Written By: Jake Tweedie & John Storey
Follow them on Twitter: @MLBUKAnalysis1 & @JohnStorey_
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW
The 2020 World Series is here. After exciting LCS series that saw a Game 7 in each and some high level baseball at that.
This year, the World Series will be played at a neutral site at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Over 10,000 fans will be permitted into the ballpark.
Expected World Series Starting Pitching Matchups:
- Tuesday, October 20th – Game 1: Clayton Kershaw (LAD) vs Tyler Glasnow (TB)
- Wednesday, October 21st – Game 2: Dustin May (LAD) vs Blake Snell (TB)
- Friday, October 23rd – Game 3: Walker Buehler (LAD) vs Charlie Morton (TB)
- Saturday, October 24th – Game 4: Julio Urias (LAD) vs Ryan Yarbrough (TB)
- Sunday, October 25th – **Game 5: Clayton Kershaw (LAD) vs Tyler Glasnow (TB)**
- Tuesday, October 27th – **Game 6: Tony Gonsolin (LAD) VS Blake Snell (TB) **
- Wednesday October 28th – **Game 7: Walker Buehler (LAD) vs Charlie Morton (TB) **
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Things to Know:
The Braves looked dominant after the first 4 games of the Series. They lead the Dodgers 2-0 in Game 5, but the Dodgers found a way to claw it back.
Whilst their pitching staff were struggling, their offense stepped up when needed and this boosted their pitchers remarkably. Giving up just 7 runs, after conceding 10 in Game 4 alone, shows a significant improvement. This followed an impressive few middle innings in Game 4. They turned it around from 2-0 down to 7-2 up.
Even after this victory, Game 6 was still heavily in the Braves’ favor at 3-2 ahead in the series. The bottom of the 1st saw 2 home runs and then a standout performance by Walker Buehler. He shut the Braves down and swung the series in the Dodgers’ favor.
Despite their struggles in the NLCS, they somehow found a way to turn around a 3-1 deficit. This shows desire and passion to win and will stand them in good stead heading into the World Series.
Dodgers’ Bullpen Dominance or have they been found out?
A recurring debate this postseason is the Dodgers and their bullpen. They stepped up to dispatch the Padres but were found out in the early stages of the NLCS.
Game 1 saw Treinen targeted, whilst Games 2 and 4 also saw the bullpen allowing multiple runs. There was a massive transformation as the Dodgers got to Games 5-7. This allowed them to get through to the World Series despite the odds being against them.
Treinen improved to pick up a victory in Game 5. Five pitchers were used in the last game as the Dodgers went all out to pick up the victory. They showed their ability to bounce back. However, this followed a poor first few games.
Seager isn’t the big-name star expected to be the top guy heading into the World Series. However, if you follow Prospects Worldwide then you will know he was an X-Factor heading into the NLCS.
This was justified with the NLCS MVP after hitting 5 HRs, 11 RBIs, and averaging .310. His 3 HRs in 2 games helped the Dodgers overcome their predicament to become victorious.
So far he has recorded 6 HRs and 15 RBIs in the postseason. This resulted in surpassing both Dodgers’ records. He also became the first shortstop with more than three homers in any series in MLB postseason history.
Seager took a lead role and eased pressure on the next 2 guys…
Betts and Bellinger
These are the two guys we expect to see tearing up the postseason. They both did well in the Wildcard series, and the NLDS but they struggled somewhat against the Braves.
Betts produced an average of .269 but had just 1 XBH and just 1 RBI. For a player that cost $27m for 2020, there was a lot needed from him. He did have a game-defying moment in Game 7, making a superb catch to rob Freddie Freeman of a home run.
Bellinger, on the other hand, was poor. He averaged just .200 with 1 triple and 2 HRs. Another player expected to produce with the bat when needed, there wasn’t enough before Game 7.
His home run in the bottom of the 7th turned out to be the game-winning run. However, this masks the fact he didn’t do more in the series.
Something to Watch:
One of the Dodgers’ most trusted pitchers has been Julio Urias. Another pitcher who has become one of the Dodgers’ most important players.
After picking up two relief victories, he showed his versatility by starting Game 3 of the NLCS. He started most of his appearances in the 2020 regular season, thus making this achievement more impressive.
He started Game 3 and showed his maturity to strike out 5 hitters and allowing just 1 run in 5 innings of work. This included him pitching 101 pitches in a long start.
Just a few days later he was called upon after the bullpen had been depleted. His first 3 outs came in just 10 pitches. This followed picking up the outs of Freeman, Ozuna, and d’Arnaud in the 8th inning.
This left him heading into the last inning with the chance of picking up another victory. He forced Albies and Swanson to ground out before a fly out from Riley. This capped off an impressive series for the Mexican pitcher.
He will need to be in fine form once again in the World Series. However, with the way he has been pitching then there is every possibility that he causes the Rays problems.
