World Series bound. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After making their way through the 16-team playoff bracket, as well as three postseason series, the two top-seeded teams will square off against one another in the 2020 World Series. Both the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers are coming off dramatic game seven victories in their respective League Championship Series.

Tampa Bay enters play with three of their top hitters — Brandon Lowe, Yandy Díaz, and Willy Adames — offering the team little in the way of offensive help, having slashed a combined .109 BA/.268 OBP/.124 SLG/.392 OPS with just three extra-base hits in 129 postseason at-bats. This, despite the fact that the three of them posted a wRC+ of 120 or better in at least 100 regular-season plate appearances. Austin Meadows has been all but absent too with the exception of two well-timed home runs. Even so, Lowe, and to an extent Mike Zunino, appear to be breaking out of their offensive slumbers, having gone a combined 6-21 (.286 BA), with four runs, three RBI, and two homers in the last three ball games. Their bats, ideally, should complement those of Randy Arozarena and Manuel Margot, both of whom have carried the Rays during the postseason.

Speaking of Arozarena, Jay Jaffe (FanGraphs) put it best:

Arozarena collected five other hits as well, and batted .321/.367/.786 while driving in six runs. In winning LCS MVP honors, he joined the Orioles’ Mike Boddicker (1983 ALCS), the Marlins’ Livan Hernandez (1997 NCS), and the Cardinals’ Michael Wacha (2013 NLCS) — all pitchers — as the only rookies to win the award; Hernandez also won the World Series MVP award, lest Arozarena need to set another goal. They don’t give Division Series MVP awards, but his .421/.476/.895 showing with three home runs against the Yankees, and for that matter his .500/.556/1.000 performance in the Wild Card Series against the Blue Jays, might have garnered him additional hardware. The dude is en fuego, hitting a combined .382/.433/.855 through 60 postseason plate appearances, with 11 of his 21 hits going for extra bases (three doubles, one triple, seven homers).

— Jay Jaffe

Tampa Bay has been a little too home run happy in the postseason, but who am I to judge? After all, the Rays find themselves four victories away from winning it all. Nevertheless, they will need to do more than just hit dingers. Ji-Man Choi reached base three times in each of his last two starts, and that’s a start. Diaz has not squared up a ball, yet he has walked more than he’s struck out. Getting Choi and Diaz going (along with the aforementioned Lowe, Adames, and Meadows) will create more balance for a group that has had just three players carry the offense.

The question begs, Can Tampa Bay stop Los Angeles’ potent offense? The Dodgers scored nearly six runs per game versus their NL West and AL West opponents this season. That’s due in part to their depth. While the Rays can mix and match with the best of them, Los Angeles has the ability to send star-after-star to the plate. Dan Szymborski (FanGraphs) made an apt analogy, it “is a bit like having an opponent who is allowed to angrily shove all of the (chess) pieces off the board and start over.”

The Dodgers simply do better in slugfests than the Rays do, even when they’re on the wrong side of them: in games that start with the opposing team scoring four runs in the top of the first, the Dodgers still project to win 8% of the time, while the Rays can only boast 3% odds. This holds true for all similar scenarios.

— Dan Szymborski

The Dodgers led all of baseball in home runs this season (118) and had five players reach double digits. Tampa Bay had just one player with a double-digit home run total: Brandon Lowe (14).

It will be incumbent upon the Rays to limit the free passes and keep the Dodgers in the park. That, however, is easier said than done. Still, as Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) noted, “the Rays were able to out-homer Houston 11-9 and the Yankees 11-10. The closer the teams are to a wash in this category, the better the chances for Tampa Bay to win the World Series.”

Pitching Probables

Rays manager Kevin Cash will lean on Tyler Glasnow (2-1, 4.66 ERA), Blake Snell (2-2, 3.20 ERA), Charlie Morton (3-0, 0.57 ERA), and likely Ryan Yarbrough (1-0, 3.60 ERA) in the front four games. Given the two off-days built into the World Series schedule, that would set the front three hurlers for games five, six, and seven. Dave Roberts will counter with Clayton Kershaw (2-1, 3.32 ERA) in game one, a hurler to be named before game two, Walker Buehler (1-0, 1.89 ERA) in game three, and hurlers to be named before games four and five.

I will update this piece as the situation becomes clear.

Tyler Glasnow got the start on Wednesday and he was good, but not great. The right-hander allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out five on 96 pitches (55 strikes, 57% strike rate, 20% SwStr). Glasnow allowed a first-inning solo shot and an RBI double in the third inning to Jose Altuve, and a two-run blast to George Springer on a 99 mph, 3-1 fastball with the game scored knotted up at two in the bottom of the fifth. Yet, he also limited the damage by inducing weak contact and six ground balls. It was a rare power outburst against a hurler that maintained a 1.73 HR/9 in 2020 (and a 0.59 HR/9 in 2019). Glasnow enters his next start — assuming the Rays move on to the World Series — with a 4.66 ERA, 5.88 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, and a 3.1 K/BB across 19-1/3 playoff innings.

