Riding the Train into the MLB Postseason

by Bill Hickman

Several former Big Train players participated in the 2023 major league post-season playoff games as their teams fought in attempts to qualify to play in the World Series. This article traces how those players performed in that post-season competition.

Joe Mantiply (BT 2010) was brought into the Wild Card Game on October 3 for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the Milwaukee Brewers. He pitched 2/3 of an inning, yielded no runs, and came away with the win. Then, in the National League Division Series, he pitched twice against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On October 7, he hurled 2/3 of an inning without yielding any runs. Four days later, he picked up his second playoff win, going an inning and a third of shutout ball. Up to this point, he was performing like the all-star he had been in 2022. But on October 17, in the National League Championship Series, he had the misfortune of facing the red hot Philadelphia Phillies. In a third of an inning, he gave up three hits, two walks, and three earned runs. In Game Four of the NL Championship Series, Mantiply was the D-Backs’ opener. On the mound for only one inning, he pitched well, surrendering one hit and no runs. He picked off the runner who had advanced to first. Mantiply appeared again for the D-Backs in Game Seven of the Championship Series. He entered the game in the 5 th inning in relief of the starter, pitched 2/3 of an inning, and yielded no runs. The D-Backs won 4-2 and moved on to the World Series.

With the World Series underway against the Texas Rangers, Mantiply pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning in the first game. At this point, he had set down five tough hitters (Phillies and Rangers) in a row as he had happened to face the hearts of their lineups. Four of the five had been all stars (Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Marcus Semien, and Corey Seager). The fifth, Evan Carter, had hit .389 in his first six post-season games. In Game Four of the World Series, Mantiply was the opener for the D-Backs. He continued with his shutdown streak of all stars with the first two Ranger batters, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. He issued a harmless walk to Mitch Garver, as that was followed by Evan Carter’s flying out to end the inning. In the second inning, he yielded his only hit, a leadoff double to Josh Jung. That was followed by his fanning Nathaniel Lowe, and Mantiply was through for the evening. His tally for Game Four: one hit, one walk, one run, and unfortunately he was charged with the loss. The relievers who followed him could not hold the Rangers back.

The Dodgers had a tough time mounting much of an offense against the Diamondbacks in the National League Division Series. They scored only six runs in three games. James Outman (BT 2017) was among the Dodgers who struggled at the plate. He appeared in all three games and went 0 for 5. He did get on base once with a walk. He could take consolation in that he was in contention for NL Rookie of the Year honors for his performance during the regular season.

Hunter Brown (BT 2018) pitched in relief twice for the Houston Astros against the Minnesota Twins in the American League Division Series. On October 8, Hunter pitched a scoreless inning and chalked up two strikeouts. On October 10, he made another one-inning appearance, this time yielding a run. He came back strong in the American League Championship Series on October 19, as he hurled three shutout innings against the Texas Rangers, yielding only two hits, helping his team to a 10-3 victory. Hunter was brought to the mound again in Game Seven of the AL Championship Series. He pitched reasonably well, hurling two innings and yielding a solo homer to Adolis Garcia, who was the series MVP. That was the only run scored against Brown in the outing.

J.P. France (BT 2014) made his playoff debut in the American League Championship Series on October 16 for the Houston Astros against the Texas Rangers. He had an excellent outing, pitching 2.1 shutout innings while yielding only one hit. France returned to the mound in Game Seven of the AL Championship Series. It was not his day this time. He surrendered five hits and four runs in 2/3 of an inning.

Throughout these playoffs, Bill Murphy (BT 2008) was in the Houston Astros bullpen serving as their pitching coach, and helping Brown and France in their preparations.

No Big Train alumni were able to get their hands on the World Series championship trophy in 2023. That has not been the case in the past. Hunter Brown and Bill Murphy of the 2022 Astros were able to claim World Series rings. Brian Dozier (BT 2006) of the 2019 Nationals was another who found himself celebrating with a World Series winner