As both teams make their way to Phoenix ahead of Game 3 on Monday at Chase Field, we asked our ESPN MLB experts to break down what we’ve seen so far — and where this World Series will go from here.
What has surprised you most about the first two games?
Alden Gonzalez: That the depth of the Rangers’ lineup hasn’t really shown up. The big home runs by Corey Seager and Adolis Garcia in Game 1 masked the fact that the Rangers got very little production from the bottom half of their lineup. In Game 2, against a very sharp Merrill Kelly, their entire offense recorded only three hits — two singles and a solo homer — and didn’t draw a walk through the first seven innings. The Rangers have combined for 13 hits through the first two games.
Buster Olney: How deeply some of the key hitters are slumping. Christian Walker looked completely lost in his plate appearances in Game 1, and in Game 2, when he hit the ball hard — rockets down the third base line and up the middle — he wasn’t rewarded with hits, and slowly walked back to the dugout. Nathaniel Lowe is such a good offensive player, but he, like Walker, seems to be feeling for the ball at the plate right now, trying to find his swing. But as Tommy Pham told Torey Lovullo after being benched in the NLCS, all it takes is one swing, one good plate appearance. It’ll be interesting to see if the managers make any changes with the slumping players.
Jeff Passan: Just how in control the Diamondbacks — who, remember, are only a blown save away from a 2-0 lead — have been. Coming into the series, the combination of Arizona’s plate discipline and Texas’ lack of strikeout pitching loomed large, and sure enough, through two games, the Diamondbacks have struck out only 12 times. They went the first 33 batters without striking out in Game 2. Texas, meanwhile, K’d 10 times in each of the first two games. Considering both teams’ ability to turn balls in play into outs — two games into the series, there hasn’t been an error — the strikeout could be the differentiator.
Jesse Rogers: Honestly? The crowd. After spending the NLCS in Citizens Bank Park, I was glad to see that Globe Life has, well, some life to it, too. The loudest moment of the entire postseason might have come in Game 1 when Corey Seager tied the game with a blast in the ninth. Or maybe it was two innings later, when Adolis Garcia homered to win it. And even though the Rangers trailed for most of Game 2, the crowd was into it the way they should be. Granted, the roof has been closed but in terms of sheer volume, Rangers’ fans brought it.
How will the series change when it gets to Arizona?
Gonzalez: The Rangers and D-backs will play three games in three days, and that’s a big deal for two teams who plan to navigate Game 4 exclusively with relievers. The D-backs will have the advantage in Phoenix, not just because they’ll be at home but because their bullpen has proven to be deeper and better. The Rangers need others to step up outside of Josh Sborz and Jose Leclerc. More specifically, they need performances like the one starter-turned-temporary-reliever Jon Gray provided in Game 1.
Olney: I don’t think it’ll change at all. We’re seeing two teams who have fought back from deficits time and again, and no matter what happens in Game 3, the loser will come back for Game 4 convinced that they’ll find a way to win. The scar tissue of their respective journeys seems to serve both teams well, and they will each be convinced they are a team of destiny until they are not. In the car ride back to the hotel after Game 2, the ESPN radio team on these games — Boog Sciambi, Jessica Mendoza, Eduardo Perez — all agreed that this matchup will inevitably go seven games.
Passan: The Rangers are 8-0 on the road this postseason, so it’s clear that playing away from Globe Life Field doesn’t bother them, and some of Game 3 starter Max Scherzer’s best starts — his first-ever playoff game, his 13-strikeout gem in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS, his seven scoreless in Game 2 of the 2019 NLCS — have come on the road. Between Scherzer and the Rangers going all Johnny Wholestaff in Game 4 before turning to Nathan Eovaldi again in Game 5, Texas needs better pitching to stymie this Diamondbacks offense that has exploded for 14 runs over the first two games. Arizona, on the other hand, will play nearly as many home games this week (three) as it has all postseason (four). The Diamondbacks are 3-1 at Chase Field, which offers them an opportunity to close out the series in front of their fans.
