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2023 World Series preview: Rangers or D-backs? Who will be MVP? Predictions, inside intel and odds

2dESPN Fantasy & Betting Staff


Jeff Passan previews the Rangers-Diamondbacks World Series (1:27)

Jeff Passan tells Scott Van Pelt about the “clash of styles” between the Rangers and Diamondbacks ahead of their World Series showdown. (1:27)

The 2023 World Series begins tonight in Arlington, Texas.

The Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks punched their tickets in two thrilling league championship series that went the distance. Both teams came from behind to win Games 6 and 7 on the road — with the D-backs upsetting the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park and the Rangers taking down their instate rivals, the reigning champion Houston Astros, at Minute Maid Park.

With the first pitch of World Series Game 1 scheduled for 8:03 p.m. ET at Globe Life Field, we dive into the players and matchups that matter most for both teams. We also asked our ESPN MLB experts to make their picks for who will win the Series, how many games it will take and who will be the MVP of this Fall Classic.

Jump to: Rangers | Diamondbacks | Our predictions

Texas Rangers

63.6% chance of winning | Caesars odds: -170

What’s on the line for the Rangers: The first World Series title in franchise history — ending a drought not as long as those the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs once had, and certainly not as infamous, but a long drought nonetheless. Born in 1961 as the second incarnation of the Washington Senators, the franchise moved to the Metroplex in 1972 and lost 205 games its first two seasons, later inspiring a book titled “Seasons in Hell.” The Rangers didn’t make the playoffs until 1996 and finally reached the World Series in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, they lost to their current manager, Bruce Bochy, and his San Francisco Giants in five games. In 2011, they fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in the most agonizing fashion: They were leading 7-5 in Game 6 entering the bottom of the ninth, only to blow the game and then drop Game 7 as well.

Bochy is already a future Hall of Famer based on the three titles he won with the Giants, but a fourth championship would put him in an elite inner circle that includes Casey Stengel (7), Joe McCarthy (7), Connie Mack (5), Walter Alston (4) and Joe Torre (4). Adolis Garcia, with seven home runs and 20 RBIs, has a chance to put his stamp on one of the greatest individual postseasons ever (he’s just one RBI from tying David Freese’s record of 21 in 2011). And here’s a fun one: Corey Seager could join Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson as the only two-time World Series MVPs. — David Schoenfield

Three reasons Texas can win:

  1. The lineup: At the moment, Adolis Garcia is producing like a superstar from the cleanup spot, and if Marcus Semien and Corey Seager perform at the top of the lineup and continue to feed him RBI opportunities, the Rangers are incredibly difficult to beat. But what separates this lineup is its depth. Texas had Jonah Heim, an All-Star catcher this year, Nathaniel Lowe, a Silver Slugger Award-winning first baseman last year, and Josh Jung, a breakout rookie third baseman, occupying the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 spots, respectively, in its last two wins in Houston.

  2. Nathan Eovaldi and Jordan Montgomery: The Rangers have pitching concerns, to be sure, but not necessarily with these two. Eovaldi and Montgomery have combined for a 2.29 ERA in 51 innings this postseason, acting as major stabilizers at the top of the rotation. Eovaldi, with a 2.87 ERA in 69 career postseason innings, lines up to start Friday’s Game 1, and Montgomery, who recorded seven outs in relief of Max Scherzer in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, lines up for Saturday’s Game 2. The Rangers need Eovaldi and Montgomery to pitch deep into games, and so far they’ve been doing that.

  3. Resilience: The Rangers lost eight consecutive games near the end of August, then won seven of eight near the end of September. They lost the division on the final day of the regular season, then reeled off seven consecutive postseason victories. They lost all three games played in their home park during the ALCS, highlighted by a gut-wrenching loss in Game 5, but then came back to win two straight in Houston to advance to the World Series. This is a relatively young group, but it has shown it can overcome practically anything. Bochy, of course, is a big part of that. — Alden Gonzalez

Where the Rangers are vulnerable: The back of the bullpen remains thin. Texas has gotten this far because Bochy has managed to steer his club into workable situations for his high-leverage crew, which, at this point, might just be Josh Sborz and Jose Leclerc. The Rangers’ staff is set up to cover innings in the event of a short outing from a starter, but where it gets dicey is protecting a one- or two-run lead for three or four innings. That’s Arizona’s task: Create high-leverage moments in the middle innings that force Bochy to extend his key relievers and risk wearing them out or turn to lead protectors he might prefer to avoid in key spots. — Bradford Doolittle

