Not the 2001 re-run I wanted
Much was made (not least, by me in the Gameday Thread!) of the similarities between the 2001 and 2023 World Series. But I did not expect, and certainly did not want, those to extend to the Diamondbacks losing road games in heartbreaking fashion, by blowing a ninth-inning lead. It was, of course, bound to happen eventually. It happens to every bullpen. Even last night’s winning pitcher, José Leclerc, blew Game 5 in the American League Championship Series, also surrendering a ninth-inning home-run to the opposition’s star player (Jose Altuve). Last time we were here, there were three blown saves in seven games. But the only one that mattered was Mariano Rivera’s in Game 7.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the bullpen”
Naturally, fickle fans on social media were quick to turn on the D-backs’ relief corps. That included some whom I think should know better, and offer a more measured take on proceedings. While I totally get frustration, the bullpen have been flat-out amazing this post-season, and that’s the only reason the Diamondbacks are here at all. It was their first loss, and even including Game 1, Arizona relievers are 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA in the playoffs. It’s better than their opponents, who have gone 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA. Those were the first runs Sewald allowed this post-season: his ERA is 2.00. But how soon some people forget, I guess, opting for a “Yeah, but what have you done for me lately?” attitude.
Has Arizona a Zac Gallen problem?
After five starts. it’s no longer possible to write Gallen’s post-season struggles off as an aberration. He has a 5.27 ERA and, perhaps more disturbingly, over 27.1 innings, a K:BB ratio of just 18:13. It is true that tiredness may be a factor: all told, he is up to 237.1 innings of work, over fifty more than in 2022. But the truth is, he has been less than ace quality for quite a while. Going back to his last outing in June, we have a total sample size of 23 starts and 139 inning. In that time, he has a pedesrtrian ERA of 4.27. With free-agency looming at the end of next year, you do have to wonder if Gallen is worth paying ace money for. I’d certainly be inclined to wait and see how 2024 starts.
Walking into trouble
Arizona issued ten walks last night over 10.1 innings. That’s not a recipe for success. Indeed, the nine previous teams to issue 10+ walks in a World Series game has gone 1-8. The sole exception was the 2005 White Sox against the Astros, and they need fourteen innings to do it. This wildness was uncharacteristic for the Diamondbacks. Over the 12 previous playoff games, they had issued more than four walks only twice, with a high of six and an average of just 3.6 walks per game. May I also suggest that hitting Adolis García - even accidentally, as it appears to have been - is perhaps not the best of tactics. It appears to make him angry, and you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry...
Walker in trouble
It was another disappointing outing for Christian Walker, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, and did not look good in those at-bats. He is now batting just .163 in the post-season, with one home-run in 13 games. He has substantially more walks (12) than hits (7), and is in the odd situation of having an on-base percentage which is almost fifty points higher than his slugging percentage (.351 vs .302). The walks are nice, and who would have guessed that he would become the franchise’s all-time leader in post-season stolen bases? However, that’s not why he’s here. Since the start of the NLCS, Christian is 2-for-26 with just two RBI in eight games and a dozen strikeouts. We need him to do better.
Reasons for optimism
It wasn’t all bad last night. Far from it. For eight innings, the D-backs looked like the better team, holding a 5-3 lead going into the ninth. They had done a very good job of attacking the Rangers’ #1 starter, Nathan Eovaldi, leading to his worst post-season performance and knocking him out of the game before the middle of the fifth. After a rough start, Gallen buckled down, and gutted out a five inning start that ended a great deal better than it had begun. And the team continued the recent return to their aggressive style of baseball, becoming the first team in history to steal four or more bases in three consecutive games. Keep that up, and all future games should remain competitive.
The B-bullpen’s time to shine
One area of concern is the bullpen mis-match. Arizona used almost all of their top relievers last night, in what turned out to be a loss. In particular, Kevin Ginkel needed to throw 28 pitches in the eighth, and Sewald 22 in the ninth. I think Torey Lovullo would rather try and stay away from them tonight, even with an off-day scheduled for tomorrow. Meanwhile, Bruce Bochy was able to stay away from most of his top relievers except for Leclerc, meaning the like of Aroldis Chapman will be available for Game 2. The Arizona bullpen threw a total of 111 pitches. It would be nice if Merrill the Mainstay were to step up and give us a big game performance, as he has done so so often.
Hopes and expectations
Once more, the Diamondbacks find themselves down in a best of seven series, after losing the first game on the road. It’s hardly the end of the world. Indeed, as we saw in the Championship Series, losing tonight’s Game 2 as well, would not be catastrophic either. That said, it would definitely be better to come back to Chase Field at 1-1, after having secured the team’s first ever World Series road win outside of Arizona. I do think the D-backs have show they can match up with the Rangers, and if Game 1 is any indication, I look forward to what should be a cracking series.