Three World Series Questions for the Arizona Diamondbacks
For the first time since 2001, the Arizona Diamondbacks find themselves back in the World Series facing off against the Texas Rangers. The team has had an incredible journey through October as the third Wild Card team in the National League, steamrolling past the Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. Just like the Rangers, the Diamondbacks have a few questions that are in need of answers over the course of the series.
Can the offense keep up with the Rangers?
The Diamondbacks entered the postseason with not only the worst record but also the lowest run differential among playoff teams. They were the only team with a negative run differential (-15) and ranked in the middle to lower half of the pack in most offensive categories. They aren’t the most high-powered offense like the Rangers —for example, the Diamondbacks had five players with 10+ home runs while the Rangers had 10 — but the Diamondbacks will have to use the brand of baseball that carried them through the year.
One thing the Diamondbacks do exceptionally well is manufacture runs outside of the long ball. The Snakes were about league average when it came to drawing walks at an 8.8% rate, but that worked well with the fact that they didn’t strike out as much in the regular season. They put the ball in play much more as well, resulting in more opportunities to get on base. Then, while on the bases, runners like Corbin Carroll would slither over to second or third and easily score when the next batter made contact. The Diamondbacks were second in all of baseball in stolen bases in 2023 as has been a key to their success throughout the postseason.
Ketel Marte set a Major League record with a hit in 18 straight games to begin a postseason career while he has had a good postseason, there is still a lot to be desired from the rest of the lineup. Thanks to their pitching they won’t have to worry as much, but even a slight uptick in production from Carroll or Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will go a long way in trying to keep pace with a tough Rangers lineup.
Can the bullpen continue to be lights out?
The Diamondbacks have used a solid formula throughout the playoffs: have a starting pitcher go at least five or six innings before turning it over to the bullpen. While it hasn’t been a perfect plan, especially when some of the starting pitchers have been dominating, it has worked for the Diamondbacks regardless of what outside critics have said. The trio of Ryan Thompson, Kevin Ginkle, and Paul Sewald has locked down the bullpen while limiting exposure to other arms in the pen.
Ginkle has been absolutely filthy against opposing batters, wracking up 13 strikeouts in nine innings of work over eight games. He has surrendered just six hits and allowed zero runs this postseason. Thompson has seen the most work at 10.2 innings, but he has allowed just three runs in that span while punching out eight batters. Sewald has locked down the closer role and leads the postseason with six saves entering the World Series, a perfect record so far, and has thrown eight scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts and three hits in total. The rest of the bullpen has been a little shaky but that trio of relievers with a rotation averaging five or six innings a start has proven quite effective for the desert snakes.
Who will be the hero of October?
I feel this is the most important question for the Diamondbacks to discover over the course of the World Series. As mentioned, the offense hasn’t been electric, but it’s been effective. The team works well together but there hasn’t been an incredible standout performance akin to what Adolis García did in the ALCS. Marte and Carroll are easy picks to jumpstart the offense, but will they do enough to be considered the hero of October should the Diamondbacks win it all?
Or will it fall to the pitching staff? We already know about the bullpen guys, but the answer may lie in the rotation starters. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly have been exactly what you’d expect out of the team’s top two starters, but the surprising emergence of rookie Brandon Pfaadt is what is most intriguing. The 24-year-old 2020 fifth-round draft pick didn’t have an excellent 2023 season. He had an ERA north of 5.00 and wasn’t eye-popping across the board. He was solid and did enough that the Diamondbacks continued to carry him on the roster in the postseason.
On the biggest stages of his career, Pfaadt has been that unsuspecting hero. In four starts he has posted a 2.70 ERA in 16.2 innings of work. He leads the team with 22 strikeouts in the postseason and has allowed just three walks and two home runs. He has given up more hits and dealt with a bit more traffic, but he has limited damage and come through in the clutch on the mound. He hasn’t worked deep into games, but essentially working as a long reliever to start the game and hand the ball off to the strong bullpen has paid dividends for the Diamondbacks. The crucible of the World Series yields the unlikeliest of heroes and someone like Pfaadt could easily claim that mantle.
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