You can look at the Los Angeles Dodgers playing the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series in a few ways — big-market bucks vs. small-market smarts, Mookie Betts vs. Randy Arozarena or Andrew Friedman’s current team vs. his old one.
Those storylines are fun, but the simple one might actually be the best one: It’s the best team in the American League vs. the best team in the National League.
You’d think that's how it should be, but baseball’s postseason is known to see a wild card (or a wild-card team) slip into the Fall Classic. No. 1 vs. No. 1 isn’t something we see regularly — and it certainly wasn’t the most likely destination when MLB played a 60-game season and then let 16 teams in the postseason.
It almost didn't happen this way, of course. The sub-.500 Astros were one win away from getting into the World Series. But after two grueling seven-game series, the Dodgers vs. the Rays feels right.
They’re probably more similar than you think. Both teams have deep rosters and pride themselves on having another pitcher who can get an out or another guy who can get a hit when you need them. The Rays are better stacked with bullpen arms, but the Dodgers have more starters to work with. Both teams play stellar defense. And the offenses — even the guys whose names you don’t know — can bring runs across the plate.
Friedman, now the president of baseball operations for the Dodgers, was making the Rays an unlikely contender in his last job as Rays GM. So the philosophies are the same in a lot of ways, the budget is just a little bigger.
It’s how the Dodgers traded for Betts this offseason and gave him a $365 million contract extension, while the Rays traded for Arozarena and watched him blossom into the best player in the postseason after only 23-game regular season. Both have been a treat to watch this postseason, but the Dodgers are just a little more name brand than the Rays.
That doesn’t mean they’re automatically better — it means you’re expecting them to win and be good. The Dodgers are the favorites and they’re loaded with stars, but the Rays are a formidable foe. If the Dodgers can finally win another World Series, particularly after getting here twice in the last three years and losing, they’ll have to earn it.
Game 1: Tuesday, Oct. 20, (8:09 p.m. ET) (FOX)
Game 2: Wednesday, Oct. 21, (8:08 p.m. ET) (FOX)
Game 3: Friday, Oct. 23, (8:08 p.m. ET) (FOX)
Game 4: Saturday, Oct. 24, (8:08 p.m. ET) (FOX)
Game 5*: Sunday, Oct. 25, (8:08 p.m. ET) (FOX)
Game 6*: Tuesday, Oct. 27, (8:08 p.m. ET) (FOX)
Game 7*: Wednesday, Oct. 28, (8:09 p.m. ET) (FOX)
The entire series will be played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and some fans will be present. Los Angeles will be the “home team” and bat last in Games 1, 2, 6 and 7. For the first time this postseason, the traditional off days will break up the series, despite the lack of travel.
The Dodgers and Rays haven’t played this season, since MLB’s schedule had teams only playing regionally. They did play in 2019, but don’t expect to learn much from that. The split the season series 2-2, and both teams have changed their rosters quite a bit since then.
Clayton Kershaw: Is it unbelievable that we’ve gone this many words into a Dodgers World Series preview and didn’t mention Kershaw’s name yet? He is the face of this team, the guy everyone in Dodger blue wants to win a ring for, but he doesn’t carry as much of the weight of winning the whole thing as he has in years past. Kershaw will get the ball in Game 1, but he has more help than ever before. Maybe it’ll be the less-is-more approach that finally gets Kershaw his ring?
Willy Adames, asked about Clayton Kershaw struggling in the postseason: "I wouldn't say he has some struggles, man. He just goes too far in the game."
— David Laurila (@DavidLaurilaQA) October 19, 2020
Randy Arozarena: The Rays outfielder has been the spark that’s carried their offense in October. Not bad for a rookie. He’s hit a postseason rookie record seven homers and the Rays will hope he has a couple more in him.
Brandon Lowe: And Tampa is lucky they have Arozarena to make up for Lowe, who had been their best hitter during the regular season. Because he’s been bad in the postseason. Through 16 games, he has just six hits, one homer and two RBIs. Now’s the time to shake that off.
Mookie Betts: The Dodgers traded for Betts with the expectation that he would bring a World Series win back to L.A. He’s four wins away. His defense has been stellar (particularly in the past few NLCS games) but the Dodgers would love if his bat could get going a little more. His OPS in the three postseason series: 1.357 to .900 to .695. If he can back even close to four digits, it would be a big help.
Why the Rays will win
Randy Arozarena: Yeah, we’re talking about him a lot, but he’s earned every bit of it. Arozarena has keyed the Rays offense all October. He can make things happen, whether it’s hitting the ball over the fence or getting on base and creating chaos with his speed. He’s added another dimension to the Rays lineup and right now, he’s unstoppable.
The bullpen: The clear advantage in this series is the Rays and their bullpen arms. The Dodgers try to have the same type of stocked bullpen, but it doesn’t quite work for them. The Rays are mostly a bunch of nameless guys who can all throw 98 — as the T-shirt goes. If they can get back to that form after a couple of misfires in the ALCS, it will put more pressure on the Dodgers. Speaking of ...
No pressure: Compared to L.A., the Rays roll into this World Series without the weight of the world on their shoulders. Nobody is *expecting* the Rays to win like they are the Dodgers. This should allow them to play loose and — to use this overused phrase — play Rays baseball.
Why the Dodgers will win
Cody & Corey: Corey Seager has been so good lately that only Arozarena has been better. He has six homers, 15 RBIs and has scored 13 runs in 12 games. Last season’s NL MVP, meanwhile, hadn’t been as potent at the plate, but if that big Game 7 homer woke Cody Bellinger up, then the Rays had better watch out.
Starting pitching: The dangerous thing about the Dodgers is now they have a Walker Buehler to pair with their Kershaw. Those two are clearly the best starters in the World Series, so if they can pitch like it — and save their bullpen some work — that will be advantage, Dodgers.
Maybe they’re due? This isn’t a cheap way to pile on, promise. But the Dodgers have lost two World Series in the last three years. They’ve been through postseason disappointment after postseason disappointment. So yeah, they might be due. Another way to look at that: They have experience on their side.
Number to know
72 percent: The Rays have scored 57 runs so far in the playoffs, and 41 of them have crossed the plate thanks to a home run. That is an extraordinarily high proportion even in a postseason where scoring has been more dependent on home runs generally.
Now, this isn’t a bad thing, per se. Hitting home runs is great. If that ability is there, more power to them.
However, there is a catch heading into the World Series. While the Rays have been playing at the AL neutral site, San Diego’s Petco Park, the NL postseason contenders have been demonstration just how cavernous and homer-suppressing the brand new Globe Life Field might be. And the World Series is being played at Globe Life Field.
It’s worth noting that the regular season version of the Rays was not particularly homer-dependent. Then again, nothing about the Tampa offense in October has had much relation to the summer iteration. Manuel Margot — a .269/.327/.352 regular season hitter —has five home runs, and Arozarena is Arozarena-ing. But the possibility exists that the park’s seemingly dramatic effect on home runs could alter the face of the matchup in some way. - Zach Crizer
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