The manner in which the MLB postseason unfolded further convinces me that the Red Sox are not that far away from a championship-caliber team. The Texas Rangers hadn’t had a winning season since 2016, winning 68 games in 2022, 60 games in 2021, and a carrying a .367 Win% in the short 2020 season. They made an aggressive effort over two offseasons in free agency (Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Jacob deGrom, Nate Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, Jon Gray), mixed in some exciting prospects (Evan Carter, Josh Jung), and got a little bit lucky when they DFA’d Adolis Garcia in the spring of 2021 and he went unclaimed. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Chris Young convinced one of the greatest managers of all time in Bruce Bochy to come out of retirement.
At the trade deadline, the Rangers needed help in the rotation with deGrom out for the season and Eovaldi having arm issues himself. They went out and added both Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery to shore up the rotation. Having just lost seven of nine to close out July, Bochy said, “Understanding that we’re underdogs this year right now where we are in the playoff odds, we just tried to stay true to that.” Whoops sorry, I had the wrong quote there … it was, “Hey, we mean business. We’re here to win. And it’s always a great message when a team does something like this. It’s great. We’re pumped about it. We’re getting an experienced guy with a tremendous resume.”
The 84-win Diamondbacks were also coming off three straight losing seasons, which included a horrific 52-110 record just two years ago. They went 8-17 in July which turned into an 8-26 stretch when they lost their first nine games in August. However, during that time they traded for Paul Sewald from the Mariners to anchor their bullpen, and he was the perfect fit for a team that had a lot of trouble closing out games. Sewald was 13-for-15 for Arizona in regular season save opportunities and 6-for-6 in the first three playoff series before a pretty miserable World Series.
Weird things happen in small samples and over the last two seasons there has been a 5-seed and two 6-seeds in the World Series. People can complain all they want about the expanded playoff format but it’s not going to go back to the way it was. Sign a couple of arms, trade for a year of Juan Soto, clean up the defense, and let’s get the contention window going now. You’re closer than you think you are.
Other disjointed thoughts on the playoffs:
- It’s become trendy to trash John Smoltz as an announcer in recent years, as his habit of going out of his way to denounce analytics is a bit much. However, his understanding of the nuance of specific batter vs. pitcher matchups is excellent. Joe Davis has taken the baton from Joe Buck in stride as well. Take the biggest hit of the World Series for example, with the Rangers down two runs in the ninth inning of Game One. I’m convinced the Smoltz-Haters made sure that the seconds leading up to the pitch were scrubbed from the Internet, but good thing DVR exists:
Smoltz: “Now this is the at-bat, I’m intrigued with this at-bat and how (Sewald’s) going to face Corey Seager. We’ve seen Seager go after a fastball in the top of the zone, and crush it.” ... (crack of bat)
A year ago, in Game Three of the World Series, Bryce Harper faced Lance McCullers in the first inning.
Smoltz: “I’ll be kind of shocked if Bryce is not going to the plate sitting on a breaking ball. At some point, McCullers has to throw him fastballs to keep him honest. But Bryce is so good against off-speed, and we know he likes to swing early and swing big. If he stays on the breaking ball and gets the one in the middle of the plate? Loud noise.”
Joe Davis: “He doesn’t want to (throw a fastball). He’s only thrown one fastball to a left-hander all postseason. Does he change that up against this guy here?”
(Breaking ball, middle of the plate … loud noise)
- I never thought that, after the 2019 World Series, I’d ever again see all seven games of a series won by the road team. Not only did it happen in the ALCS this season, but the Rangers went an absurd 11-0 on the road in the postseason. It will be interesting to see if teams put less emphasis on playing for home field if they’ve already clinched a playoff spot.
- We could’ve done without Ken Rosenthal in the days after Game five of the ALCS cutting into each broadcast to tell us that Bryan Abreu did not intentionally hit Adolis Garcia with a 99 mph fastball up and in. How incredibly far-fetched it is that hyper-competitive professional ballplayers get sick of seeing minute-long home run trots or their opponents doing the Marbles Dance on the way around the bases and decide to retaliate? The Astros were down by two runs, Bryan Abreu would never! I once witnessed Roger Clemens, fueled only by testosterone of course, throw a shattered bat back towards Mike Piazza during a World Series game and excuse it by telling everyone “I thought it was the ball!” In fairness to Clemens, they had just recently changed the rule to prevent pitchers from pegging baserunners with the ball.
- How many teams would have been able to get themselves right again after that catastrophic Game Five ALCS loss? Bruce Bochy managed teams being 14-1 in postseason series is remarkable.
- I’m glad that Nathan Eovaldi’s most memorable postseason performance no longer has to be in a Red Sox loss when he threw 98 pitches and into his seventh inning of relief before giving up a game-ending home run to Max Muncy in the 18th inning of Game 3 of the 2018 World Series. Six shutout innings in a World Series clincher will do the trick.
- Eovaldi gets labeled as someone who can’t handle a heavy workload. But if you include postseason innings, he has thrown 203, 109.1, and 180.2 innings in the last three seasons, respectively. This got me thinking about pitchers whose innings counts could be misleading as a result of playoff stats not counting on the ol’ Fangraphs/Bref page.
Zac Gallen’s playoff innings brings his count to 243, blowing away Logan Webb’s league-leading 216.
Merrill Kelly was the starting pitcher for the United States in the WBC Finals in mid-March and started Game 2 of the World Series in late October. That’s a long season of stressful outings.
Here are some other notables from this postseason:
Clayton Kershaw has thrown an entire season's worth of playoff innings in his career: 194 1/3
Madison Bumgarner won three World Series in five years, throwing 102 1/3 career postseason innings, including a preposterous 52 2/3 in 2014. He had nothing left in his arm by the time he turned 30.
- I hope Derek Jeter’s private jet was able to make it home after the game last night and wasn’t ruined by inclement weather and a wolf crossing the highway.