Five days ago, this article didn’t feel like it was going to be written. But after taking three in a row from the Braves to win the National League pennant for the third time in four seasons, the Dodgers are ready to face a formidable foe in the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas — the Dodgers’ home for the last three weeks.
The Rays went 40-20 in the regular season — three games off the Dodgers’ pace — and have gone 9-5 in these playoffs. They went the distance against the Yankees in the ALDS before getting a scare from the Astros in the ALCS. They jumped out to a 3-0 series lead before Houston stormed back with three consecutive wins. Fortunately for the Rays, they came through in Game 7 to advance to the Fall Classic.
By the numbers
The Rays have an interesting offense. They hit for a little power, swipe some bases, draws walks and has some swing-and-miss. Not unlike the Dodgers’ of years’ past. During the regular season, they were led by Brandon Lowe, who posted a 150 wRC+ with a .269/.362/.554 batting line. He was the only Ray to hit double-digit home runs … if you only count the regular season. The unquestioned star of these playoffs has been Randy Arozarena. The 25-year-old outfielder hit a robust .281/.382/.641 with a 176 wRC+ in 76 regular-season plate appearances. Well, that has carried over to October. Arozarena is posting video game numbers — .382/.433/.855 with seven home runs (as many as he hit in the regular season) and a ridiculous 244 wRC+. He was the ALCS MVP and has been the driving force behind the Rays’ October offense. The Rays also have some other solid hitters in Yandy Diaz (138 wRC+), Willy Adames (124 wRC+) and Joey Wendle (116 wRC+), but they are a heavy platoon team. Adams is an every day player, but their plat appearances are definitely shared among their talented hitters. Oh, and Austin Meadows — their MVP last season — still exists. He dealt with a nagging oblique injury that limited him to just 36 games in this shortened season. While the regular-season numbers weren’t impressive in 2020 (.205/.296/.371, 86 wRC+), he’s a very capable ballplayer and someone the Dodgers will have to neutralize.
The Dodgers’ offense has gone through its ups and downs this postseason, as it does in most years. So far, they’ve been able to overcome some frustrating games and hit enough to get to the World Series. Corey Seager is coming off an NLCS MVP award after hitting .310/.333/.897 with five home runs. Cody Bellinger hit the eventual series-winning home run, while half of Enrique Hernandez‘s hits in the series were homers (OK, he only had four hits, but yeah). Will Smith, despite hitting just .179, had two of the biggest hits of the NLCS. Mookie Betts had six singles and a double, but he made his biggest impact on defense. Max Muncy and Joc Pederson contributed, while Justin Turner has been hit and miss. It’ll be interesting to see how the offense does against this talented Rays’ pitching staff.
The Rays’ Top 2 starters have good track records in Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. And that doesn’t even mention their most talented pitcher in Tyler Glasnow. That’s a formidable Top 3. Glasnow will likely draw the Game 1 start, with Snell ready for Game 2 and Morton for Game 3. But the Rays — much like the Dodgers this postseason — are liable to be unconventional when it comes to starting pitching. Ryan Yarborough could get the call, but he might only go a few innings. He might follow an opener like John Curtiss. That’s been his role for Tampa Bay in recent years. In the postseason, Morton has been their best starter (15 2/3 IP, 0.57 ERA, 20.3 K-BB%), so the Dodgers will have to try to figure him out in Game 3 and in any potential Game 7.
On the Dodgers’ side, Clayton Kershaw will draw the Game 1 start. He’ll be on full rest and ready to go up against a Rays’ offense that hit lefties (121 wRC+) better than righties (105 wRC+) in 2020. Game 2 will be interesting for LA. I don’t think they go with Walker Buehler on short rest, so we could get a similar look to Game 7 of the NLCS. Dustin May could start and be tasked with going 2-3 innings. Hopefully he can make it more than one so the Dodgers don’t have to bring Tony Gonsolin back on shorter-than-normal rest. Game 3 should be Buehler’s. He’ll be on full rest and, like Morton, would be lined up for a potential Game 7. Julio Urias, who has been fantastic this postseason, should start Game 4, with Kershaw back on full rest in Game 5. One thing’s for sure, this series will be unconventional when it comes to the starting pitchers.
