We’re nearing a date beloved by baseball fans around the world. The first pitch of the Fall Classic is but a few days away. Baseball in 2020 was classic in many ways. Due to an invisible enemy, the season was delayed and play was adjusted as never before in the storied history of America’s Pastime.
But, we’re one game away from deciding who the final two teams standing will be. One team already punched their 2020 World Series ticket by winning another of baseball’s historic seven-game classics. The Tampa Bay Rays meet the Los Angeles Dodgers, the winner of the National League’s version of a winner-take-all final seventh game. Both teams get their chance at winning “The Series” in a strange season.
It will matter not to whichever team wins the upcoming best-of-seven that 2020 will have an asterisk beside it. Spring training became “summer training”, and 162 got whittled down to 60. Nevertheless, baseball lovers are still ready to be served another best-of-seven Fall Classic.
We had a hunch way back when this strange season started that one team would prove to be a formidable contender. The Rays have done all the things we thought they would be good at to fill spot number one in the 2020 World Series.
Let’s take a look at the reasons why I think the Rays will hoist their first title in franchise history. If you’re interested in betting on the world series and located in Tennessee you may get your chance. Tennessee sports betting is legal and the state is putting the finishing touches before allowing mobile sports betting. You can register now on DraftKings Sportsbook and receive a $50 free bet.
The mathematics behind baseball outcomes is ultimately calculated by the number of W’s on the left side of the ledger. Pitchers on a team’s staff accumulate these W’s individually.
However, we’re talking about “pitching wins” as in good pitching is what is responsible for this accumulation of victories. Tampa Bay has a pitching staff, a stable full of hired guns, solid pitchers who supply the talent to reach the team objective, a victory.
However, sometimes matchups play an integral role in enhancing or reducing the magnitude that pitching will have on a series. Let’s look at some key numbers. LA second in baseball for total home runs hit.
Baseball connoisseurs know-all-too-well the old adage about how walks can come around to haunt you. Funny thing is, the Dodgers led all baseball in that pitching stat as well. Los Angeles topped Major League Baseball for the team ERA crown.
The Rays landed with the third-best pitching staff for limiting earned runs. These are all collective stats. The Dodgers and Rays match up as mirror images when it comes to pitching. Some will jump right to the fact LA had the most prolific lineup in baseball as well as the best pitching statistics.
However, the pitching numbers posted by the Rays include a dominating and deep bullpen. The Dodger staff again impressive in a relief pitcher stat. LA’s bullpen ranked second, only one hold behind the league-leading Minnesota Twins’ relievers.
Tampa Bay ranked fifth with 41 holds. But, that number needs to be digested considering the offensive run differential. Most of the time, LA had a bigger lead than other teams. They posted the highest run differential in baseball.
What we’re looking at is how pitchers hauled in from the pen did with the runners already on base that they inherited. Tampa Bay blew away the league. When runners were on base, and manager Kevin Cash gave the nod to the bullpen, Rays’ relievers slammed the door shut.
Tampa allowed a modest 19 percent of inherited runners to score. The Rays’ relievers were a full 8 percentage points better than the second-best Padres, and 10 percent points better than the Dodgers. Atlanta’s bullpen allowed one-third of their inherited runners to ultimately cross the dish.
Tampa has carried their 60 games of solid pitching into the playoff games when they count the most. They limited a playoff-experienced Astros order to five total runs in the first three games.
Tampa boasts a solid four starters in Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and the venerable Charlie Morton. Dodger fans will certainly get antsy in their seats when Morton takes the hill. Ryan Yarbrough will probably be the fourth Tampa starter.
The rest of the Rays’ staff has been supported by the super season Nick Anderson had. Anderson tripped during a couple of recent playoff spots against Houston. Tampa will need him to refocus to generate the kind of stuff he used during 2020 when Anderson allowed a solitary earned run across 16-plus innings of relief.
Sixteen innings that saw him blow away 26 hitters and serve up only three base-on-balls. The Rays’ staff has continued their regular season success in the playoffs. Shane McClanahan’s 10-run ERA in 3-plus innings abnormally weights down the team earned run numbers.