Jeff Passan’s inside intel:

  • One number from Garcia’s postseason stands out to scouts every bit as much as the seven home runs he has hit: zero walks. Typically, Garcia is not allergic to free passes — he took 65 this season — but his eagerness to swing this postseason could prove problematic if the Diamondbacks execute pitches. Among hitters with at least 30 plate appearances this postseason, Garcia is swinging at the highest percentage of pitches (58.9%) and has whiffed on 45 of the 192 pitches thrown to him, the most of any player.

  • As exceptional as he is at framing pitches, Rangers catcher Heim could be tested by Diamondbacks baserunners. Heim has a strong arm, but the transfer time between his glove and hand is well below average and leads to pop times — the length of time from when a ball hits a catcher’s glove to when it hits the fielder’s at second base — that are around the 50th percentile across baseball. To make up for that, it’s incumbent on Texas pitchers to be quick to the plate, a mandate that often throws them off their rhythm.

  • More than 70% of the Rangers’ 63 innings in the ALCS were thrown by five pitchers: Jordan Montgomery (14), Nathan Eovaldi (12.1), Max Scherzer (6.2), Josh Sborz (6) and Jose Leclerc (5.1). However good they were — especially Montgomery and Sborz — the biggest question about the Rangers is on whom Bochy can rely in the middle innings and in all of Games 3, 4 and, potentially, 7. Trusting Aroldis Chapman is a dicey proposition, with his propensity for walks. Jon Gray was great in the regular season but has pitched just one inning since coming off the injured list before the Houston series. Pitching depth was perhaps the foremost concern for the Rangers coming into this month, and even as they’ve reached the World Series, it hasn’t abated.

Arizona Diamondbacks

36.4% chance of winning | Caesars odds: +145

What’s on the line for the D-backs: The ultimate underdog wins it all. The Diamondbacks are already just the second team to reach the World Series after being outscored in the regular season, joining the 1987 Minnesota Twins. With an 84-78 record, the only World Series participants with a worse record were the 1973 New York Mets (82-79) and 2006 Cardinals (83-78). We can debate whether this devalues the regular season, but one way to look at it: You don’t have to build a superteam to win a World Series — and maybe that’s good for the sport.

After all, this is the first Fall Classic since 2016 without the Houston Astros or Los Angeles Dodgers, the two teams (and now joined by the Atlanta Braves) that have dominated the regular season in recent years. A little new blood isn’t the worst thing — even if the Diamondbacks weren’t a great team in the regular season. (Also: It gives those cheapskate owners no excuse in refusing to invest in their teams. The Diamondbacks are proof that any team can still win it all, not just the deep-pocketed blue bloods.) — Schoenfield

Three reasons Arizona can win

  1. Pitching coach Brent Strom: Instead of naming a bunch of pitchers, let’s just pick the guy in charge of them. He’s a national treasure — whom few know about. He helped the Astros to their amazing playoff runs, and now he’s doing the same in Arizona. With few exceptions, every mound visit and every game plan from Strom seem to work. There’s no reason he can’t channel the same magic against a Rangers team that can’t brag about its bullpen the same way the D-backs can.

  2. Corbin Carroll: We got a taste of his greatness in the final game of the National League Championship Series as he came alive against left-handed pitching and on the bases. The Rangers have great players, but pound for pound, Carroll can match them. Ketel Marte had his turn as the MVP last round; Carroll will take home that honor in the World Series — impacting the game in ways only he can.

