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Sports Authority

McGuinness: Previewing the 2020 World Series

| Monday, October 19, 2020

Even baseball’s biggest detractors have to admit that this year’s postseason has been pretty great. The larger-than-usual field didn’t dilute the quality of play in the later rounds, as this year’s tournament was just as — if not more — exciting than most, even if fans have only been allowed to attend the NLCS and World Series at a limited capacity. This year has had a perfect balance of upsets and favorites pulling out victories, with almost every series feeling competitive and a lot of epic individual games, leading to two of the most memorable League Championship Series in recent memory.

But the LCS is officially in the rearview mirror. Tonight, 28 fallen clubs, 14 eliminated during the postseason already, watch as baseball’s two prized fighters prepare to throw their best punch on baseball’s biggest stage. From the bubble in Arlington, Texas, it’s a World Series like no other — a first-time Fall Classic matchup that should produce another memorable series and a worthy champion.

The matchup: No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays (40-20) vs. No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (43-17)

The journey here

After a pretty forgettable two-game sweep of the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Series, the Rays won wars of attrition in two series that went the distance. An 8th inning homer by backup catcher Mike Brosseau propelled them to a 2-1 Game 5 win over the Yankees in the ALCS. After jumping out to a 3-0 series lead in the ALCS, Tampa Bay came dangerously close to being just the second team in baseball history to blow such a massive advantage. However, a gutsy 4-2 victory in Game 7 knocked off the other evil empire of the AL, the Houston Astros.

The Dodgers held the best record in baseball during the regular season, and they picked up right where they left off in the postseason, sweeping their fellow 2018 semi-finalist Brewers and the young-gun Padres with relative ease. Things looked bleak after falling behind 3-1 to the Braves in the NLCS. But quality starting pitching and a red-hot offense that set a postseason record for most runs in a first inning in Game 3 (11) pushed them from the brink of elimination to the Fall Classic.

Last time here

Tampa Bay is making just their second World Series appearance, and this year’s club has a lot in common with the 2008 squad that made their first. That team was young and heavily underrated, but had the best regular season record in the AL and took out the defending champion Red Sox with a 2-run win in Game 7 of the ALCS. But the Cinderella story ended shortly thereafter, as they lost the Fall Classic in five to the Philadelphia Phillies.

This is the third time in the last four years the Dodgers have represented the NL on baseball’s biggest stage, but they’re still in search of their first championship since 1988. L.A. fell victim to the Astros trash-can scheme in seven games in 2017, and they were beaten soundly in the 2018 Fall Classic by the Boston Red Sox, falling five games despite a memorable 18-inning walk-off win in Game 3.

Why Tampa Bay will win

Though they were the number one seed in the American League, not many picked the Rays to return to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2008 due to their lack of household names and reliance on defense and contact. However, their power has woken up, with over 70% of their runs coming on long balls this postseason. Rookie outfielder Randy Arozena has already passed ex-Ray Evan Longoria for most postseason home runs by a rookie. Tampa’s lineup is loaded with underrated contributors like Ji-Man Choi and Manuel Margot, though their usually dynamic middle-infield tandem of Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames have gone cold at the dish.

However, Tampa Bay won their series against the Astros in the field. While Houston second baseman Jose Altuve was busy making multiple errors on routine throws, Tampa’s Hunter Renfroe, Margot, Choi and others were busy making highlight reel catch after highlight reel catch, robbing the Astros of surefire runs on a daily basis. Save for a brief falter in the middle of the ALCS, the Rays bullpen has been rock solid all season long, with 13 different pitchers recording a save for Tampa at some point this season. And their rotation is strong, too, with a healthy mix of young budding stars like Tyler Glasnow and 2018 AL Cy Young Blake Snell and wily veteran Charlie Morton.

Why Los Angeles will win

They proved they were the best team in baseball in the regular season, and they’re finally ready to do it again in the postseason. Thanks to spending enough money to fill the Grand Canyon, the Dodgers have built a powerhouse full of big names and some intriguing young stars alike. Offensively, the Dodgers are absolutely dominant, as their record-setting performance in Game 3 against Atlanta showed. Corey Seager has gone off in this postseason, bouncing back after needing Tommy John with a home run in nearly every game against Atlanta. Acquired from Boston in the winter, Mookie Betts is looking to join LeBron in the “go to L.A. to get paid all of the money and win a title” club, continuing to cement himself as one of baseball’s brightest stars. Oh, and they also have 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger in the heart of their lineup. Surrounding those studs are postseason showstopper Justin Turner, budding catcher Will Smith (who homered off Will Smith in the NLCS!) and a Max Muncy who’s bouncing back from a trying regular season.

On the pitching side, the Dodgers look just as strong. Whether it’s young stars like Brusdar Graterol in the pen or Dustin May in the rotation, emerging ace Walker Buehler, or a return to form for Kenley Jansen leading an underrated bullpen, L.A. is tough to beat. The one exception? Clayton Kershaw. The 3-time NL Cy Young Winner has continued his career long trend of postseason ineptitude, hurling an ERA over 4 in the postseason in his career. His failures have held the Dodgers back from the promised land countless times over the decade; L.A. desperately needs him to find regular season form soon.

The Pick

Like the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL, the Dodgers have been all around a championship for the last five to ten years, yet have somehow always come up short. But the Lightning won the championship against Dallas this season, and with the World Series being played in Texas, the Dodgers should be able to capture the Bolts’ magic and find the title that has eluded them for 32 years. Dodgers in 6.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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