So, the 2020 “Dash for the Cash” is down to its final gauntlet — the World Series between the two teams with the best records in their respective leagues. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished the regular season 43-17, and while they handled the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres rather easily in the first two postseason rounds, the Dodgers barely survived against the Atlanta Braves, coming back to win the final three games of the NLCS.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays finished the regular campaign at 40-20. They took care of the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees in strong fashion. But it was the upstart Houston Astros who came all the way back after losing the first three games of the ALCS to force a Game 7 … only to see the Rays tee off on Lance McCullers and claim their second-ever ticket to the World Series. The Rays lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
Just for some perspective on how I saw these teams in my power rankings, I had the Dodgers in my final rankings as the No. 1 team in baseball. The Rays were No. 3 behind the Oakland Athletics. The Braves were No. 8 behind the No. 7 San Diego Padres, and the Astros were No. 16, befitting their below-.500 mark and challenged starting rotation. Kudos have to go out to Dusty Baker, who somehow cobbled together enough pitching to take the Rays to the max despite the losses of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Roberto Osuna, Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski.
Let’s take a deeper dive into this series. The pitching matchup for Game 1 is stellar, as future Clayton Kershaw, on a full four days between starts, will match up with power right-hander Tyler Glasnow. Former AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell will start Game 2 for the Rays, but the Dodgers have yet to announce who will oppose him. The Dodgers will start young right-hander Walker Buehler in Game 3.
The Rays could start Ryan Yarbrough in Game 3 and Charlie Morton, the winning pitcher in Game 7 against the Astros, in Game 4. Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urias, who pitched three scoreless innings to close out the Braves, are among the options the Dodgers have to start Games 2 and 4.
Unlike the previous three rounds, off days were built into the World Series (after Game 2 and Game 5). As I understand it, MLB had not set the schedule for the postseason prior to the Aug. 31 trade deadline, and teams were unaware that each LCS would be seven games in seven days without off days. As the story goes, had the Dodgers and Braves known of those plans, both teams might have been much more aggressive in trying to pick up another starting pitcher at the deadline. But that should be a non-issue in the World Series for the Dodgers and Rays.
The Rays appear to have the edge in the bullpen, if for no other reason than manager Kevin Cash has lots of confidence in lots of arms. It appeared that two righties — Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo — were his late-inning guys, but in the series finale against the Astros, Cash went with 100 mph heat from Pete Fairbanks in the ninth.
For their part, the Dodgers for good reason have been worried about closer Kenley Jansen. That’s why the Dodgers went out during the offseason and signed former Oakland Athletics closer Blake Treinen to be present just in case. The only problem was Treinen didn’t look at all like the guy who had a great year-and-a-half reign of dominance out of Bob Melvin’s pen. But a funny thing happened during the Dodgers’ amazing comeback against the Braves — the old Kenley Jansen showed up out of nowhere in back-to-back closeouts of Games 5 and 6.
One other thing the Dodgers found out during the LCS was that Urias gives them a potential innings eater late in the series, even if he gets a start in Game 4.
But where the rubber may hit the road in this series is with the difference in the two lineups. The Dodgers’ run differential was the best in baseball; they scored 349 runs and allowed 213 runs for a sparkling differential of +129. The Rays’ run differential of +60 isn’t bad, but it speaks to the fact that this is a team that doesn’t beat anyone into submission. The Rays scored 289 runs and allowed 229 runs.
When you break those numbers down, the Dodgers scored 60 more runs than the Rays — exactly one more run per game. Throughout a season, even one as short as 60 games, that is a pretty big advantage.
This series features the two hottest hitters in the game right now in Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager and Rays rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena. Both won LCS MVP honors. Seager batted .310 against the Braves, posting two doubles, five home runs, 11 RBIs and nine Runs scored while slugging .897.
Arozarena batted .286 with four homers. His home run in the first inning of Game 7 against McCullers took a lot of pressure off the Rays after they had lost the previous three games. Arozarena also hit game-tying homers in Games 1 and Game 4. Arozarena has a total of seven homers this postseason, a rookie record. Arozarena also became the fourth rookie to ever win a LCS MVP. The others are Mike Boddicker (Orioles, 1983), Livan Hernandez (Marlins, 1997) and Michael Wacha (Cardinals, 2013).
But the one advantage the Dodgers have this year that they haven’t had in past postseasons? Mookie Betts. The past few weeks, I have seen the passion and fervor with which Betts plays in addition to the tool set he brings to the field every night — and I realized that is something that the sometimes-too-soft Dodgers missed these past seven previous seasons, all of which have ended in playoff disappointment.
I have been wrong before about Clayton Kershaw, but now that manager Dave Roberts has gotten over his obsession with using Kershaw on short rest, I’ll say from this corner that Kershaw will win both of his starts and be ready to help if it goes seven. The Rays won’t be pushovers, and they have built an extraordinarily deep roster. But I think the Dodgers win their first World Series since Kirk Gibson’s famous walk-off against Dennis Eckersley way back in 1988.