Every October, new characters emerge to write the story of the postseason while in pursuit of World Series glory.
By now, baseball fans are no doubt familiar with sluggers such as Adolis García and aces such as Zac Gallen. But who else might be the difference-makers for the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks starting Friday in Game 1?
On the diamond and behind the scenes, these are the 11 hitters, pitchers, coaches and execs to know for the 2023 Fall Classic.
Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks outfielder
If you played spot-the-difference between the 110-loss 2021 Diamondbacks and this season’s World Series-bound roster, the 23-year-old Carroll would be the most immediate and most significant addition. An undersized bundle of finely tuned twitch muscles universally praised for his baseball acumen and makeup, Carroll’s rookie season started with an eight-year, $111 million extension and continued with an MVP contender-type first half and a dream All-Star Game homecoming in his hometown of Seattle.
Weathering a summer slump, Carroll finished the season with 25 homers, 54 steals and 6 WAR, ranking as a top-10 position player in the sport. Then he put on a tour de force in NLCS Game 7, scoring or driving in all four of Arizona’s runs. He is the avatar of this team, the present and future, the superstar who just opened Legacy.doc and started filling it in.
Gabriel Moreno, Diamondbacks catcher
Acquired in an eyebrow-raising trade that shipped catcher-turned-outfielder Daulton Varsho to the Toronto Blue Jays, Moreno was a top prospect with only 25 major-league games under his belt. Saddled with even more defensive responsibility than Arizona intended, thanks to injuries to other catchers, Moreno learned pitch-calling and game-planning on the job while asserting himself as possibly the game’s very best thrower behind the plate in the season in which stolen bases spiked thanks to the new rules.
— MLB (@MLB) October 23, 2023
Oh, and the offense. The man is a walking line drive. He batted .313 in the second half, rose to the occasion of batting third in the lineup in October and leads Arizona with 9 RBI in the postseason so far.
Evan Carter, Rangers left fielder
The 21-year-old Carter played 23 major-league games before making his postseason debut — posting an OPS over 1.000 in that time, powering his team to the playoffs and earning the nickname “little savior.” Carter is from a tiny town in northern Tennessee and was so unheralded before the draft that his 2020 second-round selection earned the Rangers’ industry critique.
Now, that unconventional selection is paying off in a big way. Carter has preternatural poise — so much so that his teammates marvel at whether he’s even alive, a classic baseball player compliment to a guy who has such a slow heartbeat that the stage is never too big for him.
— MLB (@MLB) October 24, 2023
Through his first 12 playoff games, Carter is slashing .308/.449/.538 while playing a strong and sometimes spectacular left field. After debuting in the nine-hole, Carter has steadily worked his way up the lineup, and by the end of the ALCS, he was batting third behind a couple of All-Star veterans in Marcus Semien and Corey Seager.
Jordan Montgomery, Rangers pitcher
The Rangers acquired Max Scherzer at the deadline from the Mets’ sinking ship, while their division rivals brought back Justin Verlander. But the biggest trade any team made might’ve been the other starting pitcher Texas picked up. At the start of last season, Montgomery was on the Yankees — who somewhat infamously didn’t think he was up to making high-pressure playoff starts. They traded him to the Cardinals, who flipped him at this deadline while their season floundered.
Well, after he pitched to a 2.79 ERA down the stretch with Texas, the Rangers made Montgomery their Game 1 starter in the wild card and the ALCS. He made two starts in that last series and then came back on short rest to throw 2⅓ out of the bullpen for Bruce Bochy in Game 7, making him a modern MadBum.
Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks manager
A wide-open skipper who wears his heart on his sleeve, Lovullo draws inspiration from — and often references — famed college basketball coaches such as John Wooden. Appropriate enough for the conductor of a March Madness-style Cinderella story, right?
The former Boston Red Sox bench coach has a strong bond with GM Mike Hazen and with his players, whom he led through some accidentally dismal times in recent seasons. If you’re just tuning in, don’t be surprised to see Lovullo make the bold, often difficult decisions the playoffs require and then fully, candidly explicate that difficulty afterward.
