Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball as we approach the 2020 World Series. As long as this year’s playoffs have gone on, the question isn’t “Who let the dogs out,” as it was 20 years ago. The question is, “Who has the most left?” The series, destined to have worse ratings than any before it, pits the Dodgers against the Tampa Bay Rays.
We know the playoffs would have been shorter in a normal year. Hopefully, 2021 will return to normality–a one-game wild card playoff (not 2 games out of 3,) then the 3 out of 5 Division Series, the 4 out of 7 LCS and World Series. For the Dodgers and Rays, the two survivors of this year’s war of attrition, the wild card series was a 2-game walkover. The Division series was almost as easy for the Dodgers, taking the Padres out in 4 games and humiliating them in game 4. For the Rays, it was another matter. They lost game 1 of their division series against the Yankees and only won game 2 because of an idiotic move made by the Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone. Showing the ability of a Little Leaguer managing major leaguers, he pulled young phenom Deivi Garcia after an inning, risking the young man’s future in the bargain. The Rays took a mile when Boone gave them an inch, then won game 3 on an unusually bad postseason performance by Masahiro Tanaka. Normally he’s a tougher foe in the postseason than during the 162-game grind. The Yankees won game 4, and the Rays needed an 8th-inning home run to win game 5.
Both World Series contenders had to survive 7-game challenges. On Saturday, while waiting for game 7 of the ALCS, I wrote something about game 7 being the sweetest 2-word phrase other than “Kiss me.” We baseball fans got kissed both Saturday and Sunday nights, as the Rays beat the Astros 4–2 Saturday, and the Dodgers stopped the Braves 4-3 last night.
The question is, whose pitching staff is in the least shambles after playing a dozen postseason games with only a day or two off between the Division Series and the LCS. When it comes to starting pitching, the Rays, the team known to make a farce out of starting pitching with their “opener” concept, have 3 solid starters who should have something in the tank–Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and game 7 starter Charlie Morton. With an off day built into the schedule on Thursday, Morton won’t see duty as a starter until Friday, giving him 6 days rest. The Dodgers’ pitching seems to be in disarray. They were reduced to starting Dustin May last night, and he only lasted an inning. He and his successor, Tony Gonsolin gave up all 3 of the runs Atlanta scored. Gonsolin also started game 2 instead of Clayton Kershaw when the Dodgers spotted the Braves an 8–0 lead before failing in a comeback bid and losing 8-7. To his credit, the Dodgers’ winning pitcher was starter Julio Urias who worked the final 3 innings, during which Cody Bellinger hit the home run that made the difference Walker Buehler was the hero in game 6. He can be counted on.
Then there is the ongoing conundrum that is Clayton Kershaw. He started game 4, which Atlanta won, 10–2 giving them a lead of 3 games to 1 over the Dodgers, a lead the Braves couldn’t maintain. It would appear that the woeful Rays’ batting order is one that Kershaw could manage even in the postseason, when he’s best known for performances that range from bad to wretched. Kershaw was The man I naively called “the best pitcher on the planet” before his playoff disasters began to mount like the body count in a Stephen King movie.
If Buehler, Urias and Kershaw are all the Dodgers have to work with, and it certainly appears they are, the Rays might have more of a chance than I’ve given them credit for. Their questions begin with Randy Arozarena. When will his coach and horses turn back into a pumpkin and some white mice. He’s a 25-year-old kid from Cuba who the Cardinals didn’t hang onto. He was the MVP of the ALCS which has just ended. He has launched 7 home runs this postseason, 4 against the Astros. FYI, the past record holder for postseason home runs by a rookie was another Tampa Bay Ray, Evan Longoria. What Arozarena did made it glaringly clear how much the Astros missed wily veteran Justin Verlander who had Tommy John surgery only a few weeks ago. Even without him, the Astros’ pitchers had 7 games in 7 days to figure out how to stop Arozarena, or at least prevent him from being the difference maker he was. This isn’t Ruth, Gehrig or DiMaggio. This is a guy who hit 7 home runs in the regular season, then got hotter than blazes during the postseason. I’d like to think the Dodgers’ pitchers and catchers will spend some time watching video of him today or early tomorrow. They are, after all, now quartered in the city where the World Series will be.
Kevin Kiermaier, one of the few other good hitters the Rays own, has been injured and playing at less than his best during the LCS. Catcher Mike Zunino has hit some home runs but has never come close to hitting for average. Mike Brosseau hit the lucky shot that put the Rays past the Yankees in what had to be the crowning moment of his young career. He got even with Yankees’ closer Aroldis Chapman who had needlessly “buzzed” Brosseau in the regular season. While a lesser man would have charged the mound, Brosseau stood back, waiting for his time to shine. When his chance came, he took it, which is why the Yankees have been playing golf for the last week.
Save for Arozarena and a few guys who got lucky once, the Rays have no offense to speak of. If the Dodgers’ pitchers have anything left in the tank, this should be an easy win for them, unlike the 7-game 2017 World Series where they faced a team who had advance knowledge of the Dodgers’ pitches. The 2018 Red Sox probably would have beaten the Dodgers even without the same unfair advantage they had. This should be the Dodgers’ year with the caution I said earlier-their pitchers need to have something left. If the starters can’t cut it, somebody will need to come up big, whether it’s Joe Kelly, Dustin May or one of the many who will populate the Dodgers’ bull pen.0