Three Keys For The Dodgers, Rays In The 2020 World Series
The 2020 World Series pits two very different teams against each other. The Dodgers have baseball’s second-highest payroll and are loaded with stars, including three former MVPs in Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw. They are also largely homegrown, with 14 of the 28 players on their World Series roster originally drafted or signed by the organization.
The Rays, meanwhile, had MLB’s fourth-lowest payroll this season and are largely made up of late-round draft picks, one-time top prospects acquired post-hype and astute under-the-radar pickups. Only seven of the 28 players on their roster are homegrown.
While built differently, both teams arrived at the same place. The Rays posted the American League’s best record this year at 40-20, while the Dodgers had the best record in the National League at 43-17.
Now, they meet in Arlington, Texas for the first neutral-site World Series in baseball history. (The 1944 World Series was played entirely at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, but that was because it pitted the Cardinals against the Browns, who shared the stadium as their home park.)
While both teams have their strengths and weaknesses, there are certain things that are going to have to happen for each team to maximize their chances of coming out on top.
Here are three keys for each team to win the World Series. All statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
KEYS FOR RAYS
1. Someone Else Has To hit
Randy Arozarena hit .321 with four home runs in the ALCS. The rest of the Rays combined hit .183 with seven home runs. That’s in line with the postseason as a whole. Arozarena is batting .382 in the playoffs this year; the rest of the Rays are batting .185. Ji-Man Choi and Manny Margot have hit well and Mike Zunino has had some big home runs, but the Rays are going to need more out of Brandon Lowe (6-for-52 this postseason), Austin Meadows (4-for-35) Willy Adames (5-for-38) Kevin Kiermaier (7-for-36) and Joey Wendle (9-for-40) to keep up with the Dodgers—MLB’s highest-scoring offense this year—and prevent them from just pitching around Arozarena.
2. Get Length From The Starters
The headliners in the Rays “stable” of bullpen arms are beginning to show the wear and tear from a heavy workload this season and postseason. Diego Castillo struggled badly with his command in his final two appearances of the ALCS (2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K combined) and Nick Anderson has allowed a run in each of his last four appearances. Rays manager Kevin Cash made the aggressive decision to pull Blake Snell when he was at four scoreless innings in Game 6 of the ALCS, and it backfired. He made a similarly aggressive decision to pull Charlie Morton after 5.2 innings in Game 7, but the Rays bullpen only needed to cover 3.1 innings in that game—compared to five innings when he pulled Snell—which they were better equipped to handle. Off days being added back in for the World Series will help, but the Rays’ chances become much better if Snell, Morton, Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough can consistently go 5-6 innings and ease the burden on the bullpen.
3. Run Wild
Analytically-inclined teams are generally not known for stealing bases, but the Rays were one of MLB’s best basestealing teams this year. They stole 48 bases in 57 tries, the sixth-most stolen bases in MLB at an 84% success rate. That lines up well with a Dodgers team that struggles to hold runners. The Dodgers allowed 36 steals in 46 attempts this year—the eighth-most stolen bases allowed at the 10th-worst caught stealing rate. The problem isn’t the catcher. Will Smith averaged a pop time of 1.99 seconds this year, per Statcast, better than league average of 2.01 seconds. Julio Urias (6 SB allowed in 7 attempts), Walker Buehler (5 SB in 6 attempts) and Dustin May (5 SB in 7 attempts) all struggle to hold runners, as does reliever Blake Treinen (6 SB in 8 attempts). With the Rays offense struggling to hit, they’ll have the opportunity to take extra bases if they’re aggressive in the right spots. That opportunity will be even better when Austin Barnes is behind the plate—Barnes’ average pop time of 2.09 seconds ranked 73rd out of 78 qualifying catchers this year.
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KEYS FOR DODGERS
1. The Bullpen Has To Be Its Best
The Dodgers bullpen is seen as a liability and the Rays a strength, but that’s not entirely accurate. Dodgers relievers had a 2.74 ERA this season, second-best in MLB, and more than a half-run better than the more ballyhooed Rays bullpen (3.37). After struggling early in the NLCS, the Dodgers bullpen found its form at the end when it allowed just two runs over 11 innings in Games 5 and 6 and finished with six hitless innings of relief in Game 7 (with a big assist from Julio Urias). If Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Jake McGee, Brusdar Graterol and Co. have truly rounded into form and resemble the unit at the end of the NLCS rather than the one at the start of it, the Dodgers path to victory becomes a lot simpler.
2. Keep It Simple
The Dodgers have run into trouble when they’ve tried to push Clayton Kershaw too far, as even Rays shortstop Willy Adames noted in his pre-World Series remarks. Keeping it simple with him—start Games 1 and 5, don’t use him in relief unless all other options have been exhausted—will go a long way toward getting the best from him. Similarly, the Dodgers unnecessarily started Dustin May as an opener in Game 7 of the NLCS and now don’t have a fully-rested option for Game 2. Avoiding such blunders will be critical for them to match up favorably with the Rays starters—namely, ensuring they don’t use Julio Urias at all in Game 2 and keep him ready to go on full rest in Game 4.
3. Hit The “Right” Way
The Rays vaunted pitching staff dominated lefthanded batters this year (.215/.287/.336) but was surprisingly average against righthanded hitters (.251/.315/.422). Five of the Dodgers top six hitters in the NLCS by OPS were lefties, so getting more offense from Mookie Betts (.695 OPS in NLCS), Chris Taylor (.633 OPS), Will Smith (.500 OPS) and A.J. Pollock (.400 OPS) will go a long way toward ensuring the Dodgers’ dangerous offense gets the better of the Rays arms.