Rogers: After the NLCS, there was chatter that Chase Field isn’t very friendly to road teams. Opposing hitters have noted that, with the roof closed, it feels darker than other domed stadiums, and the ball wasn’t traveling far in the last round. For a power-based team, it reduces that advantage — and plays in favor of a home team that likes to run and create havoc more than hammer fly balls into the night. Texas will need to get used to their surroundings during Sunday’s workout.
What’s the biggest adjustment either team needs to make from here?
Gonzalez: It is going to be crucial for Rangers starting pitchers to continue to adjust to the relief roles they’ve taken on in these playoffs. Rangers manager Bruce Bochy will want to preserve Josh Sborz; Jose Leclerc and Aroldis Chapman can be saved for leads. That means relying on Gray, Andrew Heaney, Dane Dunning and Martin Perez, as well as Cody Bradford, who has more reliever experience than the rest. Their jobs will primarily be to keep deficits manageable and a comeback in play. Perez failed to do that in Game 2, and this entire group will have to be better moving forward.
Olney: Merrill Kelly provided a road map for the other pitchers on how to work to Adolis Garcia — fastballs down and in, soft stuff away. They are going to make a point of not letting him beat them the rest of this series, which is part of the reason why those behind him (Mitch Garver, Jonah Heim, Lowe) have to do more damage as this series moves forward.
Passan: Texas pitchers need to take notes from Scherzer, who is one of the hardest in baseball to steal a base against. Arizona thrives when it is running, and if catcher Jonah Heim and Texas’ staff can keep the Diamondbacks from constantly moving, it’s the sort of thing that forces them out of their comfort zone offensively. If Texas can take away that element of the Diamondbacks’ game, Arizona hitters will expand their zones in an effort to make up for that loss in thump — and Texas will be able to ramp up the strikeouts.
Rogers: Texas is going to have to be a little more dynamic on offense. Take away Seager’s ninth inning homer in Game 1, and what have they really done at the plate? Merrill Kelly shut them down in Game 2 unlike any pitcher facing them this postseason. The Diamondbacks are playing a little looser so far — through the first two games, sac bunts, stolen bases and, yes, the opportune home run have been in their toolbox. Sure, the Rangers can try to homer their way to a win, but they’d be benefited by stealing some of those traits for themselves.
Who is your World Series MVP so far — and will he take home the award in the end?
Gonzalez: The World Series leader in OPS thus far: None other than Tommy Pham, who went 4-for-4 with two doubles while hitting in the No. 5 spot of the Diamondbacks’ lineup. No, I do not expect him to keep this up and win MVP. But this is a good opportunity to bring up how valuable Pham has been for this team, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Any team could have had him for a modest price at the trade deadline in July. The D-backs are not here if they’re not the ones to pull it off.
Olney: Kelly has a big leg up after his Game 2 start. He doesn’t pitch in the style of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, who just bullied hitters with stuff, but he was spectacular in Game 2 — first-pitch strikes to 18 of 24 hitters, and there were only two occasions in which the Texas batters got him into hitters’ counts of 2-0, 3-1. If he has another start like that in Game 6 and Arizona wins this series, he’ll be the MVP. He’s halfway there.
Passan: Since the turn of the century, a pitcher has won World Series MVP in only five seasons. So while Kelly is the right choice through two games, he needs another gem in a potential Game 6 to be in consideration. While that’s possible, the predilection of writers is to go with a hitter, and someone will step up offensively over the next three games and thrust himself into the picture as favorite.
Rogers: Agreeing that Kelly has a real shot after his Game 2 performance. If nothing short of seven great innings would even get a starting pitcher in the picture — well, mission accomplished. Honorable mention: Tommy Pham.
Would you like to revise your original WS pick based on what we’ve seen?
Gonzalez: I had the Rangers in six, and I’ll adjust it slightly: The Rangers will win the first championship in franchise history, but it will take them seven games to do it. The Diamondbacks are really going to make them earn it.
Passan: Texas in seven at the beginning. Texas in seven still.
Rogers: Absolutely not. Arizona is going to win this series.
Olney: I picked Texas in six. I’ll revise that to seven games.