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Dodgers-Rays: A 2020 World Series preview

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An unprecedented baseball season is on the verge of concluding.

After a truncated regular season and an expanded postseason structure, all in the face of an ongoing pandemic, the World Series is set to begin. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays will be facing off for the 2020 MLB championship.

Even now, things will be different than ever before. Due to safety protocols and restrictions, the World Series will be played in a bubble, with all games taking place at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas – the Dodgers are ostensibly the “home” team due to a better record. Obviously, this isn’t how these players anticipated their season playing out, but at the end of the day, a ring is a ring.

And these guys want that ring.

It’s a matchup of very different franchises. The Dodgers have both a storied history and a record of recent success. Their 21 total World Series appearances – including both 2017 and 2018 – are second only to the Yankees in MLB history, though they haven’t won it all since 1988 (they also won three pennants in the pre-World Series era). Meanwhile, the Rays only came into existence in 1998, a decade after the Dodgers last won the title; the Rays made their sole previous World Series appearance in 2008, losing to the Philadelphia Phillies.

That said, despite the weirdness of the short season and the expanded playoffs – an invitation for random chance and statistical noise to rise to the surface and shake things up – the teams with the best records in each league have advanced to the Series – the Dodgers were 43-17, while the Rays were 40-20. It’s noteworthy just how infrequently that happens in this day and age; this marks just the fourth time since 1995’s divisional realignment that the winningest teams from each league faced off for the title.

So who’s going to win?

(Note: This edition went to print on Tuesday, Oct. 20, By the time it hit the streets, Game One of the World Series was in the books.)

Let’s start with the underdog Rays. They’ve had an up-and-down journey through the postseason, easily handling the Blue Jays early before going the distance with both the Yankees (winning in five) and the Astros (winning in seven). That Astros series was particularly trying – Houston came almost all the way back from down three games, forcing that climactic Game Seven. Ultimately, the victory is what matters, but still – trying stuff.

The Rays have long been a model for analytically-run organizations, with a front office utterly devoted to finding whatever minute statistical advantage can be had … so long as they can get it on the cheap. They don’t have a ton of star power, but their pitching – especially the bullpen – has been exceptional and they have a roster full of strong defenders who have shown a knack for timely hitting - shoutout to Randy Arozarena, the unheralded rookie who has hit seven homers so far this postseason and was named MVP of the ALCS.

But again – the key Rays advantage is pitching. They have a trio of top-tier starters in Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow, any of whom has the potential to have a big game (though the Rays are also unafraid to pull starters early and play percentages – expect a LOT of pitching manipulation from both sides in this series). Their bullpen is strong as well, although these days, it seems as though every team has four guys throwing 98-plus in the pen.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, are much more of a star-driven team. They fought their way through the Brewers and the Padres with little problem, sweeping both series with five straight wins, before winding up in their own seven-game nailbiter against the Braves – they were down 3-1 before coming back to take the pennant.

The Dodgers are the polar opposite of the Rays in one significant respect – payroll. The pro-rated Dodgers payroll sat at $95.6 million – highest in baseball – while the Rays were third from the bottom at just $29.3, ahead of just Baltimore and Pittsburgh. That big money means big names, and there’s no disputing that the Dodgers win the battle of star power. Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Clayton Kershaw – the list goes on.

The key advantage for L.A. is their offense. Corey Seager has been the postseason star thus far, with half-a-dozen homers and 15 RBI, but there have been significant contributors up and down the lineup. Bellinger slumped during the season, but turned it around. Betts hasn’t been quite as dominant with the bat this postseason, but is the best all-around player on either team. Even the guys who are struggling could break out at any time.

So where does this leave us? Who has the upper hand in each facet of the game? One man’s opinion:

Offense: Dodgers

Defense: Push

Starting Pitching: Rays

Bullpen: Rays

Essentially, this series is going to boil down to strength-against-strength (Dodgers bats vs. Rays arms) and disadvantage-against-disadvantage (Rays bats vs. Dodgers arms). That latter is the one on which I believe the series will hinge. Can the Rays do enough against the Dodgers still-very-good pitchers to support their pitchers? Or will the Dodgers manage to continue their homer-happy ways even against the excellent staff of Tampa Bay? It’s a tough call and I think that this one is going long regardless of who ultimately wins. But hey – enough equivocating.

Prediction: Rays in seven.

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 October 2020 16:11

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