2020 World Series Preview

Who’d a thunk that “The Shed” in Arlington would be the host for the 2020 MLB World Series at the end of last season? Photo Courtesy: baseballmapper

By Wiley Singleton

The 2020 World Series is finally here after an extended playoff series. The high variance of the best-of-three first round had virtually no effect on the World Series. Both first seed teams made it to the World Series and earned their spot. 

The Rays were almost reverse swept by the Houston Astros in the ALCS. Most of the games were close and bullpen heavy. The Astros young starters stood tall. The Rays eked out a victory and Kevin Cash made nearly every correct move. For ancient Dusty Baker it is just another mark on his long legacy of failure. Dusty took teams with legends and choked away playoff games with them. Dusty also took ready made playoff juggernauts and failed to win a pennant with them.

Dusty failed to win with the following squads: Early 2000’s Giants with prime Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, and Jason Schmidt. This is where Dusty really made a name for himself as a choker, blundering easily won games away with bullpen errors. If you ever wondered why Barry Bonds never won a ring it is because Dusty Baker could not manage pitchers properly and opposing managers simply walked Barry. 

The mid 2000’s Cubs with Prime Sammy Sosa, young but insanely electric Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. The Cubs choke was particularly egregious because of how he destroyed the careers of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior with overuse. Prior and Wood were both top 5 in 100+ pitch games in 2003 despite being very young. Neither of them realized their potential due to Dusty overusing them, an unforgivable act when one considers the sensational nature of the two rightie flamethrowers.

Dusty managed the Reds for years after he was laughed out of Chicago. He wasted the prime of Joey Votto. Votto’s MVP prime was frittered away along with the career season of Shin-Soo Choo by Dusty in a meaningless Wild Card game they lost.

After that, he was given the keys to a Lamborghini in the mid-2010 Nationals. This Nats squad featured aces Stephen Stausburg and Mad Max Scherzer, as well as MVP Bryce Harper. Dusty could not even get these powerhouse Nats teams to the second round of the playoffs. This was a ready made playoff team that had choked because of bullpen issues in the previous years. Dusty was, hilariously in retrospect, brought in to simply not screw things up. Baker’s reputation as a “good baseball man” seems to come from the fact he is amiable, rather than any sort of tactical knowledge. 

Finally, Dusty concluded his career by babysitting a bunch of cocky punk cheaters. Dusty’s primary 2020 duty was limiting trashcan banging, in the same way 2012 Bobby Valentine’s job was to make sure no fried chicken and beer was consumed in the clubhouse. That is to say, he was brought in as a PR move and babysitter more than an actual skipper.

Many find it hard to hate Dusty, he is sort of the embodiment of a lovable loser to some. This is because of his inextricable connection to the 2003 Cubs disaster. This has waned since the Cubbies won in 2016, but the reek of failure still hangs around Dusty like the wristbands on his arms. Dusty is ancient and his contract expired next to much of the Astros core. He is probably done in baseball. His legacy will be one of a man who rode Prior and Wood too hard and Russ Ortiz too little. 

The Astros looked like they were going to be laughed out of the series in a sweep that proved they cheated. But they brought it back to Game 7 and died an honorable death. Unfortunately that deprives us of a rematch of the 2017 World Series. 

Braves/LA – The Dodgers did their best to choke away a series they were favored in as usual. Thankfully for them, the Braves were without their ace Mike Soroka. That was the defining factor in a series where the Braves had to start Kyle Wright, who is awful. The Dodgers have surprisingly little starting pitching. Their lineup is stacked. The Braves are very good and have a young core locked up. They should not feel ashamed to take the heavy favorite Dodgers to seven games. This series was defined by the lack of Mike Soroka, who would have eviscerated the Dodgers twice while Clayton Kershaw sat out. Soroka’s achilles injury early in the year was one of many severe injuries sustained by pitchers this season.

Preview: The Rays will try to upset the Dodgers in this exciting World Series matchup. The Rays have the lowest payroll in baseball and are an underdog team that has earned every bit of success. They have only one other World Series appearance, the 2008 loss to the Cole Hamels led Phillies. That 2008 core lasted about five more years, two of which were ended in the first round by the Texas Rangers. 

The Rays offense has been led by two men this postseason: Randy Arozarena and Manuel Margot. These two men have put on incredible offense performances to put up the bare minimum amount of runs to win. The only way to win with so little run support is obvious: pitching and defense. The Rays have three starters with stellar curveballs. They have the best bullpen in baseball. Their bullpen is full of youngsters with high spin rates. Their bullpen contains next to no household names; however what they lack in notoriety they make up for in nastiness. This is a bullpen full of flamethrowers and expert twirlers that do not rattle. That stands in stark contrast to bullpens like the Dodgers and Yankees: two big market teams equipped with bullpens full of big names. The Rays bullpen will be the key to the series. They must continue to be exceptional. This is not a team equipped to outslug the vaunted Dodgers lineup.

