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Six takeaways from the first two games of the World Series

by Chris Brown

Clayton Kershaw delivered with a great start and the Dodgers did a little bit of everything offensively to win Game 1 of the World Series, but the Rays bounced back to even the series at 1-1 behind Blake Snell, Brandon Lowe and a lineup that started stringing hits together. 

While it’s hard to make any sweeping conclusions in a series tied at one, let’s break down six observations from the first two games of the World Series:

1. Clayton Kershaw can pitch on the game’s biggest stage.

The narrative has developed for years that the future Hall-of-Famer can’t pitch in October. His numbers in the postseason are significantly worse than in the regular season, yes, but as his performance in Game 1 of the World Series showed, Kershaw is certainly capable of delivering in the playoffs. The veteran lefty carved through the Rays lineup, throwing six innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts and retiring 17 of the final 18 batters he faced, with his only real mistake being a fifth-inning solo homer surrendered to Kevin Kiermaier.

Tampa Bay’s 50% whiff rate against Kershaw was the highest of any start of his career — regular season and postseason. He also overtook John Smoltz for second all-time in postseason strikeouts and is tied for the second-most postseason games with 8+ strikeouts and one earned run or fewer with six such performances. As The Athletic’s Molly Knight noted, 2020 is the first time in eight seasons in which Kershaw hasn’t been used on short rest or as a reliever in the postseason. His 2020 playoff numbers: 3-1 record, 2.88 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 31 K, 3 BB in 25 IP.

2. The Rays curiously deviated from their normal pitching formula in Game 1, and it didn’t work out.

Tampa Bay has stuck to the same system when it comes to pitching for the entire season. Manager Kevin Cash is not afraid to pull a starter in the fifth inning to optimize matchups the rest of the way with a deep and talented bullpen. Veteran Charlie Morton was pulled in the middle of a gem against the Astros in Game 7 of the ALCS after just 66 pitches. The night before, Cash removed a frustrated Blake Snell in the top of the fifth inning amidst a shutout as well. The Rays don’t care about the aesthetics. They have a system.

But it’s a system that was abandoned in Game 1 of the World Series, as Cash gave a wild Tyler Glasnow an unusually long leash against the best lineup in baseball, a move which led to a complete unraveling in the fifth inning. Glasnow showed electric stuff in his start but didn’t have good command, having already thrown 86 pitches and issued four walks entering the fifth inning. Cash sent him out there and did not pull him at the first sign of trouble, but rather left him in after two straight walks to face another three batters after that. 

Glasnow ended up being charged with six earned runs in 4 ⅓ frames with six walks on a career-high 112 pitches, the most thrown by a Tampa Bay pitcher all season. Glasnow’s six walks were the most issued by a pitcher in the World Series in nearly a decade. After the game, Cash defended his decision to leave Glasnow in but really didn’t offer any sort of explanation for why Game 1 of the World Series was the time he chose to abandon the mindset that helped get them there.

3. The Dodgers are getting offensive contributions up and down the lineup.

Eight players have logged at least one hit in the first two games of the World Series for the Dodgers. Seven have at least one RBI, with four (Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Will Smith) tallying multiple. Five have homered, though the Dodgers have also shown once again the ability to string together several hits in a row and run the bases well. The club’s four-run fifth inning in Game 1 consisted of a walk, another walk, a double steal, fielder’s choice groundout, RBI single, RBI single, and then one more RBI single.

Mookie Betts was the offensive MVP of Game 1 for Dave Roberts’ club, finishing 2-for-4 with two runs, one RBI, one walk and two steals. He became the second player ever and the first since Babe Ruth with a walk and multiple stolen bases in a World Series inning. Betts also became the first player in World Series history with a homer, two runs scored and two stolen bases in the same game with his sixth-inning longball.

4. Brandon Lowe snapped out of his slump as Tampa Bay’s bats got going against the Dodgers’ pitching carousel in Game 2.

The second baseman was the Rays best hitter during the regular season, smacking 14 home runs while hitting roughly .270. After cooling off down the stretch, though, Lowe entered Game 2 of the World Series hitting just .107 this postseason. Cash stuck with him in the second spot in the lineup and Lowe rewarded him for it, hitting two opposite field home runs to push the Rays to a single-season playoff record 28 longballs. 

The Rays also tallied eight hits aside from Lowe’s two in Game 2. In the fourth inning, a botched inning-ending double play ball by Kiké Hernández opened the door for Tampa Bay’s Joey Wendle to deliver a two-out, two-run double into the gap to give his team a 3-0 lead. He later picked up another RBI in the sixth on a sac fly. The Dodgers used seven pitchers in Game 2, with the Rays getting to four of them for at least one earned run. 

The Rays struck out just seven times in Game 2 after averaging 11 per contest in their last 10 games, and the team is now 19-0 this season (regular and postseason) when scoring 6+ runs. Lowe and the rest of the Rays offense may be turning a corner, but the sample size of one game makes it too soon to tell just yet.

5. Blake Snell was the pitching star of Game 2.

The 27-year-old left-hander struck out nine batters in 4 ⅔ innings and took a no-hitter in the fifth inning before giving up a two-run homer to Chris Taylor. Snell became the first pitcher since Roger Clemens in 2000 to strike out nine and allow two or fewer hits in a World Series game. The two outings were very different, though, as Clemens threw 112 pitches in eight innings while Snell didn’t make it out of the fifth.

In fact, Snell hasn’t gone six innings in a start since July 2019. Part of that is due to his injury tack record, but much of it is also by design as the Rays frequently go to their bullpen early in games. Regardless of the lack of long outings, Snell’s Game 2 start paved the way for the Rays to even up the series at one game apiece.

6. Corey Seager cannot be stopped.

Randy Arozarena has appropriately gotten a great deal of attention this postseason, but Seager has also had a simply sensational October. The Dodgers shortstop homered in the eighth inning of Game 2 to tie the Rays rookie for the MLB lead in longballs this postseason with seven. Seager is also now the all-time leader in homers in a single postseason by a shortstop. He’s hitting .302 with a 1.161 OPS, 16 RBI and two stolen bases in the playoffs. 

A few other quick notes…

  • Arozarena singled in the ninth inning of Game 2 to tie Derek Jeter for the most hits by a rookie in a single postseason with 22. He also ranks second in total bases by a player in a single postseason ever with 48, behind only David Freese with 50 in 2011. 
  • The Rays’ Nick Anderson was one of the best relievers in baseball during the regular season, posting a 0.55 ERA. He’s struggled during the postseason, though, posting a 4.85 ERA and giving up at least one earned run in each of his five most recent appearances. 
  • Tampa Bay’s Ji-Man Choi became the first Korean-born player to record a hit in the World Series when he singled to lead off the sixth inning in Game 2.

What’s on Deck?

Walker Buehler and Charlie Morton will square off in Game 3 on Oct. 23 as the Rays shift to being the home team for the next three contests at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Morton is roughly a decade older than Buehler, but there are several similarities between the two pitchers. Both struggled some during the regular season, both have been outstanding during the postseason,and both will be pitching on extra rest. Per MLB.com’s Sarah Langs, the Game 3 winner in a best-of-7 postseason series tied at 1-1 has gone on to win the series 69.1% of the time.

Photos by All-Pro Reels / Flickr (Lowe) and apardavila / Flickr (Seager).

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