In a season unlike any other, baseball’s best team has finished on top.
With a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 on Oct. 27, the Los Angeles Dodgers snapped a 32-year championship drought to claim their seventh World Series title.
Here are six things to know about the series and its implications:
1. Corey Seager was named World Series MVP.
The Dodgers shortstop hit .400 with a 1.256 OPS, two home runs and five RBI during the six-game World Series, becoming the first shortstop to win MVP in the Fall Classic in a decade. He also walked six times and scored seven runs. Seager, who also captured NLCS MVP honors, became the eighth player to win LCS and World Series MVP awards in the same postseason.
Seager played a strong shortstop in the series and plated the go-ahead run in Game 6 as Mookie Betts dashed home on his ground ball to first base in the sixth inning. His eight home runs in the 2020 postseason trailed only Randy Arozarena among all players in a single postseason series, and his RBI (20), runs (20) and total base (50) numbers for the playoffs all rank second in MLB playoff history.
“Man, this was just awesome,” Seager said after Game 6. “What this team has accomplished this year, throughout the regular season, grinding through every series, we got down 3-1 (in the NLCS), came all the way back. The resilience, the effort, the energy — everything that this team has done this year, it’s just been fun to be a part of.”
2. Clayton Kershaw finally has his ring.
The long wait is over for the future Hall-of-Famer, who’s been the backbone of a dominant team that’s won eight straight division titles yet has been plagued by negative postseason narratives for the better part of his big-league career. Kershaw entered the 2020 season with a 4.43 postseason ERA in roughly 160 innings. In five starts during this year’s playoffs, though, he silenced any who believed he couldn’t deliver on the game’s biggest stage, authoring a 4-1 record and 2.93 ERA in 30 ⅔ frames.
The 32-year-old carved through the Rays lineup to throw six inning of one-run ball with eight punchouts in Game 1 of the World Series and came back to beat Tampa Bay for the second time in six days with 5 ⅔ solid frames in Game 5, escaping a major jam and allowing just two runs despite clearly not having his best stuff. The left-hander already had just about every accomplishment you could hope for on his resume entering 2020, from three Cy Young awards to eight All-Star selections, five ERA titles, an MVP honor, a Triple Crown and a Gold Glove. All he was missing was a World Series ring.
Kershaw played in 19 postseason rounds before the 2020 World Series. That’s the most postseason rounds an MLB player has ever participated in before winning their first championship. It’s a well-deserved honor for one of the best pitchers in the history of the sport, no doubt.
3. Justin Turner tested positive for COVID-19 but inexplicably returned for postgame celebrations.
The events that transpired at the end of Game 6 reminded everyone once more of the unprecedented circumstances in which the 2020 MLB season has been played. As the Dodgers celebrated their title, there was no dogpile, no champagne, and at least to begin the celebration, no Justin Turner. The veteran third baseman, who’d just won the first championship of his 12-year career, was removed to start the eighth inning after registering Major League Baseball’s first positive COVID-19 test in 59 days.
The Associated Press, among other outlets, reported that MLB learned in the second inning of the game that Turner’s Monday test had come back inconclusive, and Tuesday’s pregame sample was then run, with a positive result coming back in the fifth inning and the league informing the Dodgers, who then removed him from the game. It’s not clear if Game 7 would have been able to be played on schedule had it been necessary.
Speaking on the FOX broadcast after the game, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that Turner “was immediately isolated to prevent the spread.” Turner tweeted shortly thereafter that he had not been experiencing any symptoms and then proceeded to join his teammates in the on-field celebration, hugging Kershaw and sitting front-and-center for the team photo next to manager Dave Roberts while not wearing a mask despite his positive diagnosis.
Turner was asked not to return to the field but insisted upon it and had the support of at least some club officials, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal reported that when MLB officials found out that Turner had returned to the field, they instructed security to get Turner back into isolation, but he refused. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman defended Turner’s actions by saying he was wearing a mask and staying socially distanced, both of which were clearly not always true.
Friedman said the team would be taking another round of tests before determining when to leave Texas. As the baseball world continues to react to the Dodgers championship, questions about the handling of Turner’s COVID-19 situation on the part of the league, team and player himself will remain in the days ahead. What happened with Turner returning to the field and posing for pictures maskless alongside teammates and coaches and their families was unbelievably reckless and irresponsible, and those who allowed it to occur should be held responsible.
4. Kevin Cash’s decision to pull Blake Snell after just 73 pitches in Game 6 may have cost the Rays a chance to win the World Series.
Snell was the only Rays starter to deliver a strong outing in the World Series. The 27-year-old left-hander took a no-hitter into the fifth inning in Game 2 but looked even sharper in Game 6, allowing just one hit through five innings while striking out nine. Snell recorded a pop-out to start the sixth before giving up a single to Austin Barnes.
