After three rather straightforward games to begin the World Series, the intensity of the Fall Classic picked up immensely over the weekend. The Tampa Bay Rays evened the series at two games apiece thanks to an all-time classic postseason game culminating in a wild walk-off, but the Los Angeles Dodgers bounced back to take Game 5 and move one victory away from their first World Series title since 1988.
The Dodgers have held the lead at some point in each of the past 27 innings of this series, but the resilient Rays absolutely cannot be counted out just yet. Let’s take a look at four of the biggest storylines from the first five games of the 2020 World Series:
The Dodgers’ top starters have come up big.
Clayton Kershaw put the finishing touches on his best postseason ever with 5 ⅔ innings of two-run ball in Game 5, striking out six and pitching his way out of trouble without his best stuff. The future Hall-of-Famer silenced the questions about his ability to pitch on the game’s biggest stage, posting a 2-0 record, 2.31 ERA and 14/3 strikeout/walk ratio in 11 ⅔ frames in the Fall Classic. The 32-year-old logged a 2.93 ERA in five postseason starts, surpassed Justin Verlander for the most strikeouts (207) in postseason history and won two games in a single postseason series for the first time in his career.
Alongside Kershaw in the Dodgers rotation is a hurler six years his junior who’s quickly earning a reputation as baseball’s best big-game pitcher. Walker Buehler entered his start in Game 3 of the World Series with a 2.44 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 55 ⅓ postseason frames. He proceeded to absolutely dominate, holding the Rays to one run on three hits while striking out 10 and leading his catcher, Austin Barnes, to say postgame: “That might be the best I’ve ever seen his stuff.” Buehler’s 39 strikeouts this October are the most by any Dodger in a single postseason, and he joined Kershaw and Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers in franchise history with 10+ strikeouts and three hits or fewer allowed in a World Series game. He’ll get the ball opposite Charlie Morton in a potential Game 7.
Kershaw and Buehler have combined to pitch to a 2.04 ERA during the World Series, and postseason breakout pitcher Julio Urías impressed with 4 ⅔ innings of two-run ball with nine strikeouts in the chaotic Game 4, which the Rays ultimately won via walk-off errors. The only game that was truly problematic from a starting pitching perspective was Game 2, when Tony Gonsolin threw just 1 ⅓ innings to kick off a pitching carousel for Dave Roberts. Gonsolin will again take the mound to start Game 6, meaning another bullpen game could be on tap for the Dodgers.
Aside from Blake Snell, Tampa Bay’s starters haven’t been able to contain the Dodgers offense.
Rays starters posted a collective 3.77 ERA during the regular season and 3.30 mark through the first three rounds of this postseason. For the World Series: 7.89. Tyler Glasnow has struck out 15 in two World Series starts but battled shaky command, particularly of his curveball, and lacked a third pitch to keep the Dodgers from sitting on his fastball as a result. The right-hander became the first pitcher in MLB history with 6+ earned runs and 6+ walks in a World Series game in Game 1. In Game 5, the 27-year-old threw a Fall Classic record three wild pitches and surrendered a single postseason record ninth home run. He was able to gut through five innings, which didn’t look possible early, but surrendered four earned runs.
Glasnow isn’t the only Tampa Bay starter who’s struggled, though. Charlie Morton, who entered the World Series with a 1.45 ERA and 7-0 record in his most recent eight postseason appearances, was surprisingly hittable in Game 3, coughing up five runs on seven hits in 4 ⅓ innings in his first playoff loss since October 2017. And Ryan Yarbrough gave up two earned runs on five hits with just one strikeout in 3 ⅓ frames in Game 4 before the Rays bullpen surrendered five earned runs — yet the team did still win.
The lone bright spot from a starting pitching perspective for the Rays this series has been Blake Snell. The 27-year-old lefty took a no-hitter into the fifth inning in Game 2 and ended up striking out nine while allowing two earned runs in 4 ⅔ frames. There are several ways to break down this World Series thus far, but one is simply this: the Rays have gotten just one strong outing from their starting pitchers in five games while the Dodgers have only once not gotten a strong outing from their starters.
