Every February and March baseball prognosticator types get together and make lists for the upcoming season. Who will win the Division? Who will be the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, or Rookie of the Year winner in each league? And yes, who will be in the World Series. Next year, for that last question I think I’m just going to put all of the teams in two different hats, one for the American League and one for the National League, draw names and justify how that World Series came to be after I draw names. It has as much of a chance of predicting the World Series as I had in 2023.
Diamondbacks over Rangers: The How Did We Get Here World Series
The first thing I’ll say about this World Series is that both teams are well above the meteor line that I set at the outset of the postseason.
Postseason rooting interests in order with the Cubs eliminated:— Sara Sanchez (@BCB_Sara) October 1, 2023
The Rays are the meteor line, but if I have to...
That, in and of itself is a plus. Savvy readers will look at that list and be like “But Sara! You have the Rangers over the Diamondbacks in that list!” I did, you are correct. But truly the margins here were so small, I’ve flipped back and forth on who I am cheering for here throughout the postseason. It was really in the last series that I decided I was cheering for the National League no matter what. Thankfully, non-primary postseason rooting interests are not etched in stone and I am allowed to change my mind.
After all, both teams gave me reasons to cheer for them all October. These teams are fun. The offenses can be electric for different reasons. And while I would understand if you dislike the Rangers for personal or political reasons, or are still mad at the Diamondbacks because they really were the team that took down the Cubs at the end of the day, I think there are very good reasons to like both of these teams but I’ve got to go with the Diamondbacks by a slim margin.
The Diamondbacks made one small adjustment to their World Series roster, replacing their 13th pitcher, Slade Cecconi, with utility man Jace Peterson. That means they’ll roll with 12 pitchers and 14 position players. Let’s take a look at the whole roster below:
I’m not going to lie, I’ve looked at this roster dozens of times since this team took out the Cubs in September and the question I keep asking myself is “How?” How does this team keep beating every team that stood in the path? Surely the 2023 Cubs as constructed were at least as good as this Diamondbacks crew — and yet, they dropped six of seven to them playing their way out of the postseason down the stretch. It wasn’t just the Cubs, though. So far this postseason the 84-win Diamondbacks have bested the 92-win Brewers, the 100-win Dodgers and the 90-win (and 2022 pennant winning) Phillies. Every time Arizona has needed to win, they have turned up the volume and found a way to win.
I think two things give the Diamondbacks an edge in this series and no, one of them is not Dustin Pedroia’s motivational speaking talent. When the Diamondbacks can run, their offense is much better than when they try to play station-to-station. With 16 stolen bases in the postseason Arizona is tied for the lead with the Phillies. If they can run on Texas they can supercharge their offense a bit and stand a much better chance against a Rangers team that Vegas sees as a favorite. Digging into the chances that the D-backs can run on the Rangers was a bit tricky. The Rangers have only given up three stolen bases all postseason, but they’ve also played teams who didn’t really run all that much this postseason in the Rays, Orioles and Astros. According to Statcast’s Caught Stealing Above Average metric, Rangers catcher Jonah Heim is one of the top ten catchers in baseball at controlling the running game. Keep an eye on that variable early because if the D-Backs can run on the bases, they may wind up with a bit of an edge here:
One of the main reasons that the Diamondbacks were able to ultimately best the Phillies was their pitching. Their relievers gave up almost nothing once they got a lead. Arizona’s relievers are 5-0 across 49 innings pitched this postseason with an ERA of 2.94. Admittedly, that is overperforming their 3.40 FIP, but it’s also excellent. Unsurprisingly, they lead all postseason teams with six saves so far this October. Compare that to the Rangers bullpen, which is 3-2 across 48⅓ innings pitched this postseason with a 3.72 ERA off a 5.28 WHIP.
Potential bullpen woes aside, the Rangers aren’t here by accident and if you wanted to make the case for them it would go something like this. Stolen bases aside, the Rangers are the better overall offense here. They lead all teams in the postseason with 71 runs scored. The Phillies were second at 61, the Diamondbacks are 20 runs behind with 51 runs over the same number of games played (12). If you want to look at team wRC+ — the ability of each team to score runs in a given situation relative to a adjusted average baseline of 100, the Diamondbacks are merely average at 99, while the Rangers were the best offense in the postseason with a team wRC+ of 124. Arizona will not only need their relievers to continue to dominate, they will need rookie Brandon Pfaadt to continue his best pitching run of the season. Pfaadt has started four games in the postseason with an ERA of 2.70 off a 2.72 FIP compared to a 5.72 ERA and 5.18 FIP in the regular season.
The Rangers’ World Series roster is identical to the crew they ran out in the American League Championship Series. Let’s take a closer look to get a better idea of where all of that offensive power comes from:
Honestly, if you are the Rangers and you finally managed to win the Battle of Texas, why change what is working? The offense is elite. And while the bullpen has been an adventure, the starting pitching has been great. Texas starters have thrown 59⅔ innings in 12 games compared to 57 innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 12 games. The Rangers starters have a 3.62 ERA off a 3.61 FIP while the D-Backs have a 3.63 ERA off a 4.94 FIP. It will be interesting to see if the Rangers bats can exploit that gap between ERA and FIP more than the Phillies were able to.
You really couldn’t script a more unlikely matchup of two teams who were constructed in very different ways. Arizona is a collection of rookie talent with a few free agents who have minimal postseason experience. They don’t seem to care that no one expected them to be here, nor do they care about Vegas odds or discourse on the postseason format. The Rangers spent a lot of money in two consecutive offseasons, traded for one of the best pitchers of a generation in Max Scherzer and have guys who have been there before. I absolutely love the possibilities of either of these teams emerging triumphant from the Fall Classic, but after doubting them for months I just can’t bring myself to doubt the Diamondbacks again. Snakes in seven, and here’s hoping it’s a World Series to remember before the long dark of the offseason.
Who are you cheering for in the World Series?
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