Will the World Series end tonight? Plus, how the Rangers exemplify smart spending

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The Rangers lost two superstars but won Game 4. Is today the last day of baseball, or will Arizona send the series back to Texas? I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to the Windup!

Rangers overcome injuries

After all I’ve waited, I’m so close I can taste it”

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Christian Walker and the Diamondbacks need a win tonight to stay alive. (Joe Camporeale / USA Today)

Remember all that talk yesterday about the two faces of baseball? How the Diamondbacks have thrived in chaos, while the Rangers have excelled in elegance?

I should have known that Halloween would summon a bit of pandemonium.

Let’s start with the pregame news that the injuries to Max Scherzer (back) and Adolis García (oblique) were bad enough that both were removed from the Rangers’ roster, ineligible to return for the remainder of the World Series. Scherzer was replaced by Brock Burke and García by Ezequiel Duran.

Then came the actual baseball.

The Diamondbacks, for all their “embrace the chaos,” had avoided one particular type of anarchy better than any team in baseball this year: the error. Their 56 regular-season miscues were the fewest in the sport (the Rangers, by the way, finished second-best, with 57). There had not been a single error in the first three games of the series.

But in the third inning, with Texas already leading 5-0 thanks to a wild pitch, a two-run triple from Marcus Semien and a two-run homer from Corey Seager, first baseman Christian Walker misplayed a possible double-play ball hit by Jonah Heim, which loaded the bases. A Travis Jankowski double and a Semien home run later, Texas had five unearned runs in the inning, making it 10-0.

Give the D-Backs credit — they did not give up. Three singles, a sac fly and a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. homer in the eighth made it 11-5, and the ninth inning was a veritable recreation of that scene from Monty Python — “I’m not dead! I think I’ll go for a walk!” — as they scored two more runs to make it 11-7 before Walker popped out in foul territory to end the game.

The chaos showed up, but in a surprise plot twist, the Rangers emerged victorious and now have a 3-1 lead. Game 5 goes tonight at 8:03 p.m. ET on Fox.

Ken’s Notebook: Rangers show how to spend wisely

From my latest column:

Much of the baseball discussion in the 2023 season centered around the big-money teams that flopped: the Mets, the Yankees, the Padres. But if the Rangers have proven anything, it’s that spending money works — as long as you spend on the right players.

The Phillies, the team the Diamondbacks eliminated in the National League Championship Series, are another example of a team that mostly invested wisely. The Rangers’ choices were not perfect. They signed Jacob deGrom last offseason for $185 million, only to see him require a second Tommy John surgery after six starts.

That move, though, was part of the larger plan that began with Semien and Seager, who joined the team on Dec. 1, 2021, just before the start of the owners’ lockout, and now bat first and second in the Rangers’ lineup.

The Rangers finished 68-94 in their first season with Semien and Seager, but continued pushing forward. The additions of deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney last offseason spoke to the commitment of ownership and competitiveness of general manager Chris Young. The deadline acquisitions of Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery reflected the same passion. At this point, no one should be surprised if the Rangers emerge as a player for Shohei Ohtani this winter. They will be all the more attractive if they make their pitch as World Series champions.

Semien and Seager were part of a free-agent class of infielders that also included Carlos Correa, Trevor Story and Javier Báez. All were shortstops, but Semien had moved to second base the previous season with the Blue Jays. Few in the industry expected one team to end up with two of the infielders. But upon learning of the Rangers’ twin signings, which occurred when Jon Daniels was still the team’s president of baseball operations, veteran infielder Brad Miller recalled thinking, “That makes sense.”

Miller, who joined the Rangers as a free agent three months later, has not been part of any of the team’s postseason rosters but is traveling with the club. After 11 years in the majors, he has a special appreciation for everything Semien and Seager offer.

“I look out there every night and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s about as stable and steady as you can have in a double-play combination,’” Miller said. “What a way to start, with a foundation like that.”

