Somehow, we have made it. Throughout this unusual baseball season, throughout this insane year, we wondered if we were ever going to make it to this, the World Series. And we have. We have made it.
Game 1 of the World Series begins tonight at Globe Life Field in Arlington, between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays. Every World Series has hundreds of storylines, and this one is no different. But every game has its own storylines as well. Throughout this Fall Classic, we’ll be here every morning running down the seven biggest storylines for each game. So here they are for Game 1. We made it!
1) Can the Dodgers breathe a little bit?
There has been pressure on the Dodgers since before the season began, since they traded for Mookie Betts (before signing him to a long-term deal) and made it clear that, in 2020, it was World Series title or bust. They didn’t play like there was pressure on them throughout the regular season, probably because a spot in the postseason was assured from the first week on, but it does feel like they’ve been a little tighter in the playoffs. Their National League Wild Card series vs. the Brewers was a little tighter than you remember, the young Padres were considerably looser in the NL Division Series and the Braves, of course, jumped out to a 3-1 series lead in the NL Championship Series. The decks are now cleared for the Dodgers, but they’re at the final hurdle, the one they’ve failed to clear twice in the last three years. They will be judged entirely by what happens from here.
- Does this become the Kershaw series?
When you have a slam-dunk Hall of Famer -- one who has accomplished just about everything a starting pitcher can other than winning a World Series -- starting Game 1, it’s fair to say he’s going to be everybody’s focus. But Clayton Kershaw, one of the most beloved and respected players in the game, has still been dogged by those, “What’s his problem in the postseason?” questions, fairly or unfairly, his entire career. He will have many opportunities to put those questions to bed once and for all in this series. All of baseball will be rooting for him. But they were rooting for him in years past as well.
- Can Randy keep this going?
OK, well, it’s unreasonable to expect Randy Arozarena to keep this going, considering he’s hitting like Barry Bonds right now. But the single biggest difference between the regular-season Rays and the postseason Rays is that he has been a legitimate superstar in the middle of their lineup. It’s fair to say they wouldn’t be here without him, which brings up the obvious question: What if Arozarena comes back to earth? After all, if he had always hit like this, the Cardinals wouldn’t have traded him last winter and Tampa Bay would have called him up before Aug. 30. If he has a dip, the Rays don’t look like a team that has enough offense to win this series. Which brings us to …
- Who is the Rays’ second-best hitter?
In the Wild Card Series, it was Manuel Margot. In the ALDS and ALCS, it was Ji-Man Choi. In the regular season, Brandon Lowe was Tampa Bay’s best hitter. But that lack of consistency has shone a light on the Rays’ major deficiency: Their lineup is just not that deep. It could be, if Lowe returns to form, if Austin Meadows can remind us why he was an All-Star in 2019, if Margot and Choi play like their best October selves. But you have to sort of cross your fingers and hope any of those things happen, rather than count on all of them doing so. The Rays are going to need all hands on deck to beat these Dodgers. It’s time for some of those non-Randy hitters to step up.
- Is Kenley Jansen back to normal? Or anything close to it?
It brings no one any joy to say this, but Kenley Jansen, who was basically the most consistent relief pitcher in baseball from 2010-17, hasn’t been the same since that ‘17 season. He hasn’t been bad, but you certainly don’t trust him the way you used to, for a variety of reasons. (You saw that when the Padres knocked him around in the NLDS too.) But don’t look now: Kenley’s starting to look a little like himself again. He was outstanding against the Braves, notching his first save in more than two weeks, and manager Dave Roberts said, “The game's honoring him.” The Dodgers aren’t necessarily going to use him as an old-school closer anymore, but Jansen has a career 2.14 ERA in the postseason, and his first appearance this series will be his 10th career appearance in the Fall Classic. He will be counted on in a big spot this series, and maybe several. And probably as early as tonight.
- Is Tyler Glasnow the Rays’ best starting pitcher?
Blake Snell has the Cy Young Award and Charlie Morton has the Game 7 glory, but Tyler Glasnow clearly has the best stuff in that rotation. It didn’t pay off for him in his one ALCS appearance, a loss to Houston in Game 4 where he still pitched decently. You know he’s going to strike guys out: He is, sort of amazingly, Tampa Bay’s all-time leader in postseason strikeouts. The Rays are as flexible and creative with their pitching staff as any team in baseball -- and maybe in baseball history -- but if there is any pitcher who has the ability to put the team on his back this series, it’s Glasnow. And he gets to start Game 1 on full rest.
- How much does the day off make a difference?
After the no-days-off dead sprint of the LCS, getting a day off between Games 2-3 and 5-6 will feel like a dream for these two teams, both of whom went the full seven in the previous round. It will also help them both plan their pitching strategies in a more reasonable environment: You can expect bullpen stalwarts like the Rays’ Nick Anderson and the Dodgers’ Blake Treinen to appear in five, maybe six games in this series. On top of that, these teams don’t have to fly back and forth between St. Petersburg and Los Angeles: They can just go back to the hotel and sleep for a day if they need to. That may also lead to these games being crisper and sharper. These were, in fact, the two best teams in baseball this year. We’re all about to see why.