3 early storylines to watch in the World Series

October 26th, 2023

And now we know. In a World Series no one could have seen coming back in March -- heck, a World Series no one could have seen coming a week ago -- the Texas Rangers are going to play the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s a weird sentence to even type, right? Rangers-D-backs. World Series!

Within nine days, either the D-backs will win their second World Series -- passing their National League West rival Dodgers in World Series victories since they entered the Majors in 1998 -- or the Rangers will win their first. It’s a most unusual World Series matchup, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling.

Here’s a first look at three potentially big storylines for this World Series.

Storyline No. 1: Can the Rangers finally get that oh-so-elusive first World Series title?
It has been well-documented that there are six teams -- the Mariners, Padres, Rays, Brewers, Rockies and of course these Rangers -- that have never won the World Series. None has come closer than the Rangers have.

Texas got only one win in its first Series appearance in 2010, notching a Game 3 victory behind Colby Lewis. (Did you remember that Vladimir Guerrero was on that team? What a 3-4-5: Josh Hamilton, Guerrero and Nelson Cruz.) The Rangers lost to the Giants (managed by Bruce Bochy!) in five games, but they returned to the World Series a year later. And in 2011, quite famously, they came as close to winning a World Series as you can possibly get without actually winning the World Series.

In the ninth inning of Game 6 against the Cardinals, the Rangers had a two-run lead and were within one strike of a championship. Then this happened:

Then Hamilton hit a two-run homer in the top of the 10th, giving the Rangers another two-run lead. They got within one strike again, and then Lance Berkman broke their hearts anew with a game-tying single.

And then it got worse after that. Those remain Texas' only two World Series appearances.

Rangers fans: We are sorry to bring all that up again. We do so for two reasons. First: to show just how close the Rangers came to not being one of those six teams that have never won a World Series. But the second reason is the best reason: All the pain and bile that watching those clips brought up for fans, all those years of falling short, all those times other teams who are not the Rangers won the Commissioner’s Trophy … that will all fade away if Texas wins four more baseball games. The Rangers have spent their entire existence with their noses pressed against the window, watching other teams win the World Series. Win this series, and all those years are simply … backstory.

Storyline No. 2: Are the D-backs similar to another Arizona team from 15 years ago?
Often, when teams say “no one believed in us,” they’re kidding themselves. (The best example of this is when Clyde Drexler told a group of reporters after The Dream Team won its 1992 Olympic gold medal that “This feels good because no one believed in us. You all didn’t believe in us. But we proved you all wrong, didn’t we?”) But when the D-backs say this, they’re very much not wrong.

The D-backs were widely considered the worst playoff team heading into this postseason, a No. 6 seed that was outscored on the season -- friends, the D-backs had a worse run differential than the Mets -- and predicted to get stomped by the Brewers, then the Dodgers, then the Phillies. Then they went out and beat all three of them. (As my colleague Anthony Castrovince points out, they are arguably the unlikeliest World Series team.)

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s a little like their NFL brethren, the Arizona Cardinals. After the 2008 season, the Cardinals -- a team that was openly mocked upon reaching the playoffs -- stunned the world by beating three of the best teams in the NFC (including a likable Philadelphia squad) to reach the most unlikely of Super Bowls. The D-backs, like that team, reached the pinnacle by finding the best version of themselves at exactly the right time: Their bats, rotation, baserunning and (especially) bullpen have stepped up precisely when they needed them to. It doesn’t matter what this team was before the playoffs; it only matters what it did when it got there. And what it did was beat everyone.

Storyline No. 3: Is this the “there’s hope for anyone out there” World Series?
The 2021 season was not that long ago, you know. Doesn’t it feel like that just happened? Well, look at where both of these teams were in 2021. The Rangers had one of the worst seasons in their history, losing 102 games in their first full season at Globe Life Field. And the D-backs were actually worse! They lost 110 games and seemed stuck in the toughest division in baseball -- behind the juggernaut that was the Dodgers, the 107-win Giants and the surging, big-spending Padres. The D-backs, all told, looked even more buried than the Rangers. And now look at these two teams: playing each other in the World Series!

One of these teams is going to be a World Series champion in a fortnight! If your team just had a miserable season, if you are a fan of one of the four teams that lost more than 100 games this year, if you feel like all hope is lost … this World Series is proof that there is hope. No one on the planet imagined this World Series matchup two years ago. Again, no one on the planet imagined this World Series matchup even two weeks ago. And here they are. It can turn around quickly -- so quickly that you can’t believe it.