After one victory for each team at Globe Life Field in Arlington, the World Series is headed to Chase Field in Phoenix.
We have seen the best that each MLB squad has to offer, and now the Fall Classic is essentially a best-of-five series with three of them at Arizona.
The Texas Rangers’ prodigious offense – ranked second by both our adjusted team ratings and raw value team rankings – was on display on Friday when Corey Seager hit a game-tying, two-run home run off closer Paul Sewald in the ninth and Adolis García won it with a walk-off dinger in the 11th off Miguel Castro.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, in turn, got seven really strong innings from Merrill Kelly on Saturday and the offense and the bullpen answered the call (unlike what happened on Friday, particularly with the latter) to level things. Gabriel Moreno homered, and Tommy Pham (who also went yard in Game 1) went 4 for 4.
A now pivotal World Series Game 3 (on FOX) will feature pitchers with opposing realities. The Rangers will, barring a change of plans, send Max Scherzer on the mound: the seasoned veteran has been very good in the last two regular seasons but for one reason or another hasn’t been able to reach top form in the MLB postseason.
The Diamondbacks will have rookie Brandon Pfaadt starting the game. The right-hander had a horrible 5.72 ERA in the regular season, but has grown up in the postseason and turned the D-backs two-headed monster in the rotation (Zac Gallen and Kelly) into a “Big 3.”
Rising to the Occasion
Pfaadt has a 2.70 ERA in 16.2 postseason innings, validated by an equally strong 2.72 FIP and a 1.08 WHIP. His 22/3 SO/BB ratio is absolutely elite and speaks volumes about how he has improved considering his regular-season performance.
Since going 2-9 with a 6.08 ERA in his first 17 starts of the season, the right-hander has gone 1-0 with a 2.07 ERA in his last five outings – including the playoffs. He allowed two runs and struck out seven over four innings in Arizona’s National League Championship Series Game 7 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
We are talking about a guy who had to be demoted not once, but twice this year. Limiting home runs has gone a long way in helping him thrive as a pitcher (he conceded 2.06 homers per nine innings in the regular season and just 1.08 in the playoffs), and that stems from two things: his own personal command improvements, and the D-backs being much smarter in how they use him.
In his first 17 starts, he had a 98 whiff+, which measures how a good a pitcher is at generating swings and misses and a 111 command+, which examines how good a pitcher is at achieving what he wants with the ball. In the past five, he’s posted a 109 whiff+ and a 113 command+.
Pfaadt, basically, has gotten very good at avoiding the fat part of the zone by focusing on the middle of it but letting his pitches’ movement take them to the corners and the edges. This can lead to a few more balls, but many more swings and misses, too.
He throws a four-seamer, a two-seamer, a sweeper, a curveball and a changeup, and can miss bats with most of them but particularly with the sweeper and four-seamer.
In the MLB playoffs, he’s accumulated 50 swings and misses in four games: 19 have come on his fastball and 19 on the sweeper. In the regular season, Pfaadt had a 25% swing and miss percentage. However, he dramatically bumped that number to 38.2 in postseason play.
He’s throwing a lot more two-seamers, particularly when behind/even in the count (10.9%/11.6% in his 17 starts; 21.2%/26.6% in past five) and more changeups when ahead in the count (13.5% vs. 20.1%).
But the fastball upstairs sets up the rest of his arsenal. You might not remember, but early-career Carlos Carrasco struggled to establish himself as a legitimate major league starter despite an impressive arsenal. He adopted a similar approach, taking advantage of his pitches’ movement and focusing on the middle of the zone, and turned into one of the most consistent pitchers in the AL in mid-2010s.
Additionally, manager Torey Lovullo trusts his bullpen and is not afraid to take the ball out of Pfaadt’s hands after a certain point. His playoffs appearances have been of 2.2, 4.1, 5.2, and 4.0 innings. The skipper infamously took the ball out of his hands after 5.2 brilliant innings against the Phillies in Game 3 of the NLCS, with Pfaadt throwing just 70 pitches. It worked.
Seeking a Return to Form
Scherzer, on the other hand, suffered a teres major strain on his right shoulder on Sept. 12. By that point, he was in a groove and had given the Rangers a 3.20 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and a 53/15 SO/BB ratio in 45 innings.
He worked hard to return in the postseason even though the prognosis wasn’t positive, but the rust was evident in the ALCS against the Houston Astros when he allowed seven earned runs in 6.2 frames.
The Rangers hope that his third postseason outing is the one in which he can at least deliver a quality start, or keep Texas in the game. Scherzer, who was acquired from the New York Mets at the trade deadline, is also dealing with a cut across his right thumb but insists it won’t be an issue.
We all know what a fully healthy Scherzer is capable of. In the regular season, he had an 80 raw value- or RV-, which examines everything a pitcher does from location to contact management, ability to throw strikes and get whiffs, but on a per-pitch basis. In this case, RV- is used for pitchers (hitters are evaluated by RV+) and the lower, the better (100 is the league average).
Will Scherzer be affected by rust, his shoulder situation or even the cut on his thumb? Those things are impossible to predict, but we will find out soon enough. Even if manager Bruce Bochy still hadn’t officially named him the starter for Game 3, it’s a foregone conclusion at this point after Jordan Montgomery took the ball for Game 2.
Matchups To Watch
The ALCS MVP has only had three plate appearances against Pfaadt (0 for 2 with a sac fly) but he’s 4 for 10 with a homer and double lifetime off Arizona closer Paul Sewald, including the playoffs.
Josh Jung has faced Pfaadt three times, and two of those at-bats ended in a home run. Jonah Heim (1 for 2) and Leody Taveras (2 for 2) have also taken Pfaadt deep.
Tommy Pham is just 3 for 23 (.130) with 10 strikeouts versus Scherzer in his career, while Evan Longoria is 3 for 22 (.136) with two homers and eight strikeouts in this matchup and Ketel Marte has gone 1 for 9.
Corbin Carroll went 7 for 17 with two homers and a double in the wild-card round and division series. He’s gone 6 for 14 with a triple and six RBIs in his last three playoff games, and he homered off Scherzer in an 8-5 loss to the Mets on July 4.
Christian Walker (1 for 3) and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. also took Scherzer deep in that contest, though that is Gurriel’s only hit in eight at-bats in the matchup.