Look, we didn’t expect this either.
Of all the possible World Series matchups, a tussle of the 90-win Texas Rangers against the 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks wasn’t exactly at the top of our wish list. It’s being already decried as a battle of who could care less, and we get it.
But we also disagree.
Is this World Series custom-made for primetime? Of course not. But when asked to come up with a handful of reasons to watch, it took about two minutes for a small group of baseball writers to bat around more than a dozen storylines, personalities and raw talents that are going to be worth watching for the next however-long-this-lasts.
Give us another Game 7, we say, because this might not be the series we expected, it might not even be the series we deserve, but it’s going to be a series worth watching.
And here’s why.
These teams actually have star power …
If you were expecting Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, you must not have been paying attention for the past decade.
But Rangers shortstop Corey Seager made a pretty compelling case for American League MVP this season (non-Ohtani division), and Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen is going to finish somewhere near the top of the National League Cy Young race (he already started the All-Star Game), and he helped beat his hometown Phillies to get here, even while reflecting on the declining quality of local institution Wawa. That’s pathos.
… and the hardware to prove it
Speaking of All-Star Game starters, the Rangers had five of them this year, including three-quarters of their everyday infield. The Diamondbacks had three All-Star starters, plus their 23-year-old shortstop coming off the bench.
And you might not have noticed, but Rangers starter Nathan Eovaldi has the track record of a postseason ace, and he’s on a mission to avenge his one World Series loss. Casual fans might not know their names, but the league knows these guys can play.
It’s a matchup of power versus …
Sure, it would have been interesting to see all those big boppers in the Phillies lineup, but the Rangers hit the third-most home runs in baseball this season, led by Adolis García, a guy who was twice designated for assignment before becoming a must-see offensive beast who went deep 39 times this season and then went berserk for five more home runs and an MVP award in the ALCS. Whatever you do, don’t hit this man with a pitch.
The Diamondbacks don’t have the Rangers’ offensive thump, but they did steal 166 bases this season (second-most in the game) while leading the majors with 44 triples. These guys can and will run wild — they stole four bases in decisive NLCS Game 7 — and their second baseman, Ketel Marte, has quietly been one of the game’s best up-the-middle players of the past half-decade (top 40 in position player WAR since 2019) and is earning his place among the best players in franchise history. When the Diamondbacks do need a homer, they still have Christian Walker, who was claimed off waivers three times in his career but hit 69 longballs the past two years.
The Diamondbacks might have baseball’s most exciting young player …
The Diamondbacks might not have many household names now, but give it a few years and their leadoff hitter, Corbin Carroll, might be the name you remember from this series. The 23-year-old is a shoo-in for National League Rookie of the Year and has a tremendous blend of speed (54 stolen bases) and power (25 home runs) that could make him one of the game’s great players for the next decade.
… but he’s not alone. There are young stars all over the place.
Carroll’s not the only one who’s just starting to make a name for himself. Rangers third baseman Josh Jung (he and Carroll were drafted within eight picks of one another in 2019) was an All-Star as a rookie this season, and Rangers left fielder Evan Carter (who turned 21 in August) reached the big leagues in September and was one of the game’s best hitters in the final month of the regular season. Carter currently ranks as Baseball America’s 10th-best prospect in the entire sport.
Diamondbacks infielder Jordan Lawler (a bench player for now) ranks ninth on that list, and his teammate Gabriel Moreno (one of the best young catchers in the sport) ranked 12th when the season began but has since accrued too much big-league time to qualify. Second-year center fielder Alek Thomas is still just 23 and already has an all-time postseason moment.
The Rangers went all-in at the deadline to get here …
This year’s trade deadline was a letdown for many teams, but not for the Rangers, who spent heavily the past two offseasons and still supplemented their rotation with deadline deals for both Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery. They also traded for Royals flamethrower Aroldis Chapman and Pirates backup catcher Austin Hedgers.
… while the Diamondbacks built from within.
