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    Hoornstra: A 2023 World Series preview, through the eyes of major league scouts
    • October 26, 2023

    The author and statistician Nate Silver summed up the cynic’s view of a Texas Rangers-Arizona Diamondbacks World Series matchup on Tuesday night, writing on his Twitter/X account: “This is the least compelling World Series matchup in a long time, maybe ever. MLB made a lot of great and overdue changes this season but it’s time to contract the playoffs and give the regular season more meaning.”

    Definitions of “compelling” might vary. MLB’s postseason structure is imperfect. Texas and Arizona combined for 174 regular-season wins, the fewest ever in a World Series matchup (excluding seasons shortened by wars or pandemics). The Diamondbacks’ 2001 championship is the only one in the history of either franchise.

    None of this means the series can’t be an all-time classic.

    While the shock of seeing the sixth-seeded team in the AL and NL reach the World Series is perhaps too much for traditionalists, the view on the ground is more nuanced. I spoke to scouts who have been observing both teams since the beginning of the season. The picture they paint is that of a pair of clubs whose talent might be imperfect on paper, but feature an ideal blend of youth and experience, managerial savvy, and have oodles of that all-important October ingredient: momentum.

    Throw it all together and the matchup is – dare I say – compelling?

    Here are four things to look for in the World Series, from the scouts’ view:

    1. Powder keg bullpens

    If the Rangers and Diamondbacks looked underwhelming on paper when the postseason began, you had to begin with the bullpens.

    Arizona converted saves at a 62% rate in the regular season, smack-dab on par with the MLB average. General Manager Mike Hazen tried to resolve his closer-by-committee arrangement by acquiring Paul Sewald from the Seattle Mariners, but the veteran right-hander was suddenly walk-prone. He posted a 5.07 FIP (3.57 ERA) in 20 games.

    Less than a month later, the D-backs can count the back end of their bullpen as a strength. Sewald, Kevin Ginkel and Ryan Thompson have looked unhittable at times. Playoff magic, good luck, or … a little of both?

    “I think it points more toward the unpredictability of bullpens than anything else,” one National League scout said. “Everybody in the bullpen has a good arm. Right now, Ginkel can’t be touched. Sewald comes in and he’s going to get three outs before he gets in trouble. They’re blessed right now. God knows a series could turn around and go the other way. That’s the nature of bullpens: you can’t trust ’em, can’t live without ’em.”

    If the D-backs’ bullpen was merely shaky in September, the Rangers could lay claim to having the worst bullpen of any postseason participant ever. They converted saves at a league-low 48% rate. No playoff team has ever blown more saves (33) than it converted (30) in a regular season since 1969, when saves became an official stat.

    “And (Rangers manager Bruce) Bochy knows how to run a bullpen,” the NL scout remarked. “What if they had someone who didn’t!”

    In October, Texas’ bullpen has converted all three of its save opportunities and won enough lopsided games to make many late-game situations moot. The heightened possibility of a late-game implosion arguably makes the World Series matchup more compelling. At the very least, it leaves two fan bases praying no game goes to extra innings.

    2. Youth and experience

    One National League scout was so blown away by both teams’ makeup, that he said he could not have predicted a better World Series matchup.

    “I think the two best teams are still playing,” he said. “Well-rounded, balanced in all facets of the game, and in addition to being not just a balanced team on the field, the best clubhouses in the playoffs.”

    Start with the blend of youth and experience, he said. The Rangers have playoff veterans (Corey Seager, Max Scherzer) and newcomers (Adolis Garcia, Evan Carter, Josh Jung) in key roles. So do the Diamondbacks (Evan Longoria, Tommy Pham; Corbin Carroll, Gabriel Moreno, Alek Thomas). That’s not a coincidence.

    “Just enough youth to light a fire under the (butts) of the veteran guys, and just enough wisdom to rein in and focus the younger guys,” the NL scout said.

    While many of the young players on both sides had prospect pedigrees long before the season began, that doesn’t mean they were destined to be able to carry a team to the World Series this early in their careers.

    “Gabby Moreno is the difference-maker” for the Diamondbacks, said an AL scout. “I don’t think I had a lot of confidence in Moreno as a rookie to take over (at catcher).”

    “The maturity of Carter’s at-bats have also probably surpassed expectations,” said another AL scout, “but that’s been true since his debut, so not really new postseason info.”

    3. Surprise No. 3 starters

    Brandon Pfaadt and Jordan Montgomery are not household names. Fans did not herald their midseason arrivals in Phoenix and Arlington, respectively, with expectations that they would complete a championship-caliber rotation. Yet here they are, complementing both teams’ expected aces, filling out the rotations each side needs to support their relatively weak bullpens.

    Montgomery came to Texas in a deadline deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, then went 4-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch. The left-hander was the winning pitcher in two of the four ALCS games (Nathan Eovaldi won the Rangers’ other two) and could be the toughest left-hander the Diamondbacks will face this month.

    “Without Montgomery, they would not be where they are right now,” an NL scout said of the Rangers.

    Pfaadt, a fifth-round pick in the five-round 2020 draft, had a 9.82 ERA when he was sent to Triple-A Reno in June. He returned a month later, appeared in 13 regular-season games, and posted a respectable 4.22 ERA – enough to earn a Game 1 start in the Wild Card Series. Now, through four postseason starts, the right-hander has a 2.70 ERA across 16⅔ innings. He struck out seven of the 18 Philadelphia batters he faced in Game 7 in the NLCS.

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    “He trusts his stuff in the zone,” an AL scout said of Pfaadt. “I don’t think the demotion midyear was ‘he’s going to be starting for us in the playoffs and being a big part of it.’ You’re seeing it right in front of you, Pfaadt being a big-game type guy.”

    4. Leadership

    Scouts described Bochy and Arizona’s Torey Lovullo as “player’s managers.” Bochy’s three World Series championships with the San Francisco Giants, and his undefeated record in elimination games, are well-documented. Lovullo has had fewer chances to sink or swim on the October stage, but he’s the public face of the “family organization” the Diamondbacks have become under General Manager Mike Hazen.

    Scouts believe both managers have used an “us-against-the-world” mentality to their teams’ advantage. That might sound cliché, but if it works, why not?

    “I don’t think they are where they are if (Chris) Woodward’s still in that dugout,” an NL scout said of the Rangers.

    “They believe they can beat any team right now,” an AL scout said of the Diamondbacks.

    ​ Orange County Register