Six pitchers are average more than double-digit strikeouts per nine innings, including Jose Alvarado’s mindboggling four K’s out of five outs. The 26-year-old Peter Fairbanks has K’d 13 hitters in eight innings.
Glasnow and Snell have been hurt by the long ball somewhat, but Charlie Morton has barely been touched. Morton has MVP time numbers, allowing a single earned run in his 15-plus innings that all three turned into Tampa Bay victories.
Los Angeles has good pitchers on their roster and led the league in ERA. However, LA is not as deep and diverse a bullpen as the Rays. As the old adage goes in baseball, pitching wins games, especially big games. The Rays have big pitching.
Timely Hitting Helps
Untimely lack of clutch hitting can be as important as clutch hitting in those timely World Series moments. LA sat seventh worst in baseball for killing rallies by hitting into double-dips. The Rays didn’t shine as brightly when it comes to household names in their lineup, but they were one of the better teams at bouncing into double plays.
Tampa also seems to have a strong knack for hitting home runs that do more than just pad a lead. The Rays finished in the middle of the league in total homers during the regular season. However, it seemed like the long balls they have hit in the playoffs have been perfectly placed to boost momentum.
They have also picked the right time of the year to hit the ball out of the park. Tampa leads all playoff teams in home runs, nine better than LA. Odd statistical advantage matched against two teams known more for their own offensive prowess.
Seems Tampa’s power surge is timely, to say the least. The Rays also had a huge advantage over the rest of baseball in close games. Tampa won 14 one-run games and lost only five. That was a whopping nine-game differential in close games.
The World Series is notorious for producing close games, and we like Tampa’s chances in these situations. The players make the throws and score the runs, but many a manager has cemented their legacy with the decisions they made, or did not make, in a World Series game. Tampa has maybe one of the best decision-makers in their dugout.
Coaching Seals the Deal
Tampa’s best hurlers, in many respects, underwhelmed during 2020. While a couple of hitters stepped up in key situations, three important Rays’ bats underwhelmed as well. Austin Meadows and Hunter Renfroe put up pedestrian numbers in light of expectations.
New face Yoshi Tsutsugo left the yard eight times in the shortened 2020 COVID campaign, but he batted a woeful .197, striking out 50 times in 157 plate appearances. Good pitching did a lot to offset Tampa’s average type lineup.
However, day-in-and-day-out, it seemed the Rays put a lineup on the field that had all the right people in all the right places. One reason behind the Rays’ stellar rank for relievers’ disposal of inherited runners points out Cash’s ability to put the right pitcher in the right spot to succeed.
Kevin Cash should be the hands-down winner of the AL Manager of the Year Award. Except for a couple of uncharacteristic implosions by Nick Anderson in the ALCS, Cash masterfully continued to pick the right order to use his bevy of tremendous relief pitchers.
In game one of the ALCS, four Tampa relievers shutdown the Astros across the final four innings on three hits. In the second game, other than a bad pitch by Pete Fairbanks and the first of Anderson’s rocky rides, Tampa preserved Morton’s five shutout innings.
To finish off game three, four more shutout innings handed Ryan Yarbrough the victory after he limited Houston to 2 runs on three hits. Five pitchers secured the final 12 outs, allowing only four hits. Good pitching, yes, but superior managing of a good pitching staff as well.
Los Angeles is well coached. We give both managers their due. You don’t get a team to game seven of the league championship series without making some very smart baseball decisions. However, we give a big edge in a tight game to Cash.
The Dodgers posted better overall pitching numbers than the Rays, but Tampa had an edge in one important category. When their manager made the bullpen call, they rarely allow inherited runners to score.
Anyone who has experienced very many World Series games will appreciate how important that can become. When your manager puts you in the best position to be successful, it helps even more. A little timely hitting is also something of which World Series champions are made.
With three strong starters who can match the Dodger’s starters, we think the Rays will hold their own in the early innings. As the games progress, and important decisions can hold or turn momentum, our cash is on Cash.
I think it’s high time one of baseball’s newest franchises finally brings a banner back to the Trop. I think it’s Tampa Bay Rays in six.