“Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher.” That’s been a baseball credo for a long, long time but there is some credence to saying there is a momentum factor during a game and sometimes, there is a carry over within a series.
The Dodgers have “momentum” coming into the World Series after they came from 3-1 down to win the pennant, but momentum is also a matter of confidence. Tampa Bay is feeling confident after winning a second, “winner take all” game in this post season by beating the Yankees in game 5 of the ALDS and the Astros in game 7 of the ALCS.
It’s an unusual season but the “chalk” panned out as the Series will feature the two best teams from each league. The entire series will be played on one field with a limited amount of fans. The Dodgers are designated the “home team” by virtue of their 43-17 regular season record so they’ll get to bat last in games 1 and 2 and 6 and 7, if necessary.
The Dodgers are not only playing the Rays, they’re going against their recent history of falling short of a World Championship. With that in mind, the Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts from the Red Sox to put them over the top. An added bonus for LA is that Betts knows a whole lot about playing the Rays.
Against Tampa Bay, Betts has a career slash line of .310/.386/.506, OPS .892, 16 HRS, 46 RBI vs. Rays in 97 games. Betts will be motivated to perform a little better in this World Series than he did in 2018. Even though he was on the winning Red Sox, Betts had only one home run and drove in one run in the five-game victory over his current team and both of those came in game five, so he’s looking for a big World Series against a former division rival.
Tampa Bay’s bullpen is a strength, in part because it’s balanced with lefties and righties, but the Dodgers lineup is a strength, in part because it’s balanced with lefties and righties. One of the keys will be how the percentages match up. Dodgers left handed hitters vs. the Rays right handed pitchers and vice versa, the Dodgers right handed hitters vs. the Rays left handed pitchers.
The Dodgers have a deep, talented roster but the Rays epitomize the phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” They don’t have the star power of their opponent, but they don’t beat themselves, and if they flash the leather like they did against the Astros in the ALCS, they will be a very tough out.
Beside Betts, there are a number of players on both sides who have something to prove.
Clayton Kershaw’s resume in the post season has not been impressive for a pitcher of his stature, and he comes off a poor outing (5 IP, 4 runs) in game 4 of the NLCS against the Braves. Kershaw did pitch a great game against Milwaukee in the Wild Card round (8 IP, 0 runs, 1 BB, 13 K’s) and he’ll need to, at least, come close to that against Tampa Bay. Kershaw beat the Rays (6 IP, 2 runs, 8 K’s) in Tampa in a 2019 interleague match up. (The teams split four regular season meetings in 2019)
A key for Kershaw and the entire Dodgers’ pitching staff will be slowing down the Rays rookie sensation, Randy Arozarena. The 25-year old has burst onto the National scene as the Rays best hitter in the post season. Arozarena, who has seven home runs in this post season, has been susceptible to the strikeout (15 K’s in 55 AB’s in 2020 post season) but the Dodger pitchers have to be careful with him early in the count as he likes to attack the first pitch.
Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson will make it tough on the Rays’ bullpen. Bellinger is another player with a lot to prove. During the 2018 World Series loss to Boston in five games, Bellinger batted .063 (1 for 18) with no homers, no runs batted in and no walks. Maybe the big home run in game 7 of the NLCS took some pressure off and gets him going.
The Rays relievers are not locked into any particular role which gives Mgr. Kevin Cash a lot of versatility in how he uses them. The proof is in the pudding as 13 different relievers recorded a save. Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson, Peter Fairbanks and Ryan Thompson are all right handed. All of them have served as closers and will called upon to face those dangerous left handed hitters. The teams split four games in 2019 so the element of surprise is lessened on both sides.
Tampa Bay left hander Jose Alvarado has only pitched twice since mid-August because of a shoulder issue, but those two appearances came in the ALCS. He could be used in a situation where he would face (according to the three batter minimum rule) two out of three left hand hitters.
Speaking of left hand hitters, Tampa Bay’s Brandon Lowe has had an awful post season. He is hitting .115 (6 for 52) with 1 HR and 2 RBI’s. Included in that malaise was 0 for 18 vs. the Yankees in the ALDS. Lowe, who was Tampa Bay’s best hitter during the regular season, must be carrying some kind of “rabbit’s foot” because his team is still playing. When he’s right, Lowe hits lefties and righties (8 of his 14 HR this year came vs. left handers) but he’ll have his work cut out against some quality Dodger hurlers. If Lowe is allowed to wake up, he could be a problem for LA.
Both teams are aggressive on the bases and both will use the stolen base to create scoring chances. Tampa Bay may sprinkle in a dose of “small ball,” but I wouldn’t put it past LA to do the same. The scheduled off days will help both teams who are pretty evenly matched and both have faced adversity in this post season.
As sports history has shown us, (1994 NY Rangers, 2016 Chicago Cubs) ending a long championship drought is never easy. World Series experience favors the Dodgers but that has shown to be a non factor many times before. This is a really tough call but its 32 years and a third chance in four seasons for the proud franchise. I feel this is the Dodgers’ time to stop the counting and end the drought.
Dodgers in 7
MVP: Cody Bellinger
(Photo courtesy of Twitter)