7 key storylines for World Series Game 2

October 21st, 2020

Game 1 of the World Series -- an 8-3 win by the Dodgers over the Rays -- absolutely delivered on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, from the pregame hype videos to Clayton Kershaw to Mookie Betts to free tacos nationwide. But this is, of course, just the start. Here’s a look at the top storylines heading into Wednesday’s Game 2.

1. Is this already the Mookie Betts series?
During Betts' only other World Series appearance, when his Red Sox beat the Dodgers in five games in 2018, he hit .217. But he, of course, set the tone for the entire Series with a first-inning Game 1 single (off Kershaw), a stolen base (for a free taco for America) and a run scored on a base hit by Andrew Benintendi. (He also took time out that Series to feed the homeless.)

Betts was back getting everybody a taco in Game 1 again two years later, stealing two bases and scoring on an infield grounder in the fifth inning on a play that very few other players would score on. When you have Betts on your team, you get a great hitter, but you get so many other things. He hasn’t hit much this postseason. But these are the other things. And look out: He’s starting to hit now, too.

2. Is Kevin Cash already managing nervous?
If there was one theme to the two League Championship Series, it was that all four teams pushed their pitching staff to the limit in every possible way; by the end, if a pitcher could hold his head up, he was rested enough to go into the game. The main difference, though, between those series and this one is that the World Series has days off after Games 2 and 5. Cash sure didn’t manage like that in Game 1, though.

Despite Tyler Glasnow looking far from his best self -- six walks in 4 1/3 innings is a lot -- Cash kept him in to throw a stunning 112 pitches, only the second time in two seasons the Rays have allowed a starter to throw that many pitches. And it all led up to that explosive four-run fifth inning for Los Angeles. This was particularly curious because making pitching changes is the Rays’ whole thing. Cash is usually much more nimble with this staff. It’d be surprising if we didn’t see the quick hook returning, probably for the rest of this Series.

3. Can Blake Snell make it 2018 again?
The Dodgers don’t particularly enjoy being reminded of 2018, when they lost their second consecutive World Series, but Snell sure does. That was Snell’s Cy Young Award-winning season, a truly incredible year that made you wonder if Snell was going to rattle off Cy Young seasons one after another. But since then, Snell has been … fine. He’s been fine! But he hasn’t been that Blake Snell since 2018, and in Game 2, the Rays, already down 1-0, need him to be that Blake Snell. The Dodgers do hit righties better than lefties, which is a modest lift for Snell. The Rays' rotation was thought to be a strength coming into this Series, but one of their three stud starters has already been knocked around. The second one needs to fare better.

4. Are the Rays' bats starting to get unstuck?
First off, let it be written in the history books that it is possible to get Randy Arozarena out: He went 0-for-3 with a walk, which right there feels like an achievement that should award the Dodgers two runs. But remember, this is a team that just won the American League Championship Series despite scoring more than four runs in a game only once. They’ve been waiting for someone other than Arozarena to step up, and a few candidates threw their hat in the ring in this one, from Kevin Kiermaier to Manuel Margot to Joey Wendle to Mike Brousseau, who started off a pseudo-seventh-inning rally and looks like someone who might start a game soon.

Once Kershaw left the game, the Rays' bats immediately stirred to life, and if it hadn’t been for that absurdly fortunate line-drive catch by Victor González off a Mike Zunino drive in the seventh, Tampa Bay's offense looked like it was starting to finally rev up. The Rays will have to hold the Dodgers to fewer than eight runs moving forward to win, obviously, but here’s betting they tally five more than once this Series.

5. Did the Dodgers put themselves in perfect position for Game 2?
It wasn't until after Game 1 that the Dodgers announced that Tony Gonsolin will start Game 2. Considering he threw two-plus innings of relief in Game 7 of the NLCS on Sunday, it’s hard to imagine he’ll go very deep. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they only used four relievers in Game 1 and, more to the point, they have a ton of pitchers they can use in Game 2 with the knowledge they have a day off on Thursday. The Dodgers have a whopping 15 pitchers on their World Series roster, and they only used five in Game 1. (And none of them were their top-shelf relievers.) Everybody but Kershaw and Walker Buehler is available in this game. Honestly, if Game 2 goes 17 innings, the Dodgers are still probably covered.

6. Did the Dodgers just finally get everything clicking at once?
The Dodgers have been good this postseason: They’re in the World Series, they’ve obviously been good. But they haven’t really bum-rushed this postseason the way they bum-rushed the regular season, putting up the best winning percentage in Dodgers history. (Small sample size, of course.) The Brewers and Padres were about as tricky a sweep as you could find, and the Dodgers famously fell behind, 3-1, to the Braves.

But watching them Tuesday night, you couldn’t help but feel validated for thinking what we all sort of knew all season: This is one of the best baseball teams we’ve ever seen. Now, great teams lose all the time, and the Rays have a fantastic team themselves. But when Betts, Kershaw, Cody Bellinger and everything else the Dodgers have working get clicking in tandem, they can seem unbeatable. That could change in Game 2: Momentum, next day’s starting pitcher, all that. But boy, they sure did looked unbeatable Tuesday.

7. What special way will Bellinger celebrate his next home run?
One of the more amusing aspects of Game 1 -- other than this "Hi there!" camera moment from Betts -- was when Bellinger celebrated his fourth-inning homer by tapping feet with his teammates after rounding the bases, a smart move considering he'd separated his right shoulder bashing into Enrique Hernández's arm after his huge homer in Game 7 against the Braves. But hey, Cody: You need your feet, too. What if you dislocate an ankle? Perhaps the best way to rejoice in the next Bellinger homer is to go back to the pandemic special of the fake, socially distanced high five. It'd be a great way to bring all 2020 things full circle ... and it definitely won't separate or break a single part of your body.