The 2020 Major League Baseball season will draw to a close over the next week with the playing out of the sport’s ultimate event, the World Series.
This year’s top team in each league, the American League’s Tampa Bay Rays and the National League’s Los Angeles Dodgers, will face one another in a best-of-seven series held at brand new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
This neutral site Fall Classic was made necessary by restrictions placed on MLB this year by the COVID19 coronavirus pandemic and subsequent agreements reached between the league and the MLBPA (Player’s Association) which enabled a shortened regular season and an expanded postseason to take place.
For one of these two franchises and their fan bases, a lengthy wait for a world championship is about to end.
The Dodgers are one of baseball’s most storied teams. They have won 19 division titles, reached the playoffs twice as a Wildcard, captured 24 National League pennants, including three of the last four, and have won a half-dozen World Series crowns. However, it has been a long 32-year wait for Dodger fans since the club last won in 1988 when Tommy Lasorda was managing, Orel Hershiser was dominating on the mound, and Kirk Gibson was blasting an unforgetrable home run.
Meanwhile, the Rays franchise wouldn’t even play the first game in franchise history for another decade after that Dodgers most recent title. But over their 22-year existence they and their fans in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area of Florida and across the country continue to wait for their first World Series championship. The Rays have only even reached the Fall Classic once before, losing to the Phillies in five games back in 2008.
Let’s break the two teams down a little bit, and then I will give my prediction for the 2020 World Series winner.
RANKINGS AND STATISTICS
In the final MLB Power Rankings published here at The Bell at the end of the regular season the Rays finished as the #2 team and the Dodgers at #3 in all of baseball. Tampa Bay was the American League’s top ball club. In the National League, Los Angeles ranked behind only the top overall team, their NL West division-rival San Diego Padres. The Dodgers went on to register a three-game sweep of the Padres in an NLDS earlier this month.
There is a huge difference between the two teams where offensive production is concerned. The Dodgers are clearly the more dangerous and productive team with bats in their hands. Los Angeles finished as the top offensive team in MLB this season, averaging 5.81 runs per game. The Rays were 13th at 4.68, more than a run fewer in each contest. LA also blasted 118 home runs during the regular season, best in baseball while the Rays’ 80 left them middle-of-the-pack at 14th overall among baseball’s 30 teams.
- Dodgers – 12 games, 69 runs, .256/.355/.456 slash, 18 home runs, 5 steals
- Rays – 14 games, 57 runs, .209/.295/.407 slash, 25 home runs, 2 steals
To get the defensive component built into my Power Rankings, I use the overall defensive score as provided by Fangraphs. The two teams finished fairly close in that category during the season, with the Rays at 17 and Dodgers at 18 in the 2020 season. Each team has played fantastic defense during the postseason. Tampa Bay has committed just four errors over their 14 playoff contests to this point, three of those coming during their five-game victory over the New York Yankees in the ALDS. Los Angeles has committed five errors over a dozen playoff contests, three of those during their dramatic seven-game victory over the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.
- Dodgers – 12 games, 411 fielding chances, five errors, .988 fielding percentage
- Rays – 14 games, 502 fielding chances, four errors, .992 fielding percentage
On the mound, the Dodgers staff accumulated a 1.06 WHIP during the regular season, the top mark in all of baseball. The Rays staff 1.22 mark was sixth in MLB, third in the American League. That Tampa staff out-K’d their LA counterparts, striking out 552 opposition batters as opposed to the 517 by Dodger pitchers.
- Dodgers – 107 IP, 87 hits (12 homers), 123 strikeouts, 3.36 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
- Rays – 123.1 IP, 112 hits (21 homers), 126 strikeouts, 3.36 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
MY KEY PERFORMER FOR EACH TEAM
Clayton Kershaw is an easy choice here for the Dodgers. While circumstances kept him from being as influential in the NLCS as the 32-year-old southpaw staff ace may have liked, they set things up perfectly for him to take a starring turn in the Fall Classic. Kershaw will get the ball in the opener and, if necessary, a crucial Game 5 start as well. Depending on how many pitches he throws, he could even come back for a critical inning or two in a Game 7 if necessary.
