Can you smell it? The World Series is less than 12 hours away, and the Rays are there! They’re really there!
There are going to be hundreds of storylines once the series starts, and there are thousands of different ways this series could go, but let’s take a look at some of the potential swing factors in what should be an amazing Fall Classic.
0. The big bats are now lefties...
Ok, this is actually a bonus fourth one to lead off, but I think it’s such an important x-factor it got its own article, so check that out here.
On to the other three!
1. Finally, a day(s) off!
The Rays and Dodgers were teams both built for the No Days Off postseason that has happened in 2020, but with that in mind, I’m sure neither team is going to turn down the pair of off days spread throughout this upcoming World Series (should it go at least six games).
Throughout the Division and Championship Series, there were no days off, and that change had a massive impact on how the games were managed. At times, certain so-called pundits (what’s that? the guy’s name was Jim Turvey? let’s go get him!) second-guessed Cash’s approach to the bullpen at times, wondering whether the lack of off-days was creating a boogeyman that was changing the way Cash managed to detrimental ends. Thankfully, Cash is smart, and there’s a reason writers write and don’t manage, and here the Rays sit with a chance for the first World Series title in franchise history.
With that in mind, along with the fact that there are a maximum of just seven games left before the offseason, it will be interesting to see just how gung-ho Cash is with his top weapons, and how well-rested those arms feel after such a busy offseason so far. Having Sunday and Monday are will be huge.
That’s right, the Rays will go into Game 1 of the World Series with not one, but two whole days off(!), their first pair of back-to-back days off since dispatching the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Game at the end of September. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will only receive one off day before kicking off the World Series, giving the Rays a marginal edge that I’m not sure I’m fully capable of accurately quantifying.
Speaking of which...
2. Home field advantage?
The Rays will be using part of the extra off-day to travel to Arlington, Texas, where the Dodgers just wrapped up their NLCS victory. In fact, the Dodgers played both the NLDS and NLCS at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, which will give them a slight edge over the Rays, who played the ALDS and ALCS in San Diego at Petco Park.
There will also be a limited number of fans in the stands at Globe Life Field, with Arlington pretty close to evenly split in terms of travel time from both L.A. and St. Petersburg.
Home field advantages like these are always on the margins, but in a seven-game series, even those margins can make the difference. Home field advantage has mattered little in 2020, and that is likely to continue in this World Series, but if Mookie Betts plays a ball extra well off the wall in right field, or Kevin Kiermaier jumps a little too early before an attempted home run robbery, it’ll be something to discuss, especially given the funky shape of certain parts of the stadium.
(Yes, please enjoy the subtle flex of dropping Randy’s madness onto that stadium graphic.)
3. Run prevention vs. run creation (but that’s not the full story)
Don’t be surprised if the national narrative heading into (and taking hold throughout) the World Series is that this is the best team at preventing runs against the best team at creating them. To a certain extent, that is correct, the Rays had the third-best ERA during the 2020 regular season, and have allowed a paltry 3.5 runs per game this postseason, the lowest of any team to make it beyond the divisional series. Meanwhile, the Dodgers tied with the Mets for the best wRC+ of the regular season, and have the second-highest OPS of any team in the postseason so far (behind just the long-dead Yankees).
However, that narrative does a disservice to both the Rays offense and the Dodgers pitching. The Rays had the ninth-best offense by wRC+ this season, and that was without human cheat code Randy Arozarena for most of it. Meanwhile, the Dodgers actually had a lower ERA than the Rays during the regular season (a crazy, best-in-baseball 3.02 ERA) and have allowed only 3.75 runs per game of their own this postseason.
In all honesty, this is a matchup of the two best teams in baseball. Two teams built in similar ways (with one glaring difference...), and both lacking any true weaknesses. Sure, the Rays bats can go quiet at times due to their heavy strikeout totals, and sure, the Dodgers bullpen isn’t as elite as they’d surely like it to be, but these two teams are as close to perfect as can be found in 2020, so it’s going to be a hell of a series.