The Dodgers have already announced using Kershaw in the first game of the World Series. He last pitched in Game 4 against the Braves, succumbing 4 runs and 7 hits in a poor performance. If he can rediscover this form then he could be key in Game 1. He could prove as important in Game 5.
The introduction of two off-days will likely impact a lot of their decisions. However, Urias and Gonsolin were heavily used in Game 7 against the Braves. Buehler will need an extra day to recover before he is ready to start. This potentially sees Dustin May starting Game 2, with the use of the bullpen.
Game 4 could see either Urias or Gonsolin used from the beginning, with the other starting Game 6 if required.
The Dodgers are known for their offensive capabilities. However, their starters have the potential to stifle any offensive threat from opposition teams. Clayton Kershaw has been hit-and-miss in the postseason. However, his strikeout ability has been solid. He also has the potential to produce performances like against the Brewers in the Wildcard (8 innings and 13 SOs). Walker Buehler has been much more impressive. He started 2 games in the Braves’ series. He ended with an ERA of 0.82 and 13 SOs in 11 innings. Then there are the options of using Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, and Julio Urias as starters or relievers. The Dodgers rotation is loaded, and they have used this to great effect.
The bullpen is just as impressive as their starting counterparts. There were a few problems early in the NLCS. However, they bounced back in style and dominated the Braves in the later games.
Urias, May, and Gonsolin have been used as relievers, Treinen is starting to find the form that saw him do so well at the A’s, and the impressive arms of Graterol, Baez, and Jansen usually close the game out.
As a pitching unit they had the best ERA, hits allowed /9, earned runs /9, walks /9, WHIP, and BAA across the 2020 season. They have a lack of SOs, but their pitchers’ way of causing outs and not giving much away makes them strong.
Their offense helps their pitchers massively. They can hit the ball far. More impressively they don’t rely on just 1 or 2 players to pick up their runs. This seems to be a team effort and everyone pitches in.
This series saw Seager step up, plus another 2 players finishing with a plus .300 BA. Turner had a .280 average and Betts was .269. This shows that the majority of their line-up makes contact with the ball.
Throughout the regular season, they had 5 players reach 10+ HRs and 5 players have 30+ RBIs. They are also good at not being struck out on a regular basis. This shows their emphasis on ensuring they get on base to allow things to happen.
Their main weakness is trying to adapt to different pitching techniques. The Braves did well at exploiting this in Game 4. It restricted them to scoring more than 4 on just 3 occasions and scoring 3 or less on 3 occasions. However, the games that the Braves did allow for the long ball to become a key factor they succumbed to 5 HRs in Game 3 and 3 HRs in Game 5.
There are plenty of positives to this Dodgers offense. They can get on base but they can also exploit poor pitches and turn them into HRs fairly easily.
X-Factor: C – Will Smith
There are plenty of options that could have gone here. However, when you look at productivity Smith stands out in a unique way. He did have 7 RBIs to finish 2nd behind just Seager in the NLCS, but his overall BA was poor.
The backstop is another player that doesn’t set the world on fire in terms of massive productivity and reliability. He has got the job done at the plate when needed for the Dodgers in this postseason.
Ultimately he picks up RBIs in clutch situations. His 3-run HR in Game 5 turned the game on its head and put the Dodgers up 4-2, whilst his 2-run single in Game 7 tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the 3rd.
He may not be the best player in terms of offensive potential. However, he can come up in situations where most players would not. Therefore he can go and produce a bit of magic to change a game or ensure the offense continues its momentum.
As a catcher, he has proved himself to be reliable behind the plate. He has started most games this postseason. This shows the trust he has from management despite it being just his 2nd year in the Majors.
World Series Prediction:
There will be a lot of emphasis for the hitters to perform for the Dodgers and limit the main threat of the Rays, their pitching. The Rays have struggled for consistent hitting. This may become a big factor against a team that can use their bullpen masterfully and has starters that can limit teams in the early stages.
The Dodgers offense will prove too much for the Rays. It is one of the biggest stages in baseball, so the Rays may step up to the plate. I don’t see them having enough to overpower the Dodgers.
@MLBUKAnalysis Prediction: Dodgers 4-2
The Tampa Bay Rays:
Now that we’re at the end of the Post Season, most everyone should be familiar with the Rays and the ways they can hurt you. They’ve got three very good starters who they’ll finally have the opportunity to deploy in full force should the World Series go to seven games. Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton have picked up right where they left off. Glasnow, the staff’s true ace, had a strikeout rate that sat right beside Jacob deGrom’s. That led to the league’s sixth-best SIERA. Blake Snell was finally able to rekindle a bit of his Cy Young form, pitching to a 76 ERA-. Charlie Morton continues to pitch under the radar. The curveball specialist completed another strong campaign, his 13th big league season and second with Tampa Bay.