The Dodgers can score in so many ways and are getting huge offensive contributions up and down the lineup.
Dave Roberts’ club has picked the perfect time to be firing on all cylinders offensively. Nine different Dodgers have now homered in the World Series, the most for any team in any postseason series ever. With solo home runs from both Joc Pederson and Max Muncy in Game 5, the team now has double digit longballs in in eight straight postseason contests. That’s easily the most of any team in MLB history.
The Rays are hitting a great number of home runs as well, but what really sets the Dodgers apart aside from power up and down the lineup is the ability score without it. In Game 1 of the series, the Dodgers scored four runs in the fifth inning to take a commanding 6-1 lead thanks to a walk, another walk, a double steal, a fielder’s choice RBI groundout and three RBI singles. In Game 3, the Dodgers notched three singles, a safety squeeze and a stolen base in a two-run fourth inning. Those are just two of several such examples. Just about any player in the Dodgers lineup can go deep at any time, but the club also has the ability to manufacture runs by stringing hits together and doing the little things. They’re currently on pace for the highest percentage of runs scored with two outs in a single postseason, as well.
Corey Seager has been the offensive MVP of the World Series for the Dodgers thus far. The shortstop is hitting .471/.609/.824 in the series with two homers, four RBI, five walks and seven runs scored. He became the second shortstop ever with four hits and a home run in a World Series game (Game 4), trails only Randy Arozarena in home runs hit in a single postseason with eight and trails only David Freese (2011) in RBI in a single postseason with 19.
Also making a huge impact offensively is Seager’s teammate on the left side of the infield, Justin Turner, who’s hitting .364 in the series and became the first player ever with a first-inning home run in back-to-back World Series games. Muncy has a .522 OBP in the series and paces the club with 6 RBI while Pederson, Mookie Betts, Austin Barnes, Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger and Will Smith have also homered.
Randy Arozarena is re-writing the record books and getting enough offensive help to make things interesting.
While it’s important to note he’s playing in an expanded postseason format, Arozarena is indisputably in the midst of one of the best postseasons of all time. The 25-year-old outfielder, who will still be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award in 2021, now has more home runs (9) and hits (27) in a single postseason than any other player in MLB history. He’s also the first rookie with an RBI in three straight World Series games in nearly 70 years.
Even as Arozarena has kept up his sensational postseason play, it was pretty clear coming into this series that the Rays would need significant offensive contributions from others against a team as well-rounded as the Dodgers. With a .228 team average in the series, Tampa Bay hasn’t gotten those contributions with great consistency, but there have been a few players who’ve stepped up in individual games. Second baseball Brandon Lowe smacked two opposite field homers in Game 2 to help power the Rays to a win, and Brett Phillips, a .202 career hitter at the big-league level, delivered the RBI single that ultimately resulted in his team’s dramatic walk-off victory in Game 4.
Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is having a great World Series with two home runs and a .375/.412/.750 batting line. Lowe hasn’t notched a single hit outside his three series homers, though. It’s clear the Rays have several hitters capable of big moments outside of Arozarena, as evidenced by their 14 total runs in their two World Series wins, but they’ll need the right combination of timely hitting and better pitching than we’ve seen from them most of this series for two straight games to pull off the upset. That may not be probable, but it’s certainly far from impossible.
What’s on Deck?
Blake Snell will oppose Tony Gonsolin in Game 6 on Tuesday, Oct. 27, as the Rays look to keep their World Series chances alive. Snell, as mentioned, has been Tampa Bay’s best starter in this series, tossing 4 ⅔ innings of two-run ball in their Game 2 victory. Gonsolin essentially served as an opener in Game 2 but manager Dave Roberts said on Monday that the team is hoping to get 5-6 innings from him in Game 6. Walker Buehler would square off against Charlie Morton in a potential Game 7. The Dodgers, of course, are trying to avoid falling short in the Fall Classic for the third time in four years.
Photo by Drone To Fly / Wikimedia Commons