I take Tampa pitching excellence for granted. So should you. But for the Rays to win this series, someone is going to have to step up and emerge offensively to help this team start scoring more runs. And for me, that needs to be second baseman Brandon Lowe. He had 14 home runs in the regular season when the 26-year-old was an AL MVP candidate. But here in the postseason he is slashing just .115/.193/.173 with no multi-hit games. Lowe hit safely in each of the final three games of the ALCS vs Houston, including a home run in Game 5.
These are two of the current best in the game. Dave Roberts has skippered Los Angeles to five consecutive NL West Division titles and three of the last four National League pennants. His teams have gone 436-273 over that span. He even has a winning 34-25 postseason record as Dodgers manager. The one thing missing from his resume’ is, of course, that elusive World Series championship.
Kevin Cash has been the manager in Tampa Bay for six seasons, accumulating an overall 454-416 regular season record. He took over during a rebuilding phase and led the club as they emerged to become winners of 90 games in 2018 and 96 in 2019. This year his Rays club won the AL East and now the second American League pennant in franchise history.
Coincidentally, both men won World Series championships back in their playing days as members of the Boston Red Sox. Roberts in 2004, when his stolen base in Game 4 of the ALCS helped ignite the historic rally that saw Boston come back from down 3-0 in the series to the New York Yankees. Cash, in fact, despite not appearing in the postseason with either team, has World Series rings from his time playing with both the 2007 Red Sox and 2009 Yankees.
If you have been watching on television, you may have noticed a difference between the NLDS/NLCS being played in Texas and the ALDS/ALCS played out in southern California. That’s because real fans were allowed to attend games in the Lone Star State, and that is where the World Series will also be played.
Per ESPN, Major League Baseball has said that “about 11,500 tickets will be available for each game. That is about 28% of the 40,518-capacity, retractable-roof stadium of the Texas Rangers which opened this year…“
Some of those seats were already sold as part of the Rangers’ season ticket package for their abbreviated 2020 season. Remember, this was the first season for the new ballpark. With fan attendance and festivities torpedoed by the pandemic, that enticement likely helped revenues.
No doubt a number of those Texas Rangers fans jumped at the opportunity to see a World Series, whether their team would reach it or not. Others likely purchased tickets in hopes of re-selling them at a premium. Seats were also reserved for front offices, families, and friends of each club.
Still, there should be plenty of average fans making the trip east from LA and west from Florida for this one. That will make this a new experience for the Rays, who have played in front of only cardboard cutouts this month at Petco Park in both the ALDS and ALCS and at Tropicana Field in the Wildcard series. Now, there will be actual Tampa Bay fans and family members there, rooting the team on live and in-person.
HOW TO WATCH AT HOME
Fangraphs has made the Dodgers the overall series favorites, with the sum of likely outcomes at a 53.2-46.8% advantage in their favor. However, when breaking each individual game down, Fangraphs also shows the Rays as better than 50% favorites in four of the seven games, though three of those are barely over that 50% mark.
As good as Tampa Bay has been all season, it’s tough to pick against an LA team that put together a .717 winning percentage during the regular season and now has gone 9-3 in the postseason. Except that you may recall that the Dodgers won 106 games a year ago and didn’t make it out of the Division Series. In other words, the best team in the regular season doesn’t always win, or even reach, the Fall Classic – though the Boston Red Sox did it just two years ago.
I’m honestly conflicted. But this is one where I’m going to let my head overcome my heart. I will be rooting for Tampa Bay to win. It has always been my habit that, when my beloved Philadelphia Phillies are out, to root for any team that has never won before. That would be the Rays, one of six remaining clubs to never capture a World Series crown.
Last year, the Washington Nationals erased themselves from that “Never Won a World Series” list. Remaining on it are the Rays, Rangers, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, and Seattle Mariners, the latter being the lone team to never even play in a Fall Classic.
While I would love to see Tampa Bay follow the Nationals lead in erasing their name from this list, I don’t believe it will happen. I am going to pick the Los Angeles Dodgers to finally overcome 32 years of frustration for their fan base, bringing a World Series trophy back to LA with a victory in five games.