Although possibly the most overused phrase in the past six months, this season of Major League Baseball has been unprecedented. After the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of the regular season, teams returned to action in late July to compete in a 60-game slate before an expanded postseason format. The 2020 postseason brought eight teams each from the American League (AL) and National League (NL) to battle in a bracket format similar to the NBA. The action thus far has been unpredictable: Losing record teams have given high-ranking clubs first-round scares, a team that lost over 100 games in 2019 won their Wild Card series, and we have seen an infinite supply of 100 mile-per-hour fastballs. Despite the shortened season and abnormal postseason format, October has proven that baseball continues to become more exciting with each passing year.
With the defeat of the Atlanta Braces by the Los Angeles Dodgers defeating Sunday night, the World Series began with Game 1 on Oct. 20. The Tampa Bay Rays, the top seed in the American League and AL pennant winner, are competing against the Dodgers after the Rays’ victory in an up-and-down series with the Houston Astros. After the Rays jumped out to a commanding 3–0 series lead in the ALCS, the reigning AL champion Astros stormed back to force Game 7. Clutch hitting and a lights-out performance from Charlie Morton on the mound led the Rays to a 4–2 win, narrowly avoiding making a type of history that no club wants to make — the 2004 New York Yankees are still the only MLB team to blow a 3–0 series lead. On the National League side of the bracket, the Dodgers survived a back-and-forth seven-game battle to claim the NLCS crown. A reliable bullpen and a clutch seventh inning homer by reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger led Los Angeles to a decisive 4–3 victory to complete the series comeback after falling early to a 3–1 deficit. The Dodgers entered the postseason boasting the best record in the league, and they continue to flex their muscles each series.
With Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell atop the rotation, Tampa Bay has been propelled by its strong pitching. Offensively, rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena terrorized pitchers in the American League playoffs, blasting an incredible seven home runs. Arozarena sits one base hit behind Derek Jeter for the record for most hits in a single postseason by a rookie. Despite the strong performances the Rays have seen out of their rotation and offense, their bullpen has been the anchor to their run to the World Series; it seems as if Tampa Bay is breeding flamethrowers on a farm. Arm after arm has entered this postseason for the Rays lighting up the radar gun and stifling opposing offenses. Hitters have struggled to compete with Tampa Bay right-handers Diego Castillo and Pete Fairbanks. The bullpen tandem has been nearly untouchable this postseason, with fastballs reaching 100 miles per hour and knee-buckling off-speed pitches coming out of the bullpen late in games. Such timely hitting and reliable relief pitching have been the formula for success for many playoff teams in the past, and the Rays have clearly mastered it so far.
On the other side of the ball, the Dodgers are seeking to avenge their recent postseason woes with losses in the 2017 and 2018 World Series and a 2019 NLDS exit to the eventual champion Washington Nationals. With one of the highest payrolls in the MLB, Los Angeles boasts a fearsome lineup featuring former AL MVP Mookie Betts and the reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger. A perennial World Series contender in the past decade, the Dodgers have top-to-bottom strength in their lineup with added depth off of the bench. A key factor in their 2020 postseason run has been shortstop Corey Seager’s hot bat, which helped power them over a dangerous Atlanta Braves team in the NLCS. A budding star in Walker Buehler leads the pitching staff, accompanied by veteran presence and former Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw. An inexperienced but talented bullpen has shown flashes of greatness, but also some inconsistency throughout October. A team reliant on power offense like Los Angeles must score in abundance to win games, and it has done exactly that to this point.
This year’s Fall Classic features the top seeds in their respective leagues, which predicts an exciting, action-packed matchup. The power pitching of the Rays facing the stacked lineup of the Dodgers has left baseball fans bewildered as to who might come out on top. Los Angeles will need to jump on Tampa Bay’s pitching early and often, and stick to outslugging their opponents. If the Rays’ bullpen continues to put up zeros on the scoreboard, however, Dodger bats may be in for a long and uneventful series.
On paper, the Dodgers have a clear-cut advantage over the Rays. With a star-studded roster and the legacy of success held by the Dodger franchise, the team appears unstoppable. The Rays, on the other hand, are a low-payroll team that just joined the league in 1997. Regardless, the performances of both teams to this point have proven that money only goes so far in the quest for a title. In October, teams have to win when it matters most.