Pretty similar bullpens in the regular season here. The Rays have the best overall reliever in Nick Anderson. He’ll pitch in high-leverage situations, not just the ninth inning. Same goes for Diego Castillo. And Pete Fairbanks has been a revelation for the Rays this postseason, saving three of their wins and striking out more than 37% of the hitters he has faced. From the left side, Jose Alvarado, Josh Fleming and Aaron Loup are in different roles and have different types of stuff. Alvarado has the nastiest stuff, Curtis is next (but he’s used as an opener at times), while Fleming is more of a ground ball guy and Loup is a good balance of all of them. Update: Alvarado was left off the roster in favor of Ryan Sherriff. He’s a crafty lefty who gets a lot of ground balls. Expect to see all these guys at anytime, in any situation. If you think the Dodgers’ bullpen management has been unconventional, just wait until you see what Kevin Cash has in store for this series.
The Dodgers’ bullpen is always the butt of the joke in the postseason. Early in the NLCS, it was bad! Later, it was good! Daniel put it much more eloquently.
In Games 5-7, the Dodgers had no room for error. The non-starter relievers (it makes sense) allowed just two runs — one by Victor Gonzalez, one by Blake Treinen (Tony Gonsolin allowed the other two). Kenley Jansen may have regained his early season form, which is encouraging and terrifying at the same time, because you know Dave Roberts is going to test that theory. Brusdar Graterol is in the middle of his coming out party, while Pedro Baez and his changeup should be up for some high-leverage work. Oh, and Joe Kelly still exists and will surely make his appearances eventful. Speaking of existing, Jake McGee is still around and, but he allowed three hits and a run in 1 2/3 innings against the Braves, so his face might end up on the side of a milk carton. Adam Kolarek has lost his spot as the high-leverage lefty reliever and here’s hoping we don’t see a ton of Alex Wood. He seems like a swell fella, but if he’s pitching, it’s probably in mop-up work.
The Dodgers and Rays did not face each other this season. The last time the two teams met in the regular season, it was a 2-2, home/home split series.
Rays’ roster to be announced, although, this could end up being an interesting wrinkle.
Wander Franco, the unquestioned top prospect in the sport, put this on his Instagram profile yesterday. It could just be because he’s on the taxi squad, but it’d be awfully ballsy for the Rays to put him on their roster. Oh, and he just turned 19 on March 1.
Update: He didn’t make it. Here’s the Tampa Bay roster,
Adames, acquired in the David Price trade in 2014, has star potential. The 25-year-old was trending toward his best season as a pro in 2020, but, you know, the whole 60-game thing stopped him from making it a career-year. He has some sock and can draw a walk. He does have a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, though. He’s a premium defender at shortstop, which could be a big factor in this series.
Gonzalez was added to the 40-man roster over the winter. I don’t think even the biggest Dodger prospect honk (me or Future Dodgers … sorry, Jared) would have expected Gonzalez to not only be on the postseason rosters, but to be called on in significant situations. He is quickly establishing himself as the best lefty in the bullpen and might the best reliever in the ‘pen as early as next year. He’ll help against the solid Rays’ lefty hitters in Ji-Man Choi, Lowe, Meadows and Wendle.
This should be a competitive series. Both teams are evenly matched and are better than the other in certain aspects of the game. Andrew Friedman’s fingerprints are all over both these teams, so if you see a lot of familiarity in Tampa, that’s the reason.
The Dodgers are looking to end a 32-year championship drought. The Rays are making their second World Series appearance in franchise history (2008 vs. Philadelphia). This should be a good one.