World Series 2023: Surprise stars who drove D-backs, Rangers

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It's OK to admit that before the 2023 MLB playoffs started you didn't know how to pronounce "Pfaadt." Now you know: It rhymes with "thought." As in, nobody thought the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that was outscored during the regular season, would reach the World Series, especially after dropping the first two games of the National League Championship Series.

Now we know: The Diamondbacks will meet the Texas Rangers in a battle of two teams that had losing records in 2022 and lost more than 100 games just two seasons ago -- 110 for the Diamondbacks, 102 for the Rangers. It has to rate as one of the most unlikely matchups in World Series history.

To get here, both teams had some surprising performances. That's the beauty and joy of October baseball. Adolis Garcia can drive in 15 runs in the American League Championship Series, a record for any postseason series, Nathan Eovaldi can shove and Ketel Marte can get a hit in all 16 of Arizona's playoff games -- but you still need contributions from up and down the roster.

Like the aforementioned Brandon Pfaadt, a rookie right-hander who had a 5.72 ERA in the regular season and started Game 7 of the NLCS -- giving him the third-highest ERA ever for a Game 7 starter. Pfaadt held the Philadelphia Phillies to two runs in four innings, enough to turn the game over to an Arizona bullpen that would fire five scoreless innings. In the most critical at-bat of the game, with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the fourth and the Phillies threatening to break open a 2-1 lead, Pfaadt struck out light-hitting Johan Rojas on a big sweeping breaking ball Rojas chased out of the zone. The Diamondbacks scored twice in the top of fifth and that was, it turned out, the ballgame.

The Diamondbacks entered the postseason with just two trustworthy starters, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Pfaadt was their No. 3 starter by default. After an initial shaky outing against the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card series, in which he got knocked out in the third inning, he proceeded to toss 4⅓ scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the division series and then 5⅔ innings against the Phillies in Game 3, a brilliant outing in which he fanned nine and turned the tide of the series. He didn't get credit for the win in any of those three starts --- but the Diamondbacks won all three games. The entire roster has to chip in.

Let's look at some of the other surprising contributors on both the Diamondbacks and Rangers, and break down why they may end up deciding the 2023 World Series winner.