And then there were two. LA. Tampa Bay. Who will be crowned 2020 World Series Champions?
The Dodgers are back in the World Series for the third time in four years, while Tampa has made it back for the first time since 2008? Will we see the Dodgers finally end their 32-year title drought and avenge their 2017 and 2018 losses? Or will Tampa Bay finally win their first-ever World Series title after coming up short in 2008?
Los Angeles V. Tampa Bay
How they got here:
LA: Beat Milwaukee, San Diego, and Atlanta
Tampa: Beat Toronto, New York Yankees, Houston
Wow, did the Dodgers cut it close. They were down 3-1 to the Braves, with no momentum on their side, but somehow found a way to win their 23rd NL pennant. Mookie Betts made highlight play after highlight play in the outfield to keep his team in the series, while Corey Seager took over offensively. Named the NLCS MVP, Seager hit .310, with five homers, and 11 RBIs. It also doesn’t hurt that the Dodgers were able to take advantage of a huge Atlanta baserunning gaffe in Game Seven.
Offensively, the Dodgers have the advantage. Betts and Seager are joined in the lineup by Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Will Smith, Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson, and Enrique Hernandez. This team can outslug anyone and will be looking to avenge 2017 and 2018. Through the team’s playoff run, the Dodgers offense is hitting .256, with 18 homers, 66 RBIs, and an OPS of .812.
On the pitching side is where things get dicey. Manager Dave Roberts has named Clayton Kershaw as his Game One starter. But which version of Kershaw will show up? Now is the time for the future Hall of Famer to put the notion that he never shows up in the postseason to bed. Behind Kershaw is ace Walker Buehler, rookies Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, and veteran Julio Urias. The bullpen has held up so far, but they will be tested by these pesky Rays. Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, Dylan Floro, and Kenley Jansen will be the main relievers used. But it is all hands on deck so expect Urias, Kershaw, May, Gonsin, and Buehler to come out of the bullpen at some point.
Tampa Bay almost had the biggest playoff implosion since the 2004 New York Yankees. Tampa led Houston 3-0, but struggled to put the Astros away. Houston became the second team ever to force a Game Seven after being down 3-0. Fortunately for Tampa, they were able to win Game Seven thanks in part to rookie sensation, Randy Arozarena. Who is Randy Arozarena you might ask? Only the saving grace for Tampa’s offense. Acquired in an off-season trade from the Cardinals, he finished the regular season hitting .281, with seven homers, 11 RBIs, and an OPS of 1.022. However, in the playoffs, he has taken his game to another level, hitting .381, with seven homers, 10 RBIs, and an OPS of .991. He was named ALCS MVP thanks to hitting .321 with four homers and six RBIs. Whenever the Rays needed a big hit, Arozarena was able to come through.
Tampa is not built to solely rely on its offense to win games. The Rays use their elite starting rotation and deep bullpen to keep teams at bay, while the offense grinds out wins. So far the process has worked, but the offense will need to pick it up. Throughout the playoffs, Tampa’s offense is hitting a meager .209, with 25 homers, 56 RBIs, and an OPS of .702. Despite the Rays lights out pitching, the offense will need to wake up or it will be a quick series. In fact, the offense almost doomed Tampa in the ALCS. They failed to capitalize on numerous scoring chances in games four through six and instead relied on the long ball way too much.
Arozarena, Ji-Man Choi, and Manuel Margot have led the offense so far, but they will need help. The offensive core of Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe, Mike Brosseau, Willy Adames, Hunter Renfroe, Mike Zunino, Kevin Kiermaier, and Joey Wendle will need to wake up and quick.
Not much needs to be said about Tampa’s starting rotation. Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton, and Ryan Yarbrough have been tested all October and are all up for the challenge. Behind them is the best bullpen in baseball. The three-headed monster of Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, and Diego Castillo has been used excessively, but for good reason. All three could be closer’s on other teams, but instead, they allow manager Kevin Cash to be flexible when dealing with high-pressure situations. Will their excessive use be a factor over the next couple of days?
Defensively, this is a very even matchup. Both teams flashed their gloves in their respective Championship Series matchups. Expect many robbed homers and diving catches over the next seven games.
Player to watch for each team:
LA: Kenley Jansen
There are plenty of interesting player storylines on the Dodgers and many will be focused on Kershaw. But all eyes should also be on closer Kenley Jansen. From 2013-2017, Jansen was one of the best closers in baseball and now the miles on his arm are starting to catch up. He is no longer the lockdown reliever of years past and will be leaned on to help close out some high-pressure situations. Is he up for the task?
Tampa: Charlie Morton
Charlie Morton is one of the clutchest starting pitchers in recent memory. In fact, he became the first pitcher ever to be named the winning pitcher in three Game Sevens. His most memorable moment was in Game Seven of the 2017 World Series. Morton came out on three days rest and pitched the last four innings in relief, shutting down the Dodgers offense.
Through three playoff starts, Morton is 3-0, with a .57 ERA, and 17 strikeouts. The Dodgers offense is the ultimate test, but Morton has defeated them before in October. Now he will be asked to once again come through on the biggest stage.
Prediction: The Dodgers offense is no joke but they will be stumped by Tampa’s pitching. Randy Arozarena is the hottest hitter on the planet and is just getting started. Rays in seven.