The 2020 World Series has arrived. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays kick off the Fall Classic Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington. The Dodgers went 43-17 during the regular season and had the National League's best record. The Rays were an American League best 40-20. This is the first time the two No. 1 seeds have met in the World Series since 2013.
"We joked when I left the team that we were going to meet up in the World Series one day and for it actually to happen is surreal," former Rays general manager and current Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters, including MLB.com's Adam Berry. "... It kind of hit me today, waking up and processing all the text messages and questions about it. It's definitely surreal. Some of my best friends in life are there."
The Dodgers and Rays are similar in that both clubs boast ultra-impressive depth. They have pinch-hitters galore on the bench and power arms aplenty in the bullpen. Tampa does it with a shoestring budget. The Dodgers are one of the game's biggest spenders. There is no right way or wrong way to win in this sport. What other sport can give you a David vs. Goliath matchup like this?
. Now here are five factors that could decide the World Series, in no particular order.
1. Kershaw's velocity
For much of 2020, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw worked with his highest average fastball velocity in years. After sitting 91.3 mph in 2018 and 90.5 mph in 2019, Kershaw got back up to 91.7 mph this season, thanks in part to an offseason visit to Driveline Baseball, the famed independent data-driven training facility. The result was his best season in several years.
Kershaw's velocity did dip in his NLCS Game 4 start against the Braves and that's notable because he was scratched from his Game 2 start with back spasms. His 91.1 mph average fastball was comfortably below the 91.7 mph he averaged during the regular season and in his first two postseason starts. Kershaw threw several fastballs in the upper-80s early in Game 5.
Velocity is not everything but it's not nothing either. The more velocity you have, the less time the hitter has to react, and the more you can use your secondary pitches to your advantage. Kershaw's curveball and slider are Hall of Fame pitches, at least when he's sitting 91-93 mph. When he's closer to 88-90, as he was in Game 5, the secondaries are a little less effective.
|Batting average||Slugging percentage||Swing and miss rate|
Rays vs. RHP
Rays vs. LHP
Kershaw is starting Game 1 on normal rest and, as far as we know, his back is a non-issue. It is worth monitoring his velocity early in Game 1, however. If he comes out of the gate pumping 92-94 mph with a nice boost of adrenaline, it's great news for the Dodgers. If he starts slow like he did in Game 5, Los Angeles may need to keep Kershaw on a short leash.
"Every year is different," Kershaw told reporters, including MLB.com's Ken Gurnick. "Just trying to learn the best you can, but every year is different and every team is different. The Rays are a different team than the Astros and Red Sox. I'm going to prepare like I always do, be as ready as I can be and excited about another opportunity to get it done."
2. Will Rays give Arozarena any help?
Randy Arozarena, , has been a one-man wrecking crew this October. He is 21 for 55 (.382) with a rookie record seven home runs this postseason. He is one behind Derek Jeter's rookie record for hits in a single postseason. Arozarena has been the breakout star of the postseason, no doubt about it, .
Arozarena has also been close to the entirety of the Tampa offense. Manuel Margot has had a nice postseason -- Margot has five homers in 13 postseason games after hitting one homer in 49 regular season games -- but no other Rays have consistently helped on offense. Shut down Arozarena and there's a good chance you'll shut down the Rays.
All other Rays
Brandon Lowe is 6 for 52 (.115) in the postseason. Austin Meadows is 4 for 35 (.114), Yandy Diaz is 3 for 25 (.125), and Willy Adames is 5 for 38 (.132). Lowe, Diaz, and Adames were Tampa's three best hitters during the regular season and they're a combined 13 for 112 (.116) with one home run and 42 strikeouts in 14 postseason games. Yikes.
Furthermore, the Rays are hitting .174/.301/.362 with runners in scoring position this postseason and .190/.290/.440 with runners on base in general. They've scored 41 of their 57 runs on home runs, or 72 percent, which is insane. The regular season average was 41 percent. Tampa has lived and died -- mostly lived -- with homers this October, and Arozarena has done the heavy lifting. At some point his teammates need to give him help. The Dodgers are way too good to beat with one man.
