The 2023 World Series will feature a matchup no one expected when the MLB season began, with the Texas Rangers and the Arizona Diamondbacks set to meet in Arlington this weekend.
Both teams are just two years removed from 100-loss seasons and finished near the bottom of their divisions last year but entered the 2023 postseason as wild card teams and took care of business against the perceived “contenders” in their respective leagues.
“I don’t want to downplay the teams that had terrific years … I just know that the best teams get into the postseason, and it’s a very well-deserved honor,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo told the media before Game 7 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS). “It’s a marathon. It’s a long, grinding, committed effort for an entire season, but once you get into the big dance, anything can happen. And I believe we are a perfect example of that.”
Arizona won just 84 games during the regular season and snuck into the playoffs as the second-place team in the National League West and the National League’s final wild card. Many did not expect the Diamondbacks to come even close to this point, but the team shocked them all.
The Diamondbacks’ playoff journey began in Milwaukee with a wild card series against the Brewers. Arizona swept the series, setting up a duel with NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the favorites to reach the World Series.
Arizona slugged its way to 11 runs in Game 1, using its pitching to limit the almighty Dodgers to just six runs in the three-game sweep and earning a spot in the NLCS against the defending NL champion and MLB runner-up Philadelphia Phillies.
On paper, the Phillies held every advantage. They had elite pitching and a star-studded lineup that could score at will. They even took the series’ first two games. However, Arizona did not flinch and tied the series 2-2 through four games. After a Philadelphia win in Game 5, the Diamondbacks battled back again and took the final two games to earn their first World Series berth since winning it all in 2001.
“We feel like we deserve to be in the big dance,” Lovullo said. “We got to this point because we’re a good baseball team, and that’s all that we’re focused on. … The teams that get in deserve to be in, and anything can happen at that point in time.”
The Rangers led the American League West division for most of the season, only to see their lead slip away to the Houston Astros via a tie-breaker on the regular season’s final day.
The Rangers had to start the postseason in Tampa Bay against a Rays team that had won 99 games during the regular season and finished in second place in the vaunted American League East. As it turns out, the Rangers were ready to roll, outscoring Tampa 11-1 in a two-game sweep.
The roll continued as the Rangers swept the top-seeded Baltimore Orioles in the American League Division Series as their offense continued to produce. The second sweep set up a matchup with division champion and defending World Series champion Houston in the American League Championship Series (ALCS).
The ALCS turned into a classic. Texas won the first two games in Houston but dropped the next three at home, thanks to a clutch Jose Altuve home run in Game 5. However, it worked out in the Rangers’ favor as the Astros, who had inexplicably struggled at home all season, allowed the Rangers to advance to the World Series.
Arizona and Texas met once already this year, splitting a two-game series in Arlington in early May.
Neither team has been on the World Series stage for a long time, having just one World Series title between them. However, Rangers manager Bruce Bochy has three from his days with the San Francisco Giants, who beat the Rangers in 2010.
“This is what you dream about,” Bochy said during a press conference on Wednesday. “This is what you dream for. This is what you sacrifice. This is what you play for: to have the ability to play on the biggest stage in baseball. You have to savor it and be honored by it. It doesn’t happen a lot. It’s not easy to get here, so enjoy it.”
Game 1 begins at 7:03 p.m. CT in Arlington on Friday. Zac Gallen (2-2, 5.24 ERA in playoffs) will take the mound for Arizona against Texas’ Nathan Eovaldi (4-0, 2.42 ERA), who has been superb all postseason.