Unlikely World Series heroes

“Maybe I’m not who you expected, but …”

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Travis Jankowski made an immediate impact last night. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

The World Series has a long and storied tradition of the unexpected hero. My introduction to this trend came in 1991, when Mark Lemke, coming off a season in which he had doubled his career home run total (from two to four), went bonkers in the World Series, hitting .417 (1.170 OPS) in six games.

The Braves lost that World Series to the Twins, but there have been quite a few underdog heroes over the years, and you don’t have to look back very far to find them.

Remember 2020, when Brett Phillips of the Rays sprinted into the outfield, arms outstretched like an airplane after hitting a walk-off single to score Randy Arozarena in Game 4?

We could go back to 1972 and recall Gene Tenace, who filled the void admirably when Reggie Jackson missed the whole Series after injuring his hamstring in the final game of the ALCS. Tenace hit just five home runs in 258 plate appearances that season, but blasted four in 25 trips to the plate in the Fall Classic, which earned him a World Series MVP award.

And who could forget the unlikeliest of them all? Don Larsen, who threw the only perfect game in World Series history in 1956, went 3-21 two years prior (and finished his career with an 81-91 record).

Will Travis Jankowski elevate his legend to those levels? Probably not, since he didn’t get his first at-bat until Game 4. But ask anyone in the Rangers clubhouse, and he was a hero on Tuesday night, filling in admirably for the injured García, going 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBI and making a brilliant sliding catch in foul territory.

Cody Stavenhagen tells Jankowski’s story here. Did you know this isn’t even the first time this year that an outfielder’s oblique injury has opened a door for him?

What’s the pitching plan?

“Jigsaw falling into place, so there is nothing to explain”

The Rangers will turn to Eovaldi to try to clinch the World Series tonight, and the Diamondbacks will rely on Zac Gallen to send the series back to Texas. (Here, Stephen Nesbitt wrote a whole preview about it!)

But what happens if either of those guys falters early?

First, Texas: manager Bruce Bochy could have opted to stick with Dane Dunning for the final four innings last night, leaving the rest of his bullpen alone. Instead, he opted to use Dunning for just one inning, following him with Cody Bradford and Brock Burke, then pivoting to Chris Stratton, Will Smith, and — when things got closer than he would have liked — closer José Leclerc.

Those aren’t the main guys, but if things go south early for Eovaldi, Bochy might turn to Martín Pérez, who was shaky in Game 2, to eat innings. Leclerc, now having pitched the last two nights, has not pitched on three consecutive nights this season.

For Arizona, things are even murkier. Torey Lovullo used six relievers in a bullpen game last night. Of those six, Ryne Nelson (5 1/3 innings, 68 pitches), at least, is probably unavailable. Miguel Castro, Kyle Nelson, Luis Frías and Andrew Saalfrank pitched in both Games 3 and 4, so their availability is questionable. That leaves Ryan Thomson, Kevin Ginkel and closer Paul Sewald as the only fully rested relievers.

Thompson’s longest outing of the regular season was 1 2/3 innings (34 pitches) on May 13, though he did go two innings (23 pitches) in Game 4 of the NLCS. Ginkel’s longest outing was 2 2/3 innings (also 34 pitches) on May 9, but he hasn’t thrown more than two innings since June 11.

Joe Mantiply could also be available, having thrown 28 pitches last night. We’ll see what happens.

Handshakes and High Fives

Bookmark this page: Tim Britton has started his annual process of making the appropriate comps and estimating free-agent deals. He begins with the pitchers (position players will come later this week). And if you want to compare and contrast to triangulate, you can do that by checking out Jim Bowden’s predictions for his top 40 free agents.

Chris Kirschner examines the Yankees’ payroll and asks if they might go over the $300 million mark for the first time.

Grant Brisbee looks at how the Alex Cobb injury will impact the Giants’ offseason plans.

Yesterday, we talked about radio announcers. Today, a TV announcer gets a mention. Dick Bremer is leaving the Twins television booth after 40 years on the job.

It’s not a headline that will necessarily grab a lot of attention, but for thousands of employees of Major League Baseball clubs, the elimination of the standard contract is a pretty big deal. Evan Drellich has more here.

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(Top photo of Marcus Semien: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

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