Things to Know:
The Rays will have the luxury of using all three of their traditional starters twice in the World Series should it go seven games. The introduction of two off-days will likely impact a lot of their decisions. They’ll lead with Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton to line them up for starts in potential games five, six and seven. What’s less clear is how things will stack up for game four. In the Championship Series, we saw the Rays pitch Ryan Yarbrough for five innings as well as a combination of John Curtiss and Josh Fleming. Either scenario is possible and the outcome will likely depend on how the first three games of the series play out.
It’s important to highlight just how good their starters have been. The Rays are best not when relying on their bullpen, but when their starting pitchers can pitch deep into games, providing quality innings. Their starters ranked third in baseball this year in strikeout rate and fourth in hard-hit rate (sixth in exit velocity). Despite placing seventh in fastball velocity (and third in curveball heat) their lack of starting depth often paints the rotation in a worse light than it deserves.
That’s not to condescend to the bullpen. The Rays’ collection of arms is what makes late innings in Tampa Bay so unique. Kevin Cash’s stable resembles a collection of trinkets and tools, a Swiss Army Knife capable of any task. Arm angles, speeds, specialties, they’ve got it all. Some of the high leverage relievers such as Nick Anderson and Peter Fairbanks feature high 90s to triple-digit heat while others, such as Arron Sledges will slow hitters down with a fastball nearly ten miles per hour slower.
Side wider Aaron Loup, a former LOOGY, has found a role for the Rays even with the three batter minimum. This isn’t a bullpen comprised of household names. It’s a bullpen comprised of pitchers whose combined salary remains well below that of many teams’ closers. Just one arm (Aaron Loup, $1.65M) will earn more than $600,000 this year. Yet they’ve managed to not only hold their own but dominate. And frequently, only the Braves and Red Sox asked their relievers to complete more innings this year.
A strong walk rate (10.7%) is inefficient with a pedestrian .325 wOBA and 109 wRC+. Especially going against the Dodgers, the Rays are going to have to ensure that they maximize production. They’ll need Arozarena to continue his tare as well as see Joey Wendle and Manuel Margot sustain the supporting roles they’ve played this October. Resurgences from Austin Meadows, Willy Adames, Yandy Diaz and recently dismal Brandon Lowe would also go a long way in helping this team combat Los Angeles’ stellar pitching staff.
Another interesting nugget is the Dodgers’ propensity to shift. Not only did they shift more often than any other team in baseball this year, but they also shifted 5.3% more than the Tigers, the second biggest difference between any two consecutively ranked teams this year.
Randy Arozarena. That’s it. Take a look at this article on Arozarena by @JTillinghast27. That’s all you need to know.
But if you don’t already know Randy Arozarena, get to know him. He’s a single home run away from tying the Post Season record (8) held by Barry Bonds (2002), Carlos Beltran (2004) and Nelson Cruz (2011). While some may point to the extra games in this Post Season, note that Randy didn’t hit his first bomb until the division series. More numbers? This Post Season, he’s slashed .382/.433/.855. As October has progressed he’s traded hits for long balls, emphasizing his value.
One of the Rays’ secret weapons is their defense. While everyone talks about their elite pitching staff, one of their keys to success has been their ability to field a sneaky and unconventionally strong defense. You didn’t have to watch much of the American League Championship Series to notice how an infielder was nearly always waiting at the destination of every ground ball hit by the Houston Astros. And Ji-Man Choi was a vacuum cleaner at first base. Especially considering their regular season metrics, some of this is luck. Throughout this World Series, we may gain some insight into just how much luck was involved.
Aside from the expert positioning we saw in the American League Championship Series, the Rays dominated in the field through the regular season. They ranked third in ultimate zone rating, sixth in defensive runs above average and fourth in outs above average. One important note here is the Rays’ recent shift in philosophy, pun intended. In each year from 2016 through 2018 the Rays placed second in the frequency they deployed a defensive shift. They slid to fourth in 2019 before this year’s massive decline to 19th.
The Rays are renowned for their bullpen. They led Major League Baseball in fWAR this season. Their depth and dominance have given the Rays an edge in virtually every game they attain a lead. That’s exactly why their bullpen collected more wins than any other team less their opponents, the Dodgers, and why no team was able to dismantle a Rays lead after seven innings in 30 regular-season games.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Rays’ unique pitching strategies extend beyond their bullpen. The staff as a whole threw the third-fewest balls (3,000) this season, limiting the total number of pitches they threw to 8,573, ninth fewest. A big part of that is their ability to turn pitches outside the zone into strikes. No other team induced more swings on pitches outside the strike zone. Moreover, the Rays ranked 10th in the frequency that those swings resulted in a batted ball. It shouldn’t surprise anyone then that the Rays are fourth in swinging-strike rate.
