The time has come. The Fall Classic has arrived and the Commissioner’s Trophy will be battled out between the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays and the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
For the Rays, this is their second appearance in the World Series and first since 2008. As for the Dodgers, this is their third opportunity in four years to finally reach the peak. They failed in 2017 (Houston Astros) and 2018 (Boston Red Sox) but after a 43-17 record in the shortened regular season, this may be their most talented team to date.
While Tampa Bay doesn’t have any standout aspects to their roster, they do everything right. There is no glaring weakness but their path to winning their maiden World Series comes down to their overpowered starting pitching and world-class bullpen.
Tampa will have a three-headed monster going for them starting-wise as Tyler Glasnow gets the Game 1 gig, followed by Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. Glasnow and Snell don’t have the experience against Los Angeles but Morton dominated the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series, pitching 10.1 innings, striking out 11, and only surrendering two earned runs and a walk. He will continue to use his off-speed stuff to keep the Dodgers at bay.
Snell may be seen as an Achilles’ Heel for the Dodgers with their history of being dominated by left-handed pitching. However, that hasn’t been the case this postseason as they have slashed .295/.562/.965 with an On-base Percentage of .403 against lefties. Snell will have to tread lightly if he wants to hold off Los Angeles.
For Tampa to stay afloat, Glasnow will need to be lights out in Game 1 to give the offense and the bullpen confidence they need to beat the big-market firepower. He can light up the radar with 100+ mile per hour heat and the movement on his off-speed stuff will turn hitters into stone as if they have just stared into the eyes of Medusa.
If the starters struggle, don’t fret Tampa fans because the bullpen is just as phenomenal. Just look at the names: Ryan Yarbrough, Peter Fairbanks, Ryan Thompson, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo. Manager Kevin Cash uses his experimentation to a tee, which is how Tampa has already been able to beat two of the three teams with the highest payroll in baseball. He can do it again as long as he isn’t pressured to burn out his weapons.
Offensively, the Rays don’t have the explosion of the Dodgers but they do enough to allow their pitchers to take care of business. However, one man has developed into an overnight sensation and that is rookie Randy Arozarena. Every one of his at-bats will be must-watch in the World Series. He has absolute thunder with seven home runs, 10 RBI and a batting average of .382. He’s going to be the spark that gets Tampa’s offense going.
Ji-Man Choi and Manuel Margot have also been stellar in the box and have the power to break open a game.
Tampa will need to see a turnaround in Kevin Kiermaier, Willy Adames, Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows as they have all hit under .200 so far in the postseason. The only bright spot comes from Adames as he has walked 13 times and has the speed to put pressure on the Dodger arms.
For the Dodgers, it’s simple. They need to continue their stellar offensive firepower. It begins with leadoff batters in Mookie Betts and Corey Seager. Betts must get on-base to provide speed and be a nuisance for Tampa all series long. Seager, meanwhile, brings the contact and power to give the Dodgers an early lead.
However, the Dodgers need to see a turnaround in the three and four spots with Justin Turner and Max Muncy. Muncy has the best eye on the team with 15 walks but also leads the team in strikeouts with 17. For Turner, he has not found the common pay dirt many LA fans are used to as the patience has disappeared and most of his contact has come in the form of a weak pop out.
Then, there is the oil to the machine, Cody Bellinger. While not providing MVP numbers from 2019, he can turn it on with one pitch. It also helps, as is also the case with Betts, that he has a great glove. The baseball world may not realize it but Betts and Bellinger’s best offense this season has come from their outfield performances. They’ve made stellar play after stellar play and it gives the momentum the Dodgers need offensively.
What can’t be overlooked is the hitting depth the Dodgers can throw at Tampa. Tampa likes to experiment but the Dodgers can respond with a platoon of gritty at-bats from Kiké Hernandez, A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor, Joc Pederson, Austin Barnes and the ace in the hole, Edwin Rios. One of these men may be the turn to the key that will get the Dodgers’ offensive engine revving. If it sputters early in the series with their core, all it could take is that one turn from Hernandez, Pederson or Rios to get rolling.
Pitching-wise, the Dodgers can match Tampa. Shockingly, they have the same team ERA at 3.36.
Clayton Kershaw can finally tame his postseason demons with a stellar Game 1 start. Then, it will be up to a plethora of youngsters in Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Julio Urias and the ace, Walker Buehler.
While Buehler has been battling blister issues, his starts have improved the deeper the postseason has gone. He’s regained the command on his fastballs low in the strike zone and the off-speed filth has batters swinging out of their cleats again. However, he’s allowed hits aplenty with the first-pitch fastball and may need to give the Rays a different look to open frames.
Finally, there’s the bullpen that may determine the series. The Rays will most likely shut it down but can the likes of Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Victor Gonzalez hold serve? They’ve been great so far but while these three get the job done, there is another trio that will have to prove they want it: Joe Kelly, Kenley Jansen and Pedro Baez.
Baez has been phenomenal with the pace on his fastball but it is only a matter of time before the dam collapses, right? Meanwhile, Kelly and Jansen need to be veterans. Kelly already has a ring and Jansen can finally receive the payoff, catharsis and satisfaction in one of the most up-and-down careers any closer has ever seen in a decade of action.
This is going to be a fun battle. The key for both teams is capitalizing with runners in scoring position and to find the imperfections in each team’s perfection. The lack of weaknesses on either side will make for nail-biting innings, which will lead to epic moments scattered throughout every game. In those moments, the Dodgers should be expected to have more of them and finally close the deal.
The writing is on the wall. Now, it’s all about execution. After 32 long years, the Los Angeles Dodgers will once again lift the Commissioner’s Trophy after a decade of pain and suffering.
Prediction: Dodgers in 5