Earlier today my colleague Kenny Kelly wrote about why the Dodgers will win the 2020 World Series. LA has been the favored team to win the Fall Classic since the first World Series odds came out prior to the COVID19 pandemic (remember the olden times?).
The Rays can be considered the anti-Dodgers in several ways. They don’t spend on payroll like LA, they have lesser known players than most Dodgers, and play a different style of baseball. That style has been proven successful not only in the regular season, where they finished with the best record in the AL, and second-best in baseball, only behind the Dodgers.
This current iteration of the Rays have a tried-and-true formula for winning. Coming into the season, Tampa was coming-off two 90-win seasons, and in 2020, posted their best winning percentage in three years (.667). Tampa Bay won ⅔ of their games and in the process, cemented the use of ‘the opener’ ---- a near unheard of strategy just a couple years ago.
Tampa’s creative pitcher usage enables the Rays to put in the right player at the right time irrespective of roles. Compare this to the Dodgers, who will inevitably use Kenlsey Jansen as their closer regardless of whether or not he’s the right pitcher for the moment. Jansen looked completely overmatched in several appearances this postseason, but “he’s the closer” --- a mantra that will not end anytime soon.
In conjunction with creative and effective pitching, the Rays outfield is playing phenomenally. Much like hitting, players can have streaky defensive streaks. Just ask Jose Altuve and his multiple ALCS throwing errors. The regular season numbers (and eye-test) validate that Tampa had an above-average outfield defense, but they have stepped-up their game, and are turning hits into outs at a regular clip this postseason. We can point to Manny Margot covering 102 feet in just 6.5 seconds to make a great foul ball catch in game two of the ALCS, and the defensive highlight reel in game three speaks for itself.
The infield defense has also been an asset, as Tampa turned 11 rally-killing double plays in the ALCS, with Willy Adames flashing some leather in game seven.
On the offensive side of the ball, Randy Arozarena is playing out-of-his-mind this October. A true postseason breakout, Arozarena is crushing homers like they’re going out of style. He’s overperforming expectations following a season in which he served mostly as a fourth outfielder, but right now, Arozarena is having the hot-streak of his life.
Similarly to Arozarena, Ji-Man Choi is currently having the hot-streak of his career. With an ALCS slash line of .385/.529/.615, he’s been another main cog in the Rays’ offense. .
This is a seven game series, a small-sample size where outsized performances can eclipse raw roster talent. It would be dishonest to say that the Rays are more talented than the Dodgers, but the Rays are playing with house money.
Admittedly, if the Rays played the Dodgers 162 times, Tampa would likely finish with a below-.500 record. It’s part of the reason why the Dodgers are heavy favorites entering this series, but when defense is clicking, offense is clicking, and you just beat the two most talented teams in the American League, you’ve got to like the chances of winning another four games.