"They've pitched us well. They've pitched us tough," Rays manager Kevin Cash said during the ALCS. "That big hit continues to elude us with guys on base."
3. Anderson's postseason struggles
Rays righty Nick Anderson is on the short list of the game's best relievers. He allowed only two runs (one earned) in 16 1/3 regular season innings around a shoulder problem while striking out 26 and walking three. Last season Anderson had a 2.11 ERA with 41 strikeouts and only two walks in 21 1/2 innings after coming over from the Marlins at the trade deadline.
This postseason though, Anderson has been scored upon five times in his seven appearances -- he allowed runs in only five of his 42 regular season appearances with Tampa -- including in each of his last four appearances. Here are those last four outings:
ALDS Game 5 vs. Yankees
ALCS Game 2 vs. Astros
ALCS Game 5 vs. Astros
ALCS Game 7 vs. Astros
That strikeout column is worrisome. Anderson struck out 44.8 percent of batters faced in the regular season and 49.3 percent in his two years with the Rays, yet that's now three straight strikeout-less appearances. He has not struck out any of the last 24 batters he has faced, and in ALCS Game 7, Anderson threw 22 pitches and did not get a single swing and miss. That's a big red flag.
The Rays have an incredible bullpen and they can turn to Peter Fairbanks and Diego Castillo in late-inning high-leverage situations. Anderson is a very important piece of their game plan, however. He's their Moment of Truth™ reliever. Cash brings him in to face the other team's best hitters in important situations regardless of inning. Losing that weapon would be crushing.
Anderson has endured a heavy workload recently -- he threw seven high-stress innings in a nine-day span from ALDS Game 5 to ALCS Game 7 -- so perhaps the two off days between ALCS Game 7 and World Series Game 1 will cure whatever ails him. The Rays have to hope so, anyway. They're going to need their bullpen to protect every lead against a team as good as the Dodgers.
4. Familiarity with Globe Life Field
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the World Series will be played at a neutral site for the first time ever. MLB selected Globe Life Field, new home of the Rangers, to host the Fall Classic. Based on what we've seen the last few weeks, Globe Life Field appears to be pitcher-friendly. There have been several balls that looked gone off the bat, only to die before the warning track.
Globe Life Field also hosted the NLDS and NLCS as part of MLB's postseason hub plan and the Dodgers are very familiar with the new ballpark. They've already played 10 games there this postseason (three NLDS and seven NLCS), plus three more during the regular season. Heck, only the Rangers have played more games at Globe Life Field in the ballpark's short existence.
The Rays have never played a game at Globe Life Field. They did not play the Rangers during the regular season -- Tampa was limited to AL East and NL East opponents during regional play -- and their postseason hub was Petco Park in San Diego. This will be an entirely new experience for them. New entrances, new clubhouses, new dimensions, etc.
As noted earlier, the Rays have scored 72 percent of their runs on home runs this postseason, and spacious Globe Life Field could hurt them offensively. I'm also curious to see how quickly their outfielders pick up on the ballpark's quirks. Globe Life Field has some funky angles and various wall heights. Mookie Betts seemed to pick it up quickly ...
... but not every player is Mookie. Tampa's outfielders figure to spend extra time shagging fly balls during batting practice just to familiarize themselves with the new ballpark. The Dodgers have been playing in Globe Life Field for two weeks now. It's basically home. The Rays don't have that luxury and their inexperience could have an impact at some point in the World Series.
5. The return of days off
Off days are back. MLB eliminated in-series off days during the LDS and LCS rounds this year and I have to admit, I liked it. It placed an emphasis on depth because you couldn't count on those off days to rest your relievers, and it created a frenzied pace. It was one game right after the next. It felt like, well, baseball. It was a regular season pace with postseason intensity. I dug it.
The World Series will follow the standard 2-3-2 format, so there will be the usual off days following Games 2 and 5 even though the two teams are playing at a neutral site and no travel is required. The Rays and Dodgers can lean on their top relievers a little more heavily knowing those off days are coming. I'm not sure that gives either team an advantage, but it does change the dynamic. LDS and LCS games had to be managed differently. Now it's back to postseason business as usual.