  3. Experience and confidence: The Rangers have had a nice run, but the D-backs have seen it all this postseason — and it should matter. They won’t get a more hostile environment in Texas than the one they just went through in Philadelphia, so playing on the road should be a piece of cake for them. The Rangers can thump, but there’s a sneaky balance to the Diamondbacks’ lineup, which has peaked at the right time. In other words, the D-backs are playing with extreme confidence. That wasn’t the case at the beginning of the last series, when they didn’t run or pitch very well. Expect a better start to the World Series in Games 1 and 2. — Jesse Rogers

Where the D-backs are vulnerable: Depending on how you want to view Arizona’s 6-5 win in Game 4 of the NLCS, the Diamondbacks haven’t really won any shootouts during the postseason, and it’s really not how they are built. It is, on the other hand, the thing that makes the Rangers look unbeatable at times — sheer firepower. The Diamondbacks have to play from ahead to win this series because the Rangers’ lineup is deep and momentum-based. Early rallies turn into unsightly crooked numbers in a hurry, and Texas is more adept at doing that than anyone. It’s incumbent that the Arizona starters keep the Rangers down early, because the Snakes simply can’t keep up if the Rangers’ offense gets on a roll. — Doolittle

Jeff Passan’s inside intel:

  • Not only is Gabriel Moreno one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, he has been the most clutch hitter for the Diamondbacks this postseason, leading the team with five hits with runners in scoring position, the third most this postseason behind Adolis Garcia (nine) and Texas DH Mitch Garver (six). To suggest that Arizona can match Texas’ offensive firepower would be foolish. But if the Diamondbacks want to win a ring, they’re going to have to be better with RISP. In 125 such plate appearances, the Rangers are hitting .296/.376/.519 this October. The D-backs? Just .245/.330/.340 in 113 opportunities.

  • Arizona needs to pitch backward, because the Rangers are crushing fastballs. The Rangers came into the postseason a good fastball-hitting team. Against four-seamers and sinkers in the 91-to-95-mph range — among Diamondbacks pitchers, only Kevin Ginkel, Miguel Castro and Luis Frias regularly throw theirs harder — Texas hit .279/.371/.496 in the regular season. In the playoffs, they’ve taken their midrange heater hitting up a level: .328/.400/.629, the best OPS of any playoff team that got out of the wild-card round.

  • In two NLCS innings, left-handed reliever Andrew Saalfrank walked seven batters. Manager Torey Lovullo trusted him in high-leverage spots against the Phillies’ left-handed mashers — and if Arizona continues its habit of pulling starting pitchers early, he’ll have to call upon the rookie at some point to handle a lineup that includes lefty hitters Corey Seager (who handles lefties well), Nathaniel Lowe and rookie Evan Carter (who are a combined 3-for-15 with one extra-base hit and one walk against southpaws this postseason).

Our predictions

Texas Rangers (9 votes)

Arizona Diamondbacks (3 votes)

How many games?

  • Rangers in 6 (7 votes)

  • D-backs in 7 (3 votes)

  • Rangers in 7 (2 votes)

MVP: Corey Seager (4 votes); Nathan Eovaldi (4 votes); Corbin Carroll (2 votes); Marcus Semien (1 vote); Christian Walker (1 vote)

Why are the Rangers the overwhelming choice here? Quite simply, we know more about them, and know they can handle the moment. Corey Seager has been a World Series MVP. Nathan Eovaldi is cemented as one of the best postseason pitchers of his generation. Bruce Bochy has three championship rings.

But I believe there’s also a lot of humility behind the Rangers’ standing as heavy favorites, because the prognosticators — like myself — have been wrong so often about the Diamondbacks. Through the years, you will hear the tiresome refrain from championship players about how no one believed in them, no one thought they could win. Well, in Arizona’s case, this is completely true — practically no one said they would win the World Series, and so far they’ve knocked off the NL Central champion Brewers, the West champion Dodgers and the defending NL champion Phillies. Hell, the Diamondbacks have probably surprised themselves. By now, could anyone be truly shocked if Arizona wins the World Series? — Buster Olney

How do you think the D-backs can do it? Let’s put it this way, dear reader: I was the only expert here to pick the Diamondbacks to beat the Phillies in the NLCS. I’ll let you decide if that makes me the expert of experts, but I’m sure not going to jump off the bandwagon now. Arizona can beat the Rangers the same way it beat the Phillies: good enough starting pitching, shutdown relief, good defense and a little daring on the basepaths. Indeed, the D-backs played it a little cautious early in the NLCS, maybe a little too afraid of making outs. In Game 6, they stole four bases. In Game 7, they stole four more bases. And keep in mind the D-backs twice beat Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel. The Rangers have similar concerns about their closer, Jose Leclerc, who has served up three home runs this postseason. — Schoenfield

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