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2023 World Series: Four things Diamondbacks need to pull off 3-1 comeback vs. Rangers

The Texas Rangers are one win away from the first World Series championship in franchise history, and that means the Arizona Diamondbacks are one loss away from their Cinderella playoff run coming to an end. Arizona made the postseason with an 84-78 record and underdogged their way to the National League pennant. Now their backs are up against the wall in the World Series.

“We’ve got to tighten up the things that we know that went wrong,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said after the Game 4 blowout loss. “And we’ll do that. And then we’ll come out tomorrow. And we’ve got to go 1-0 tomorrow. We’ve gotta play our finest game tomorrow and not worry about anything else. It’s an all-in mentality. And this team has done it every time I can remember they’ve never let one another down. And I expect that to be the same tomorrow.”

Only six teams have come back from a 3-1 series deficit in the World Series, most recently the 2016 Chicago Cubs. The D-backs have made several comebacks this postseason, both within individual games and from a 2-0 series deficit against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Championship Series, earning them the Answerbacks moniker. Now they have to make their biggest comeback yet.

It’s cliche, but only because it’s true: Arizona has to take things one game at a time now. They can’t worry about Games 6 and 7 before winning Game 5, and they know that. Here are four things that must happen for the D-backs to have a chance at completing the 3-1 comeback against the Rangers.

1. Get a great performance from Gallen

The comeback has to start with the guys on the mound, in particular Zac Gallen. He is undeniably one of the game’s top starters, though his last three starts this postseason have been decidedly un-ace-like:

IP H R ER BB K HR

NLCS Game 1

5

8

5

5

2

4

3

NLCS Game 5

6

6

4

4

2

1

2

World Series Game 1

5

4

3

3

4

5

Total

16

18

12

12

8

9

5

Between the regular season and postseason, Gallen is up to 237 1/3 innings in 2023, far and away a career high, and perhaps fatigue is setting in. To be fair, Gallen got touched up for two runs in the first inning of Game 1, then settled down and got through five innings. In Game 5 though, that one bad inning could doom his team’s season.

“Nothing I could necessarily pinpoint exactly,” Gallen said Tuesday when asked what clicked after the first inning in Game 1. “Just my delivery probably felt a little bit more comfortable. Just got my body into spots where I could repeat the delivery and execute pitches, really. I think that’s what it came down to.”

There is an off-day coming Thursday, so the D-backs can be (and surely will be) aggressive with their bullpen in Game 5, though the most straightforward path to a win is Gallen pitching like an ace. Sometimes you just need your starter to go out and dominate, and the D-backs really need Gallen to do that in Game 5. The comeback formula is get great starts from Gallen in Game 5 and Merrill Kelly in Game 6, then anything can happen in Game 7.

2. Give Seager the Bonds treatment

Would you believe Corey Seager has only four hits and a .235 batting average in the World Series? Of course, three of those four hits are game-changing two-run home runs. Seager leads all players with 18.8% championship probability added in the World Series despite so few hits because the few hits he has have been that impactful. To wit:

  • Game 1: Game-tying two-run homer in the ninth inning.
  • Game 3: Third inning two-run homer to give Texas a 3-0 lead.
  • Game 4: Second inning two-run homer that turned it into a laugher.

That Game 4 home run came with two outs and first base open, and the D-backs pitched to Seager anyway. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered and they would have gotten blown out anyway, but moving forward, it’s time to start thinking about intentionally walking Seager when he has to chance to do damage and really impact the game with one swing.

With all due respect to Mitch Garver and Evan Carter, who batted 3-4 behind Seager in Game 4, it is much easier to pitch around Seager now that Adolis García is off the World Series roster with an oblique injury. García has been a one-man wrecking crew this postseason. With him no longer around to make you pay for walking Seager, walking Seager is a more viable strategy.

The D-backs can be smart about this. You don’t have to put the four fingers up every time Seager hits just because. But, when there are situations that could really change the game, like when the second inning was beginning to get out of hand in Game 4, yeah, it’s time to start putting Seager on intentionally. He’s beaten Arizona enough already this series. Might as well limit his opportunities and take your chances with someone else.

3. Late offense in Game 4 carries over into Game 5

To their credit, the D-backs did not go away quietly after falling behind 10-0 three innings into Game 4. They chipped away at the Texas bullpen and eventually got to within 11-7. You do what you have to do to win a World Series game, but I can’t imagine Rangers manager Bruce Bochy was happy he had to use closer José Leclerc even for just one out in a game his team led 10-0.

“As you’re dissecting it and looking at it, you fall down 11-1, and then you keep fighting,” Lovullo said after Game 4. “You stay connected. You commit to the plan and the process for 27 outs, and you close the game up to 11-7. Got the fans engaged. Got a ton of energy. Got their closer in the game. There was a lot of positives to draw upon, and I will.”

The D-backs scored nine runs in Game 2 and then two runs total in 16 innings spanning the entirety of Game 3 and the first seven innings of Game 4. Arizona then broke out for four runs in the eighth inning and another two runs in the ninth inning in Game 4, which forced Leclerc into the game. The offense woke up from its 16-inning slumber late Tuesday.

Granted, this six late runs came against three of Bochy’s lower-leverage relievers — Brock Burke, Chris Stratton, Will Smith —  but at this point, the D-backs will take what they can get. If those last two innings against lower leverage relievers woke the offense up and rebuilt some confidence after falling behind 10-0, great, and they’ll now need it to carry over into Game 5 on Wednesday.

Paul O’Neill, a five-time World Series champion who nows broadcasts games on the YES Network, is fond of saying scoring late in a blowout loss allows you to feel a little better about things, and the late offense carries over into the next game. The D-backs need the “O’Neill Rule” to be in full effect in Game 5. They have to come out banging against Nathan Eovaldi, whom they tagged for five runs in 4 2/3 innings in Game 1.

4. Get lucky

When you’re down 3-1 in a best-of-seven, it’s going to take more than skill to complete the comeback. The D-backs need to catch a break now, ideally multiple breaks. A ball hugging the line and staying fair, a borderline call going your way in a 3-2 count, a well-timed error by the Rangers, so on and so forth. It’s better to be lucky than good, but the D-backs will need to be lucky and good to make this series and have a chance at the franchise’s second World Series championship.

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