As a baseball junkie, I consume as much content as I can on any given day. Though I mostly avoid hot-take columns from others to guard against any accidental miming, my attention always tends to go to any reporting, statistical analysis or breakdowns. I also monitor social media heavily to get the pulse of the baseball world (which, yes, includes fans) and I'm heading full steam toward the World Series seeing five things that are bothering me.
1. The Rays aren't some Little Engine That Could
Let's be clear about something: The Rays are the underdog. The Dodgers are favored to win the series among the oddsmakers and more people are picking them to win than those who are taking the Rays. That literally means the Rays are the underdog. This is not, though, a case where we can act like this is a team on a miracle run like it was an eight-seed that just got hot at the right time and took down a bunch of titans in its wake.
The Rays were the best team in the American League during the regular season. They won 96 games last year and took the AL champion Astros to five games. They started the season 6-8 but went 34-12 after that, which is a 162-game pace of 120 wins. In that stretch, they only lost consecutive games once (a three-game losing streak Sept. 7-10). There were winning streaks of six, five, six, four and four games on the way.
Overall, only the Dodgers and Padres had a better run differential than the Rays' +60. They were second in the AL in ERA, first in bullpen WAR and second in bullpen ERA.
Sure, the Dodgers have the starpower here with the likes of Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Clayton Kershaw and more, but the Rays have a Cy Young winner (Blake Snell) and some top-shelf talent like Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows along with a stellar collection of bullpen weapons. No one on the planet is hotter than Randy Arozarena right now and this is a "whole is greater than the sum" team anyway.
It is not some pesky Little Engine That Could. The Rays are a legit power.
2. The Rays aren't the more fun team
Why am I seeing a bunch about how fun the Rays are? They are, but they are not the superior team to watch here in terms of fun.
Home runs are fun, right? The Dodgers hit more. The Rays hit 80 in the regular season, good for 14th in baseball, while the Dodgers hit an MLB-best 118.
In terms of watching those offenses, I think we can all agree it's not fun to watch a team strike out, right? The Dodgers were one of the hardest teams to strike out this season, punching out just 471 times as a group in the regular season. Only three teams struck out fewer times. The Rays led the majors with 608 strikeouts.
The Rays do hit the ball hard, when they make contact. They ranked sixth this season in hard-hit percentage (34.7). Of course, who was first? You betcha. The Dodgers at 42 percent.
Yeah, but the Rays play great defense!
The Dodgers are better in terms of defensive efficiency and defensive runs saved. The Rays make highlight-reel plays for sure. Cody and Mookie say hi.
Celebrations? Every single team this year when things went well had tons of fun in the dugout. Yes, the Rays are visibly having fun. Did we miss the above Betts reaction or Brusdar Graterol's reaction to Bellinger's catch? The Dodgers have plenty of fun.
I'm not saying the Rays aren't fun. They are. They simply aren't as fun to watch as the Dodgers. To say otherwise is show preconceived notions (tired of watching the Dodgers in the postseason, money -- we'll get to that -- rooting for the unknowns over the stars, etc.) have misguided you.
3. Clayton Kershaw isn't a 'choker'
It's been a mixed bag, but there are plenty of gems in his bag. How about Game 1 of the 2017 World Series? It was his World Series debut. If he's such a mental basket case in the playoffs, he would've faltered. Hell, he would've wilted in the 103-degree heat (I was there and it was unbearable). Instead, he needed only 83 pitches to get through seven innings, allowing just one run on three hits without walking anyone. He struck out 11. That was against the 2017 Astros, who led the league in runs, average, on-base percentage, slugging, etc. It's possible Kershaw, who has a history of back injuries, gets knocked around this series, but it won't be because he's some big-time choke artist who is scared to pitch in the spotlight.
4. Stop worrying about the salaries
I don't know why we seem to collectively have such a fixation on player salaries. Perhaps there's some level of jealousy that many of us played anywhere from Little League to college and aren't raking in nine figures to keep playing the game. Jealousy is ugly, though. Drop that.
Even if that isn't the case, the salary talk is going to remain central in this series. It's the extremes of baseball here. The Dodgers routinely run the top or one of the top payrolls in baseball while the Rays might as well actually be called the Small-Market Rays officially. They are routinely toward the bottom in payroll.
I get the discussion from the perspective that it's much more difficult to build and sustain a winner within ownership payroll constraints. I also don't think it makes either team the good guy or the bad guy here. They are both operating within their own realities and have been incredibly successful. In fact, it would be morally bankrupt if the Dodgers didn't use part of their significant resources to keep the on-field product in tip-top shape. They aren't the bad guys for running a high payroll. They can, so they absolutely should.
Can we just accept that and watch baseball without all the graphics of the disparity? Just because Betts makes a truckload more money than Randy Arozarena doesn't mean Arozarena is the hero while Betts is the villain (or vice versa). They are both fun players. Leave it at that.
Also, I suspect the salary situation is tied to the "fun" talk I mentioned above. Betts making a ton more money than Arozarena doesn't mean he's less fun (I think he's more fun).
Anyway, the point here is if you want to root against the Dodgers because you're tired of seeing them in the playoffs or you think it's funny that they can't get the job done on the biggest stage or just because you don't want to see them, by all means, have at it. There's no need to manufacture faux-reasons for purposes of rooting interest.
5. Get outta here with asterisk talk
If we had the Marlins or Brewers against the Blue Jays here in the World Series, I'll admit I would've probably gotten on board with an asterisk applied to the 2020 World Series champion. I was among the biggest resisters all along, but that, frankly, would've been a joke. Though they were a lot more talented than their record, I could even see arguments that the Astros being here would've made this a bit farcical, given that they had a losing regular-season record.
Instead, we have the best team in each league in the World Series. That doesn't even always happen in 162-game seasons. There have been fluky pennant winners. That didn't happen this season. We were shorted 102 regular-season games, but it's entirely plausible these are the two teams that would've been here anyway. As noted above, the Rays aren't some mediocre team on a miracle run and we know the Dodgers are for real.
This is a legitimate World Series. It counts. Rings and a trophy will be handed out and, as far as I'm concerned, those mean just as much as every other season.
Now with all the nonsense debunked, let's go watch the two best teams in baseball play the World Series, hopefully seven games of it.