Sixteen teams entered. Fourteen teams have exited. Now there are two, and after all the hubbub about short-series upsets, it was the two best teams who came out on top of their respective leagues. After surviving a pair of thrilling L.C.S. battles, the top-seeded Dodgers and Rays will meet tonight for Game 1 of the 2020 World Series, starting at 8 E.T. on Fox.
Not sure who to root for? Not a problem. From last week, here’s the case for each team:
Now to get you ready for baseball’s climactic final week, here’s the official KSR watcher’s guide to the World Series.
"If they don't know the names by now, they'd better learn, because we've got some boys who can play"
— Kevin Kiermaier just now on the Rays
BASEBALL IS THE BEST!
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) October 18, 2020
As I said last week, the Rays are the ultimate “wait, who?” team. As in, literally every player on their roster will make you say “wait, who?” right after he makes the play to beat your team. The Dodgers are the opposite, in that every time they beat you you say “…ugh. This guy again?”
That probably has something to do with the fact that the Dodgers are making their third World Series appearance in four years, while the Rays are here for just the second time in franchise history. But this run is no fluke. The Rays offense of assorted parts finished top-10 in MLB in fWAR, wRC+ and walk percentage this year, and that was before Randy Arozarena became superman.
The Rays offense has been pretty much carried this postseason by Arozarena (7 HR, 1.288 OPS), Manuel Margot (5 HR, .967 OPS) and Willy Adames (5 H, 13 BB in last 52 PA). But another name to keep an eye on is backup catcher Mike Zunino, who has hit four home runs in 39 playoff at-bats this year, matching his total for the entire regular season.
For the Dodgers, you probably know the names already: Mookie Betts (.311 BA, .852 OPS), Cody Bellinger (.250 BA, .911 OPS) and NLCS MVP Corey Seager (6 HR, 1.124 OPS). Second-year catcher Will Smith has been the latest revelation, posting a .294 average with 10 RBIs in his last eight games, including a clutch home run against his Braves counterpart on Friday.
You may have heard it said that “pitching wins championships.” This is not technically true. According to the latest Statcast estimates, every World Series winner in MLB history has also had to hit in order to become such. However, pitching must be pretty important, since every champion since 1999 has had at least a top-16 team ERA.
For the Rays, pitching evidently is the shiniest hat rack to be found at the local St. Petersburg bargain basement, because it’s just what they do best. Then again, the Dodgers aren’t too shabby in that department, either—they just don’t make a big deal about it because they’re elite in literally every department.
To wit: L.A. and Tampa ranked 1st and 3rd, respectively, in team ERA this year. They also both finished top-six in WHIP, top-three in BB% and top-two in most appearances on the @PitchingNinja Twitter page, according to my calculations.
Tuesday’s Game 1 features an intriguing matchup between one of the best young starters in the game in the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow (pictured above) and one of the best old starters in the game in the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (pictured in the nightmares of every hitter he’s faced in the last 13 years). Behind Glasnow is Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, each of whom have had top-three Cy Young finishes in the last two years. Behind Kershaw is Walker Buehler, who stifled the potent Atlanta offense twice last week, and a group of versatile, uber-talented young arms that includes Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urias.
Once they exit, you can expect to see a pair of elite bullpens matching up as well. Both are as deep as the pockets of Andrew Friedman, and while not entirely well-rested, they should benefit from getting three off-days in the series. For the Dodgers, the reassertion of Kenley Jansen in the closer role last weekend is significant. But I’ll give the slight edge to Tampa and the master staff management of manager Kevin Cash.
ADVANTAGE: Rays (by a hair)
This series is not lopsided by any stretch, despite the Grand Canyon of payroll difference between the two. But unless the Rays can figure out a way to stick varying fake facial hair on Randy Arozarena and bat him in every spot (which I wouldn’t rule out), a gap remains. Dodgers in six.