Both teams play good defense, but the Rays really made it a defining factor of their ALCS win. One sensational, significant play was made after another to keep the Astros bats cold. Alex Bregman in particular fell victim to these web gems. Rays CF Kevin Kiermaier is particularly sensational and is a multi-time gold glove winner. He will be a player to watch along with the two carriers of the offense.

Brandon Lowe was the Rays best hitter in the regular season but has been awful in the playoffs. He needs to return to regular season form if the Rays want to keep up with the Dodgers stacked lineup. 

Ji-Man Choi is the Rays best power bat. He is also sharp defensively and very fun to watch. Joey Wendle is a disciplined hitter with pop and his stance is similar to a mix of Tim Salmon and Joey Votto. 

The Rays have three stellar starters in addition to their good defense and pen. Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell, and Charlie Morton are the underrated trio that spins the opposition to death. The Rays focus on spin rate (the RPM of a baseball as it goes to home plate, the more spins, the more movement and the better the pitch) has allowed them to take middling pitchers with exceptional breaking pitches and make them elite. This is done through a mix of coaching and technology.

“Technology” is basically incredibly expensive cameras and software that help break down and maximize spin rate. Thus taking a pitcher’s best weapon and making it one of the best pitches in the league. They have done this strategy with basically all of their starters. They have circumvented their monetary disadvantage by maximizing the talent of the pitchers they can get, as opposed to trying to sign big name free agents they cannot afford. This is one of the best stories regarding “statcast” and the ever increasing focus on “analytics” that many old school fans despise. 

All three Rays starters are proven and nasty. They all have issues walking people and being too focused on the strikeout sometimes. 

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are a team that has had a massive payroll and even bigger expectations over the past seven years. They have done nothing but choke again and again over those seven years. The Dave Roberts bullpen fiasco and the Clayton Kershaw blowup start were the signature moves of this Dodgers era. The Don Mattingly first round bomb out was mixed in there during the early part of the era too.

The face of this Dodgers era is undoubtedly Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw made a name for himself racking up regular season stats in pitcher friendly Dodgers Stadium. Despite numerous chances, Kershaw has choked again and again in the playoffs. Since 2015, he has been diminished by injuries. Back issues have zapped him of his 95 MPH heater, but he still has one of the best yackers in the league. Kershaw is still billed as and paid like an ace. He was ineffective in the NLCS and unable to answer the bell for the all important Game 7.

The most interesting narrative for this series is the legacy of Dave Roberts and Kershaw. They are both completely out of excuses and have to win this series to not be seen as frauds. Roberts is regarded as a buffoon who grenades away top tier rosters with mismanagement. Kershaw is seen as the ace who cannot cut it when an ace is relied on most. Both of these narratives will be put to the test this year for the final time in truth. Even in the unlikely event both are retained after a loss, another choke to an underdog would leave an indelible stain on both of their legacies. 

Behind Kershaw sits his successor: Walker Buehler. Buehler is very good but on a team that always finds a way to lose, he is not the sort of true stopper a team wants. He is not a Cliff Lee or Curt Schilling. Julio Urias will eat up a lot of innings too, but some of it will be from the bullpen. Dustin May is nasty but does not appear to be ready to be a starter that goes deep into games. He is usually used only briefly. Tony Gonsolin looked awful in the NLCS and inspires no confidence. Joe Kelly and Blake Treinen are both incredibly nasty, big name arms. Neither inspire any confidence at all and will only be used out of necessity. The Dodgers letting SPs Ross Stripling and Hyun-Jin Ryu go last offseason was a foolish decision. They were essentially banking on the health and clutchness of Clayton Kershaw, a hope more likely to let you down than believing in the Texas Rangers. Despite the juggernaut lineup, this team is not as impressive as many thought on Opening Day. The dirt poor Rays have a better starting rotation than the big market Dodgers. And the truth is, it is not close!

The Dodgers will need to win this series with their bats, a very doable task. This is a lineup full of the same core you have seen over and over in the previous years playoffs. Basically everyone is somewhere between above average and very good. Corey Seager has been their best bat in the playoffs, with star Cody Bellinger right behind him. The familiar cast of characters in Dodger blue remains with them as well: Joc Pederson the power hitting leftie, Max Muncy the beefy first baseman with pop, Kike Hernandez up the middle, and red beard Justin Turner hitting over .300 at 3rd. They also added Mookie Betts from the “Dead On Arrival Red Sox” in the offseason. This was supposed to alleviate some of the platooning with a straight up star. You sort of know what you are going to get with this lineup. They were very cold early in the NLCS but rallied. This is a team bursting at the seams to win. A squad of guys who feel cheated and know everyone had them as favorites back in February. 

The Rays have the better starting pitchers and bullpen. The Dodgers have the better lineup. The Rays play sharper defense. The Rays have the better skipper and coaching staff by far. The Rays will use their superior bullpen to shock the Dodgers in seven games. Rays in 7.