Tampa Bay’s offense has a concerning flaw. They’ve been known to strikeout. This season, the team had the second-highest strikeout rate in baseball. This is especially alarming considering they didn’t have to face any Rays pitchers. Overall, their offence isn’t especially exciting. They’ve relied heavily on Randy Arozarena to produce runs in these last few weeks. Their runs per game barely eclipse league average, their run differential relying on dominant pitching. The Dodgers (who scored more runs per game than anyone else and allowed the second-fewest) will present the ultimate challenge on both sides of the ball. The Rays will have to continue to be smart on the base paths and maximize each opportunity they acquire.
Tampa Bay’s lineup isn’t all that different from their bullpen, albeit with less effectiveness. And this Post Season has brought out the best in a few unlikely performers. Most notably, with Brandon Lowe unable to replicate his regular-season production, Randy Arozarena has risen to the occasion. Yet still, they don’t have the firepower or star power that the Dodgers or Yankees have. And they’ve been plagued by strikeouts (second-highest strikeout rate in baseball) without producing excessive power or extra bases.
Something to Watch:
One of the Rays’ most trusted relievers has been Nick Anderson. Not only in a Rays context, but among all Major League relievers. He’s been tremendous. He placed 3rd in FIP, 11th in K/9, 6th in ERA, 6th in SIERA, and the had the best WHIP in baseball. However, it’s been a different story this postseason. Despite throwing more innings than any other non-starter he hasn’t been himself. He’s allowed at least one run to score in all but two of his seven outings this October after allowing just two (one earned) in the regular season across 19 outings (16.1 innings).
Hitters just aren’t getting fooled by his offerings the way they used to. His strike rate has dropped from 74% in the regular season to 65% this Post Season. Nearly all of that decline is a result of collecting over 50% fewer swinging strikes, going from 21% in the regular season to 9% this Post Season. Nobody should lose confidence in Anderson. He figures to continue to be a major part of this Rays team. But his inability to trick hitters is slightly concerning, especially if he’s used in high leverage situations against a dangerous Dodgers lineup.
Rays X-Factor: C – Mike Zunino
The obvious choice here is Randy Arozarena. But in the spirit of avoiding conformity and trying to make this interesting, let’s shed some light on the impact Mike Zunino has had on the Rays Postseason run so far as well as what he could contribute to the World Series.
The backstop has always been an interesting case. While he fails to offer even close to league average results at the plate, he’s shown flashes of a capable bat, as well as some pop. Much of that power has failed to materialize since the Rays acquired him from Seattle following the 2017 season. In three of his six seasons with the Mariners, Mike was able to hit 20 home runs. He still struggled (and continues to struggle) to provide a serviceable batting line. But what’s interesting is likely a big part of what motivated the Rays to take a chance on him. Particularly in 2017 and 2018, he produced excellent hard hit and barrel rates. Ultimately, much of his production has been bottlenecked by a lofty strikeout rate (upwards of 35-40% annually).
With that said, what makes him an asset this World Series? While it may not continue, it is encouraging to see Mike realize a bit of his power potential most recently. He’s already matched his regular-season home run total this Post Season, knocking four home runs this October. That, however, is secondary to his defense. He may not be at the top of his class in terms of framing, but anyone who’s been paying attention to the Rays right now knows he’s very capable of saving runs. It’s difficult to quantify this. Comparing his defensive numbers to the eye test illustrates how stats don’t always tell the whole story. Expect him to make small yet impactful contributions that prevent to Dodgers from picking up 90 feet here and there. It may seem trivial, but in late and close Post Season, World Series, games it is anything but trivial.
World Series Prediction:
These are two of baseball’s best. The only two teams to win 40 games in the regular season. We’re sure to be treated to at least four exciting games of baseball. However, ultimately, the Dodgers are in another universe. That’s not to belittle to Rays, who are too out of this world, but the fact remains the Dodgers spending power combined with their ability to develop players makes them a legitimate super team.
Even with Tampa Bay’s historically efficient and intelligent roster, Los Angeles has the upper hand. Tampa Bay will surely win multiple games, perhaps capitalizing on a still struggling Post Season Clayton Kershaw or one of the World Series’ middle games when the Dodgers won’t have Kershaw’s upside or Buehler’s dominance on the mound. An uncontested lineup, red hot Corey Seager and perpetually great Mookie Betts, a lights out bullpen that’s been one of the few better than Tampa Bay’s own makes the Dodgers hard to beat. They’re not just competitive but elite in all aspects of the game. Even when pitted up against the Rays. I see the Dodgers earning themselves a World Series title for the first time since 1988 in game six.
@JohnStorey_ World Series Prediction: DODGERS 4-2
Johns’ MVP: OF Mookie Betts
@MLBUKAnalysis1 World Series Prediction: DODGERS 4-2
Jake Tweedie: SS Corey Seager
Featured Image Credit: MLB.com