Clayton Kershaw surrendered four runs on seven hits and one walk over five-plus innings in game four of the NLCS. He struck out four. Kershaw only gave up a solo homer to Marcell Ozuna during his outing, although he allowed a single and back-to-back doubles to start the sixth before being removed. It should be noted that the southpaw has not been healthy, as he has been dealing with some back issues. Kershaw is 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA in two career starts against Tampa Bay, however, he maintains a 4.31 postseason ERA extending back to 2008. The left-hander relies primarily on a hard 88 mph worm-killer slider and a 92 mph four-seam fastball which is straight as an arrow and has some added backspin, while also mixing in a 74 mph 12-6 curveball with exceptional bite.

Blake Snell allowed two earned runs on three hits and four walks while striking out four across four innings in game six of the ALCS. Snell was pulled having thrown just 82 pitches (45 strikes, 55% strike rate, 18% SwStr%) after allowing the first two batters of the fifth inning to reach base. He, however, was unsteady through the first four — allowing at least one baserunner in three — yet the only run charged to him came after he exited the game.

TBA

Charlie Morton pushed in his best outing of the season, allowing just two hits across 5-2/3 efficient innings, while striking out six and walking one on 66 pitches (48 strikes, 73% strike rate, 15% SwStr%). Over the first five frames, Morton allowed just one base hit — to Michael Brantley — while striking out five on 49 pitches. Yet, Houston made things interesting in the sixth with the Rays ahead by three. Martín Maldonado walked on four pitches with one out. George Springer followed by grounding into a 5-4 fielder’s choice for the second out. After Jose Altuve worked the count full, and with Springer was on the move, Altuve beat out a chopper to third to put runners on the corners with two outs. Given that Morton’s OPS increased to 1.006 the third time through the order, Rays skipper Kevin Cash called upon Nick Anderson in the high leverage situation. Anderson got Brantley to ground out to second on the second pitch of the at-bat, ending the threat.

Walker Buehler struck out six batters while allowing seven hits and zero walks across six scoreless frames in his last start against Atlanta. Buehler was staked to a three-run lead in the bottom of the first inning, which proved to be all the Dodgers would need in their 3-1 win. The right-hander loaded the bases on three consecutive singles to open the top of the second, but he escaped the jam with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout. He was rarely in much trouble the rest of the way. Buehler opened the regular season with a 5.21 ERA in his first four starts but cruised to a 1.53 ERA in his final four appearances and has a 1.89 ERA in four playoff starts. Buehler relies primarily on a whiffy 97 mph four-seam fastball with some added backspin, while also mixing in a firm 82 mph curveball with exceptional bite and slight glove-side movement, a whiffy 93 mph cutter, an 87 mph Slider that sweeps across the zone and boasts two-plane movement, and a 97 mph sinker with little sinking action. Key Matchup: Manuel Margot (1-4, HR)

Ryan Yarbrough allowed two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out five over five innings on Tuesday in game three of the ALCS against the Astros. The left-hander picked up the start in a critical game in the series and followed through with a solid outing. He allowed a solo shot in the first inning, although he was effective the rest of the way before he surrendered a leadoff home run in the sixth inning which resulted in his removal. Yarbrough has never faced the Dodgers.

TBA

Noteworthiness

— Rays pitching Staff: 3.56 ERA/3.94 FIP overall (starters 3.77 ERA/4.25 FIP, relievers 3.37 ERA/3.65 FIP vs. the Dodgers pitching staff: 3.02 ERA/3.79 FIP (starters 3.29 ERA/4.11 FIP, relievers 2.74 ERA/3.45 FIP)

— Tampa Bay 98’ers, meet the other stable. Although the World Series rosters have not been set, Los Angeles is likely to have as many as eight pitchers whose fastballs averaged 95 mph or faster this season.

— The Rays made a couple of moves on Tuesday, adding LHP Ryan Sherriff and OF Brett Phillips to the World Series roster. To clear space for Sherriff and Phillips, Tampa Bay removed LHP Jose Alvarado and RHP Aaron Slegers from the roster.

Sherriff did not allow a run over 10 regular season appearances (9-2/3 innings) although he has not been active in the postseason. The move gives Tampa Bay six southpaws among the 13 pitchers, with Sherriff joining Blake Snell, Ryan Yarbrough, Josh Fleming, Aaron Loup, and Shane McClanahan. Keeping Fleming and McClanahan provides length for Kevin Cash.

Per Neil Solondz, the decision on Alvarado may have come down to strike throwing, as he walked three straight batters in game six.

Phillips was active in the Wildcard series and Division Series, although he was not on the ALCS roster when Tampa Bay went with 14 pitchers. With Kevin Kiermaier battling a bad wrist after being hit by a 99 mph pitch in the Championship Series, Phillips provides additional defensive insurance, as well as the ability to pinch-run and pinch-hit. It also will give the Rays a six-man bench.

— “This is what you play for.”

— The City of St. Pete will be hosting Rays/World Series watch parties for all seven games at the new Pier (which is awesome if you haven’t yet gone there). The game will be aired live on a giant screen. It bears mentioning: Each watch party will be a socially distant gathering, where masks are strongly encouraged. You can find out more at the link.

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