The drama of the 2020 Major League Baseball season continued throughout the weekend as, for the first time since 2004 and just the third time ever, both leagues featured Game 7's in their Championship Series.
Despite a near-collapse and a amid a stirring comeback, the 2020 World Series was set. Baseball’s two best teams – the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers – will meet for the sport’s ultimate crown.
This is a match-up of the haves versus the have-nots. The Dodgers payroll topped $108 million, while Tampa checked in at just $28 million. The Dodgers have been there before too, having played in the World Series two of the last three seasons. Tampa made it in 2008 in their lone appearance.
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Rays Looking for First Title
The Rays (40-20) held the American League’s best record and the second-best in baseball. A dominant pitching staff propped up by three potential aces in Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow, propelled the Rays to the AL East summit. And they needed every bit of that pitching, because their offense, while potent at times, was pedestrian during the regular season. Tampa finished 12th in the majors with 289 runs scored and produced a team OPS of .753.
It’s the pitching, though, that could lead them to the franchise’s first World Series title. Their top starters will enter the World Series on normal rest. Glasnow, the likely Game 1 starter, will take the hill on five days' rest. For his career, he’s far better with five days (3.57 ERA) than less (5.21 on four or fewer days). Snell should start Game 2 on his normal rest as well, then Game 3 should belong to Morton, coming off his sterling Game 7 performance. What’s more, the schedule for the World Series means Morton could also start Game 7 if need be. And he’s MLB’s all-time leader in Game 7 wins.
The Rays offense, meanwhile, relies almost exclusively on home runs. Rookie Randy Arozarena has been a revelation this postseason, with seven homers thus far. He’s hitting .321, but the rest of the lineup has managed just a .184 average combined.
Dodgers Hoping to Snag First Series Since ‘88
The Dodgers, on the other hand, road their red-hot offense to the World Series. Their 43-17 record was tops in MLB this season, and they scored the most runs in 2020 (349). After finding themselves in a 3-1 hole versus the Braves in the NLCS, LA dug out thanks to their stellar defense and timely hitting.
While the Rays have the clear edge on the pitching mound, LA’s offense will make them work for every out. The Dodgers led the league with 5.81 runs-per-game and 1.89 homers-per-game. They also led in Slugging percentage (.479), had the second-lowest team chase-rate (23.3 percent) and fourth-lowest strikeout rate (20.7 percent).
This will be LA’s second series in Globe Life Field, so that should work to their advantage. The Dodger defense made all the difference in Game 7 against Atlanta, and they’ll need a similar effort to finally get over the hump with this well-known group.
Mookie Betts has been spectacular with his glove, but offensively, he’s yet to connect on a home run. And although Cody Bellinger hit a monster homer in Game 7, he hit only .200 in the NLCS and could have hurt his shoulder. Then there’s the question marks surrounding Clayton Kershaw’s playoff performances.
With their experience, the Dodgers should put on a good show, but Tampa’s pitching could be the difference in this one. The Rays have three aces and coupled with the fact that LA’s hitters haven’t seen them at all this season, it should tip the scales in Tampa’s favor.
At +175, the Rays seem like a good value play here. The Dodgers are -210 to win the Series, but they’ve struggled on this stage for years. The most intriguing bet could be the +1000 odds for the Rays to win the series in five games.
-- by D.L. Ferno
Photo Credit 1 – Newsweek
Photo Credit 2 – TSN.com