World Series Preview: Dodgers V. Rays
The two teams that should be here are here. Finally, who’s winning this thing?
The Los Angeles Dodgers are a team of destiny, propelled by the winds of the baseball spirits to finally claim a title after 32 years without.
The Tampa Rays are a team of destiny, propelled by the pitching and timely-hitting formula that has allowed previous penny-pitching clubs like the Minnesota Twins and Florida Marlins to claim titles.
Which one’s true? Time of course will tell, but what we can do is look at the numbers.
Tampa is being outspent three-and-a-half-to-one -$105.5 million to $28.6 million- for a 60-game season. The last time Tampa was in the series, people were still calling them the Devil Rays even though they had dropped the devil part and added a ray of sunshine to the logo a year earlier. They were outspent leading up to the 2008 series by the Philadelphia Phillies by a little more than two-to-one. Tampa lost in five games.
This year, of course, is different. Teams don’t steal bases. Pitchers don’t hit. Nobody knows how to bunt. Until the idea of a “bubble” to have half of the teams play their games at one park, ballplayers were actually told to not spit. Thankfully, with the bubble, players are once again to snort, and zoot, and hock and ptooey all over the field. None of that will reach any of the 11,000 fans who are now allowed into the park, because Globe Life Field is a domed, open-air stadium with a nice draft of air conditioning that whips around the park and because the fans are all wearing masks … when they aren’t cramming fries in their fry holes or drinking $15 margaritas or when the usher is near giving the universal, “Dammit lady, I know you have money and clothes and the rules don’t apply to you, but get your goddamned mask out of your goddamned pocket and put it on your goddamned face” sign (deep breath into your mask, please.) The universal sign, of course, is a simple tug of the mask by the usher, while he or she attempts to not look like a jerk.
As for the series, the Dodgers have made this a lot harder than anybody thought it needed to be. The Braves baffled them with breaking balls for most of the National League Championship Series. Expect more of the same from
Clayton Kershaw hopes to continue a postseason that has seen two quality starts and a game against the Braves in which he gave up four runs, but only one was earned. For once, he isn’t being counted on to carry the team’s pitching fortunes. I worry though, that he’s the Game 1 and likely Game 5 and maybe Game 7 starter. That’s a lot of pressure. Still, I figure he has to be good for two wins given his resurgence, relative health (back spasms aside) and use of the breaking pitches to set up the fastball. Walker Buehler and Julio Urias have both performed as well as they did during the regular season and L.A. is loaded with long and short relievers.
For Tampa, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell get all the publicity, but it’s former Astros hero Charlie Morton who has dominated. How’s half a run per game grab ya? His starts will likely determine how deep this series goes. Snell will win one of two. Glasnow has not been particularly good. The bullpen is more than up to the task of taking on the Dodgers hitters, if they don’t rely strictly on fastballs.
The plan at the plate for L.A. is the same as it’s always been. Take pitches you can’t hit, crush pitches you can hit, don’t worry about strikeouts. Seven Dodgers have on-base percentages in the playoffs above .350, which would qualify all of them to be good leadoff hitters. This includes the bench players who have come through time after time in pinch-hitting roles. Los Angeles has outscored the Rays by a dozen games in two-fewer postseason games. Cory Seager took an oh-fer in Game 7 of the NLCS. Justin Turner started to come around. Cody Bellinger started opening his eyes when he swung and then there are the guys that aren’t the big names during the year that come through time and again in the postseason. Names like Will Smith and Joc Pederson and Edwin Rios.
For the Rays, Randy Arozarena hit seven home runs to lead an offense that otherwise didn’t do a lot. L.A. is out-hitting Tampa by 47 points in the postseason. Ji Man Choi has been fun to watch. For a big man, he’s really quick. Manuel Margot is the other supply of power, but the Dodgers have seen him before during his time with the San Diego Padres. Mike Zunino is a walking, talking strikeout machine right now and he refuses to walk. If he’s up in a lot of key situations, Tampa’s in trouble, despite his two homers in the ALCS. Willy Adames led the team in walks, which is great, but he was also second in strikeouts. Only three Rays have an on-base percentage better than .350.
The Tampa advantage over the rest of the American League doesn’t hold up against Los Angeles, which had the best pitching staff in the Major Leagues. Combine that with the Dodgers’ offensive approach, and this shouldn’t be that close. Dodgers in 6.