth on the team with 19 home runs. Keep an eye on how opposing pitchers approach Garver this series as he was the best fastball hitter on the team with 10 runs above average on the pitch- and he did that in only 87 games.

Texas has received contributions from so much of their lineup that it truly taxes an opposing pitcher. It’s hard to find many matchup advantages. Players like Seager can swing at nearly anything. Evan Carter has shown astounding patience for someone with such little major league experience. Then follow that with García again and it forces the pitcher to have perfectly manage their pitch mix and locations. Even in their 9-1 loss in Game 2, Nathaniel Lowe and Josh Jung managed two hard-hit balls each from the bottom third of the order.

In Arizona’s lineup, we’ve seen Gabriel Moreno become a consistent three-hole hitter with his .816 postseason OPS. His home run came against Montgomery’s singer at the top of the zone, a pitch he struggled to hit in the regular season with a -7 run valueAlek Thomas has lived up to his offensive potential with a .871 OPS this October. The television broadcast crew noted how Thomas was in the lineup in Game 2 despite facing a lefty and followed through on manager Torey Lovullo‘s trust despite the platoon disadvantage.

Tommy Pham was a star in Game 2, as well, with a 4-for-4 night that set him up to score twice. Geraldo Perdomo has lived up to his billing as an All-Star this season. The shortstop is hitting almost .300 while providing good defense and speed on the bases.

However, the Diamondbacks have seen some keystone players fumble their way through October. Evan Longoria (.438 OPS) and Christian Walker (.631 OPS) are regular starters, but they have mostly been a detriment to the offense thus far. That could change, especially for Walker, but the struggles have extended for several weeks now. Both teams will be forced to rely heavily on their bullpens in the coming days, opening the window for players to make an impact no matter if they have been on fire or struggling. Will Texas be able to power their way to a championship, or will Arizona continue to scrape together big innings with their speed?

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