The Diamondbacks made smaller deals at the deadline — closer Paul Sewald was their biggest addition — but mostly grew their team from within. All told, the Diamondbacks’ postseason roster includes four different players (Lawler plus pitchers Brandon Pfaadt, Andrew Saalfrank and Slade Cecconi) who made their big league debuts this season (and two of them weren’t in the majors until September). Saalfrank pitched just 10 times in the regular season, and he’s already made eight appearances in the playoffs.
Old-timers are riding off into the sunset …
I didn’t call Scherzer old, you did! But seriously, Mad Max is 39, joined the Rangers at the trade deadline, and hasn’t gotten to do much this postseason. He’s already won three Cy Young awards and a World Series ring in his career, but one more dazzling performance in October would be an exclamation point.
… while chasing one last shot at a ring.
In the other dugout is 38-year-old Evan Longoria. He hasn’t played in a World Series since his rookie year with the Rays in 2008, and these days he’s more of a complementary role player than the hot-corner superstar he was a decade ago, but he has a legitimate chance to finally win a ring in what could be his final season.
“Most of the time, when you hear about guys’ legacies, it’s about a ring,” Longoria said this month. “It’s about a World Series. It’s about the impact that they’ve made in the playoffs. That’s more of a legacy thing for me.”
The fantasy football fight guy is here …
There’s also 35-year-old Diamondbacks outfielder Tommy Pham, an intense veteran perhaps best known to casual fans for his role in a fantasy football-inspired fracas last season, in search of his first championship. He’s joined by 34-year-old Rangers reliever Will Smith, who is in pursuit of his third in a row title (all with different teams).
… while a certain big lefty with enormous postseason credentials isn’t.
And, if you’re the sort who roots for awkward ring ceremonies, Madison Bumgarner could win his fourth career ring after the Diamondbacks released him in April with a 10.26 ERA.
The Diamondbacks front office is worth rooting for …
Seven years ago, the Diamondbacks cleaned house and brought in longtime Boston Red Sox executive Mike Hazen to run the show. He brought some Red Sox connections with him — including manager Torey Lovullo — and has many in the industry rooting for him after his wife, Nicole, died of a rare form of cancer in 2022.
“Such good, real people,” one longtime executive said of the top Diamondbacks decision makers.
Hazen has defied the curse of The Athletic’s own Ken Rosenthal to get his team to its first World Series since 2001.
… but believe it or not, the Rangers’ front office is fascinating too.
No one tunes in to see the general manager clapping in his suite, but Rangers general manager Chris Young should be in the mix for Rookie of the Year at 44 years old. Young is in his first full year on the job having moved into the top seat at the end of last season. He was still playing — he was a good big league pitcher — as recently as 2017, worked in the league office for two years, and has been a front office executive only three years, but Young was aggressive at the trade deadline to help push the Rangers over the top and into this position.
And if you can’t get into the man behind the curtain, there’s always Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, back in the dugout after three years of semi-retirement, trying to win his fourth World Series title and force another line onto his inevitable Hall of Fame plaque.
You could just watch because … it’s the World Series.
OK, we’ll acknowledge this is not the matchup anyone outside of Dallas and Phoenix wanted when the postseason got started. The Braves were the perceived juggernaut, the Orioles were the flashy young upstarts, the Dodgers were the iconic franchise with an all-time ace, and the Phillies had the world-beating offense with a rocking home-field advantage.
But it’s the Fall Classic! With a pitch clock, so the kids can watch more than a half inning before bedtime!
Think of Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe’s mother and watch with a touch of sentimental optimism. Think of all the key players your least favorite team gave up and watch with a healthy dose of vindictive cynicism. Or just watch because it’s baseball in October, one team hasn’t won in two decades, and the other hasn’t won at all. The Rangers are trying to make history. The Diamondbacks are trying to shock the world. Goodness gracious, snakes alive!
(Top photo of Evan Longoria: AP Photo / Brynn Anderson)