The pandemic-shortened MLB season accompanied by an expanded roster of teams for the MLB playoff resulted in the top two seeds facing off in the World Series after taking the wildest routes imaginable.
The Dodgers came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Atlanta Braves to clinch the NL pennant on Sunday. The Rays took the opposite tack, surrendering a 3-0 series lead to the Houston Astros, then coming back in win game seven — a postseason first.
Unless the Rays find a quick fix to their struggles at the plate, the Dodgers’ timely hitting and standout defense should carry them to their first title since Gibby touched them all.
Late Sunday, oddsmakers were giving LA, the preseason World Series favorite, a -180 opening line. If you stayed up late, you’re already money ahead as the line bumped to -200 Monday morning favoring the blue to win their first championship after eight straight division titles.
And why not?
The Dodgers were the regular-season MLB best with a 43-17 record. Even after enduring disappointing performances at the plate from reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger and former AL MVP Mookie Betts in the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers managed to put up a staggering 39 runs in their bell-to-bell bout with Atlanta. Thirty-eight of those came in the wake of a shaky Game 1 performance at the plate.
The Rays become the third AL team in four seasons to stand between the Dodgers and the Commissioners’ Trophy. They bring a pair of formidable weapons: Offensive powerhouse Randy Arozarena, whose 47 total bases in the playoffs thus far put him on pace to shatter David Freese’s record of 50 (with the 2011 Cardinals), and a lights-out bullpen that has helped the Rays to a 33-0 record this season when leading after seven innings.
Go back to 2019, including the playoffs, and the Rays have won 73 straight games when leading in the eighth inning or later.
So it’s gonna be clutch bats vs. shutdown late-inning pitching. Here are four additional LCS discoveries that portend consequence in the World Series.
Defense is the Dodgers’ Lifeline
This was no more apparent than in game seven. Los Angeles starter Dustin May began his ill-fated evening by offering eight straight balls, followed by an RBI single. Down 1-0, the right-hander stayed in the dugout for the second inning. Replacement Tony Gonsolin quickly gave up a home run to Dansby Swanson in the second, and an RBI single to Austin Riley in the fourth.
From there, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went straight to the pen for his top postseason reliever, Blake Treinen, with five frames to go.
With two on, none out, and not many options left in the pen, Justin Turner picked one down the third-base line and dove at Swanson as he tried to score. He then pivoted and got Riley as he tried for third. In the next inning, Betts robbed Freddie Freeman of a solo home run — making it three-for-three for Betts on game-saving plays during the final trio of games in the series.
Score-Early and Shut-Down Works for Tampa Bay — Until it Doesn’t
Game 1 of the ALCS (Tampa 2, Houston 1) is precisely how the Rays want to see the World Series go. Randy Arozarena opened the game with his fourth homer of the postseason, and Mike Zunino hit a timely RBI single to give the Rays their go-head run — and that’s all it took.
Frontline starter Blake Snell went five solid innings, and a combination of four relievers closed out the Astros.
Despite dropping a pair of one-run games to the Astros, the Rays are 16-5 in one-run games in 2020 for a .762 winning percentage. That’s tops in the league, and the best for any MLB team … ever.
LA Lefties Make the Difference at the Plate
The now-legendary Game 3, 11-run inning spree featured Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, and Joc Pederson as the three most feared hitters from the left side of the plate in the NL doing their worst at the same time. When these three get going at once, no pen in the world can stop them.
Arozarena Can’t Do It All
Are the Rays a one-trick wonder? During the ALCS, Tampa hit a collective .183 while Arozarena hovered around .320. A whopping 79% of Tampa’s runs in the ALCS came off the long ball, and the Dodgers staff allowed the second-fewest home runs during the regular season.
Bottom Line Bets
Add it all up and I’ll join the rest of the known gambling world in predicting a strong showing for the favorite LA Dodgers, likely in 6. I’ll offset that money with a trio of Tampa Bay props: Arozarena to be the World Series MVP at 10/1, Rays and the moneyline in Game 1, and Rays to win it all in five games.
2020 World Series Schedule
Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 pm, Fox
Game 2: Wednesday, 8:08 pm, Fox
Game 3: Friday, 8:08 pm, Fox
Game 4: Saturday, 8:08 pm, Fox
Game 5: Sunday, 8:08 pm, Fox (if necessary)
Game 6: Oct. 27, 8:08 pm, Fox (if necessary)
Game 7: Oct. 28, 8:09 pm, Fox (if necessary)