Rays vs. Dodgers: World Series Analysis
Kyle Sorgi, Staff Writer
Major League Baseball (MLB), like every other sport, had a completely different feel in 2020 than any other season. Not only was its regular season condensed from 162 to 60 games, but the playoffs welcomed six more teams than usual after the MLB adopted a 16-team bracket for a one-of-a-kind path to the World Series. This season will go down as one of the oddest in league history, but either the Tampa Bay Rays or Los Angeles Dodgers will have no problem with the final outcome after dueling for a World Series pennant at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.
Let’s start with the Rays. Making their second World Series appearance in franchise history (lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008), this team is powered by a dynamite pitching staff and timely hitting. Tampa Bay finished the regular season with a 40-20 record, which paced the American League and was only inferior to the Dodgers. In the playoffs, they bested the Toronto Blue Jays in two games of a best-of-three series, the New York Yankees in five games of a best-of-five series, and the Houston Astros in seven games of a best-of-seven series after almost blowing a 3-0 series lead. Had the Astros won game seven, they would have joined the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the only teams in MLB history to avenge a 3-0 series deficit in the postseason.
The Rays do not have many big-name players, but that has not stopped them from manufacturing wins. Their pitching staff leads all of baseball in postseason strikeouts and saves, and their best hitter is rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena, who has been a sparkplug for a Rays offense that is not typically known for strong bats (even though they lead the postseason in homeruns). Arozarena leads all hitters in hits and homeruns—the latter of which is a rookie postseason record. Also, he became just the fourth rookie all-time to win MVP in a League Championship Series. The Rays have done well for themselves with manager Kevin Cash and not as much cash—third lowest payroll in the MLB—as one hand can count the number of wins away that Tampa Bay is from their first World Series title. After the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup Final, the Miami Heat went to the NBA Finals, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers snagged Tom Brady, the state of Florida has been pretty successful in a bizarre sports season. The Rays beating the Dodgers would put the cherry on top of this Florida sports sundae. On that, let’s take a closer look at the opposition, who is no stranger to this position.
If it feels like déjà vu to see the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series again, you are not going crazy. This is their third showing in the last four seasons after losing to the Astros in 2017 and the Red Sox in 2018. They led all of baseball with a 43-17 regular season record and won their eighth consecutive National League West division title; in other words, they know how to prime themselves for a strong postseason run. The Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Brewers in two games of a best-of-three series, the San Diego Padres in three games of a best-of-five series, and the Atlanta Braves in seven games of a best-of-seven series in come-from-behind fashion. Out of 88 teams to ever fall behind 3-1 in a series, the Dodgers became the fourteenth team to avenge that deficit. Nevertheless, the blue blood of the National League escaped the wrath of Atlanta and made it one step closer to fulfilling several people’s preseason expectations of bringing a World Series title back to Los Angeles for the first time since 1988.
Unlike the Rays, you likely know more big-time players on the Dodgers: Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and—oh yeah—Mookie Betts make up a star-studded batting lineup. They can afford so many studs like this because they have the second highest payroll in the MLB (basically the opposite from the Rays). While the Rays are one of the best pitching team in the playoffs, the Dodgers are by far the best hitting team in the playoffs, leading the majors in several postseason offensive metrics such as on-base-percentage, stolen bases, and runs. Los Angeles is not too shabby on the mound, either; Clayton Kershaw leads a young starting rotation in which he is the only pitcher above the age of 26, while Kenley Jansen is one of the most effective closers across Major League Baseball. Manager Dave Roberts, who some Red Sox fans might remember for his famous stolen base in game four of the 2004 ALCS that sparked their unprecedented comeback, has always done well with this team but failed to ultimately come out on top; this season is a great opportunity to change that narrative.
In essence, this matchup boils down to great pitching against great hitting. If the Rays can control the game script and get out in front early before the Dodgers’ bats heat up, they can give themselves a good chance to take down the Dodgers. However, if the Dodgers can continue to light up opposing pitchers with their bats and give their pitchers enough run support to build and secure leads, they should have no problem beating the Rays. It is easy to look at the Dodgers as the obvious favorite and the Rays as the underdog, but this will be a competitive series in which both teams will have to grind out every win they can get. It seems hard to not pick the Dodgers with their depth and extraordinary talent on the diamond; but winning the World Series is all about gaining momentum (that’s why it’s a seven-game series). The Rays and Dodgers split the first two games of the series—Los Angeles won game one and Tampa Bay salvaged game two—proving that the Rays can hang around with the Dodgers and are not to be immediately overlooked.
Thus, this matchup is anything but a lock. It will be interesting to see whether the Rays win their first World Series title, or if they will go zero-for-two and the Dodgers snap a 32-year championship drought and make their third time (in four years) the charm.