November 1st, 2023 is a date that cements itself in Texas Rangers history. The spike of Josh Sborz’s glove, the called third strike by home plate umpire David Rackley, and the scream of Jonah Heim as he takes off the mask, all those visuals will forever rest in the minds of Texas Rangers fans. No, you’re not dreaming. It’s reality.
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) November 2, 2023
There’s much to process in what was a wild ride in the past month. From dominating a best-of-three Wild Card series at Tropicana Field with the Rays and Orioles to going up 2-0, then falling behind 3-2 to the Houston Astros, and finally capping off with a ring in the state, the journey of 2023 started, Arizona.
The production of Corey Seager (World Series MVP), Adolis Garcia (ALCS MVP), and starters Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi will highlight the 2023 Rangers Postseason package, as they should. However, there are a few unsung heroes of the playoffs that should not go unnoticed. I could run down the list of almost everyone on the postseason roster with some contributions they provided throughout October. But here are the underrated stars of the Rangers 2023 postseason:
It feels odd putting Marcus Semien on the underrated star list, but he turned a dismal postseason at the dish into a memorable one in the final three games. It was Semien’s RBI single in Game 3 that sparked the three-run inning (followed by Corey Seager’s home run). In Game 4, Semien’s two-out triple started the first of two five-run outbursts, which capped off in the 3rd with his three-run home run. Finally, in Game 5, Marcus’ two-run home run left any doubt about whether Wednesday would be a special night.
While Semien had 12 hits in the first 14 postseason games (and only 2 RBI), he finished the run with five hits and 8 RBI in his final three games. At the end of Game 5 of the ALCS, I asked Bruce Bochy about Marcus. Bochy said Semien was trying to find his way but liked his at-bats, and there was a little luck (or bad luck) involved, too. The three games drastically change without Marcus Semien anchoring the top of the lineup, like he’s done all season (literally).
Leody Taveras’ box score is a prime example of how looks can be deceiving. Leody finished the Postseason 0 for his last 21, BUT he drew three walks in the World Series. One of those is the walk that changed the series in Game 1. If Paul Sewald takes care of Leody and, subsequently, Marcus Semien, the game is over, and Arizona celebrates Game 1’s victory. Taveras’ patience and strike zone recognition trended in the right direction in 2023. Leody lowered his strikeout-to-walk ratio from 4.19 to 3.34. Of course, you can’t forget Taveras robbing Yordan Alvarez of a home run, despite it in a loss, and what he did in his first seven postseason games (3 extra-base hits and 3 RBI).
LEODY TAVERAS! 😱 pic.twitter.com/aQgIeGEFqO
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) October 19, 2023
I’m not discounting Josh Jung by any stretch, and I love that Rangers fans hadn’t forgotten about Josh once Evan Carter stepped into the spotlight. Josh said in Spring Training he was working on his defense, and man, did it show up all season long. In 155 innings and 48 chances, Josh made one error in the Postseason. It’s a collective among the infield to keep each of them in check (Semien, Seager, Nathaniel Lowe, and Jung). As a team, the Rangers made four errors in 17 Postseason games. You can attribute that to the work by the players and especially Corey Ragsdale and Tony Beasley.
For Josh at the dish, it was about getting on base and setting up for the rest of the lineup. Jung had a hit in five of his last six Postseason games, including a three-hit night in Game 4 of the World Series. It was his home run in Game 1 of the ALDS that added cushion and ended up being the difference in what was a one-run win and shifted the series in the Rangers’ favor.
After the Rangers placed Jon Gray on the injured list on September 26th, Gray didn’t come in until Game 3 of the ALCS, three weeks later. He threw a mere 15 pitches, and that was all for the ALCS. Then, when things started going south in Game 1 of the World Series, Gray entered, and it was game on. There are a bunch of Game 1 World Series MVPs you could hand out, but Gray’s 1.2 inning, one-hit, and four-strikeout performance has to be at the top of the list or pitching list. Gray followed with three shutout innings in Game 3, coming in for an injured Max Scherzer.
It was an up-and-down year for Jon Gray, with many injuries that even baffled Jon himself. However, his heroics ate some quality innings in tense moments, and he ended the season as one of the more prominent long relievers in Postseason history if that’s a thing.
Jose Leclerc made his MLB debut seven years ago at Fenway Park for the Rangers. He’s the longest-tenured Ranger in the clubhouse and witnessed the extreme lows of this franchise between 2017-2022. It feels fitting that Bruce Bochy deems Leclerc the closer, and Jose shuts it down throughout the Postseason. Jose recorded the final out in 11 of the Rangers’ 17 postseason games, including the first seven, threw multiple innings four times (did that 12 times in 57 appearances during the regular season), and only surrendered runs in three appearances (two were blowouts at the time).
For a Rangers bullpen that was historically bad and blew 33 saves in the regular season, Texas blew one save in the Postseason. I know that the World Series ring feels suitable for everyone in the organization, but for Jose Leclerc to stick with the Rangers in his career, it feels extra special.
Josh Sborz may have won the award for the most significant turnaround from a regular season to Postseason. In the Postseason, Sborz was almost untouchable. That combination of Josh and Leclerc turned a suspect Rangers bullpen into a deadly 8-9 inning combo that eventually ended with Sborz’s championship-clinching celebration on the mound.
In 2023, the Rangers placed Josh on the injured list three separate times, including the last one in early September, when Texas activated him in the last week of the regular season. Sborz allowed one run in 12 innings pitched in the Postseason instead of 32 runs in 52 innings during the 2023 season. He cut down on the walks during the year and, in the Postseason, had a WHIP of 0.67, which was fifth best among relievers in the Postseason with five or more innings pitched. If this is only the start for Josh Sborz, he could join the candidates for Rangers closer in 2024.
While everyone goes out and celebrates tomorrow in Arlington, remember we’re less than four months away from Spring Training, and your Rangers will be back in Arizona to try for a repeat (boy, is that weird to say). Enjoy this, Rangers fans!
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) November 2, 2023
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