And then Cash had a decision to make. Snell, who hasn’t pitched six innings in a game since July 2019, rarely gets to face many (if any) opposing batters a third time in a game. That’s a major aspect of the Rays pitching philosophy. The top of the lineup was coming up for the Dodgers. But the top of L.A.’s order — Mookie Betts, Seager and Turner — was a collective 0-for-6 with six strikeouts versus Snell, who was at just 73 pitches and absolutely dealing. Still, the Rays manager went to his bullpen, bringing in Nick Anderson, who was one of the best relievers in baseball during the regular season but had given up at least one run in six straight postseason outings.
Make it seven. Anderson gave up a double to Betts, Barnes scored on a wild pitch and Seager’s grounder scored Betts from third. Betts added an insurance run with a solo homer in the eighth inning, but those two runs proved to be enough. That one pitching chance was the on-the-field story of Game 6. And a discussion that’s been brewing about the role of analytics within baseball was suddenly reignited on another level.
It’s a discussion that will undoubtedly continue into the offseason and for years to come. And it’s a complex topic, one that should never be oversimplified to either being “for analytics” or “going with your gut.” Numbers are an important tool which can be used as a rationale for all types of decisions, some even contradictory to each other. They’re also not the be-all and end-all.
One thing that’s incredibly clear: the outrage over Cash’s decision. The baseball world exploded over the move to pull Snell. The pitcher himself turned away and shouted an expletive as his manager headed to the mound.
“The hardest thing for me is I was rolling, I was in a groove,” he said postgame. “I felt like I had them guessing. It’s just tough for me. It’s going to be tough for me to accept that.”
Betts said he didn’t understand the move, telling reporters, “I’m not sure why. I’m not going to ask any questions. He was pitching a great game… it seems like that’s all we needed.”
And even Snell’s teammates — Cash’s own players — weren’t afraid to express their displeasure after the game, with center fielder Kevin Kiermaier saying, “I don’t care what the numbers say. There weren’t many guys that were making contact.”
Cash’s postgame comments made it even clearer that Snell was never going to see the Dodgers lineup a third time no matter the circumstances. The Rays held firm to their system — and it didn’t work out.
5. Randy Arozarena’s breakout postseason wasn’t enough for Tampa Bay.
Seager was deservedly named series MVP, but it was Arozarena who rewrote the record books with one of the best postseason performances by a player in MLB history. The 25-year-old outfielder extended his big-league record with his 10th home run of this postseason in Game 6 and also now holds the record for most hits and total bases in a single postseason with 29 and 64, respectively.
Arozarena batted .364 with three longballs and four RBI in the Fall Classic, but it was always clear he’d be unable to do enough offensive lifting on his own against a team as good as the Dodgers. And while he got some help in Game 2 with Brandon Lowe’s two home runs and in Game 4 with three teammates and him combining to homer in four straight innings — as well as Brett’ Phillips clutch ninth-inning hit — it simply wasn’t enough.
The Rays made it clear this postseason that their American League-best record during the regular season was no fluke. Tampa Bay is a great team well-deserving of an AL pennant. But with their pitchers posting a collective 5.54 ERA in the series, they were never going to out-slug the Dodgers on their way to a title.
6. The Dodgers simply out-played the Rays on their way to winning the title.
Baseball’s best team, a club that led the league in home runs, runs scored and ERA during the regular season, continued to show the combination of star power and depth that got them there in the World Series. The Dodgers showed how in 2020, they were not just the sport’s most talented team, but also the sport’s most complete team.
Nine different Dodgers players homered in the World Series, the most for any team in any postseason series in MLB history. But they also weren’t reliant on the longball to score. Dodgers starters, led by Kershaw and Walker Buehler, who’s cemented himself as one of the best big-game pitchers in baseball, posted a 2.84 ERA in the series. And L.A.’s relief corps, a source of some concern relative to the Rays, bested their Tampa Bay counterparts in ERA and tossed 7 ⅓ innings of two-hit, scoreless ball with 12 strikeouts in and no walks in Game 6.
For the better part of the last decade, the Dodgers front office has built the team to withstand the worst-case scenarios. Pitching depth. Positional flexibility. A robust farm system. Immense financial resources to make mid-season moves. The team had it all, with the goal of being able to withstand whatever that given season threw at them and break their decades-long title drought.
L.A. came so close in recent years, falling short in the Fall Classic in 2017 and 2018. So perhaps it’s actually fitting that in a year when everything has been off balance, one aspect that couldn’t get aligned has finally reached equilibrium. The Dodgers refused to be denied again and are now on top of the baseball world for the first time in over three decades. It’s about time.
Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Twitter