Chris Young, Rangers general manager
This is Young’s first front-office job. It’s going pretty well. He started his career in Texas — as a starting pitcher — and last played in 2017. After that, the Princeton University grad worked in the commissioner’s office for a few years before joining the Rangers under Jon Daniels. When J.D. was fired in August 2022, C.Y. took over and (basically) hasn’t stopped adding pitching since.
Daniels deserves a lot of credit for the core of the team that seemingly turned it around after he was gone, but Young has done a lot in just over a year as the head of baseball operations, including swinging some key trades this season. The 6-foot-10 gentle giant is soft-spoken with the media, but he brings an athlete’s competitiveness to his new role, something his players appreciate. “This is the first time I played for a GM that's a former player,” Max Scherzer said in August. “I love it.”
Tommy Pham, Diamondbacks outfielder
Don’t get hung up on the whole fantasy football slap controversy, but do appreciate the edge it betrays. Pham is nothing if not intense, but it’s an intensity his teammates come to appreciate. The often-doubted, usually vindicated outfielder just joined Arizona at the trade deadline, but he fits nicely as one of the veteran patches in the fabric of a youthful team that has taken its lumps and responded with fits of furious, almost reflexive improvement.
Case in point: Lovullo gave Pham what he called a breather in NLCS Game 5, which Pham viewed more like a benching. He responded by walloping a tone-setting homer in Game 6.
— Burn City Sports (@BurnCitySports) October 23, 2023
José Leclerc, Rangers reliever
The righty reliever out of the Dominican Republic is the longest continuously tenured member of the Rangers team — though the then-rookie Leclerc was left off the 2016 postseason roster. Out of the fiery mess that was the Rangers’ bullpen this regular season, Leclerc emerged late as a credible closing option; he cites a sick burn from his son for his turnaround.
Sure, he was on the mound for one of the most dramatic comebacks in Houston Astros’ history, but Leclerc has also pitched in every one of the Rangers’ nine wins this postseason. The goal for Texas in most games will be to get him the ball with the lead and let his calm demeanor and strikeout-inducing stuff handle the rest.
Kevin Ginkel, Diamondbacks relief pitcher
Take your pick from the suddenly dominant Diamondbacks bullpen, but Ginkel is as good a representative as any. A 6-foot-4 righty, he was a classic bubble reliever shuttling between the majors and minors, and he found himself in Triple-A as recently as June. But after that brief sojourn, he posted a 2.25 ERA in 36 innings and locked down the setup role leading into deadline addition Paul Sewald.
In the playoffs? Well, Ginkel has yet to allow a run in eight appearances, and his diving slider has come to signify the beginning of the end for opponents facing Lovullo’s increasingly ironclad procession of arms.
Kevin Ginkel, K'ing the Side with Disgusting Sliders...and is Fired up.🔥 pic.twitter.com/dis5efg3tn
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 25, 2023
Mike Hazen, Diamondbacks general manager
The architect of Arizona’s stunning present and bright future, Hazen built and bonded with this team through personal tragedy. His wife, Nicole, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2020 and died in August 2022.
Hired following the 2016 season, Hazen steadfastly refused to indulge in the sort of to-the-studs rebuild that many franchises in similar markets and competitive positions would’ve pursued. Dealing away Zack Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt did not produce the pop he hoped, but his penchant for fascinating, fearless challenge trades wound up forming much of the current core by bringing in Zac Gallen (for Jazz Chisholm Jr.), Ketel Marte (for Mitch Haniger, among others) and Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (for Varsho).
Mike Maddux, Rangers pitching coach
Bruce Bochy is largely responsible for making the Rangers seem like an organization that values experience — perhaps to the point of being old-school — but there’s also Maddux (as in, Greg’s brother), the 62-year-old who has been a pitching coach since the year after Evan Carter was born.
The man they call Mad Dog — but not that one — actually coached for the last Rangers team to play in the World Series, back in 2011. Since then, he spent time with the Washington Nationals, coaching Max Scherzer to two Cy Young awards in two years, and the St. Louis Cardinals. He came back to Texas this season and has presided over a cobbled-together staff full of stars and veterans, one that has proven to be the difference for the Rangers between a losing season in 2022 and a pennant in 2023.