7 key storylines for World Series Game 3

October 23rd, 2020

This year was far too unpredictable and unprecedented for there to have been a sweep in the World Series. The Rays’ Game 2 victory on Wednesday assured, at the very least, more baseball, and for that, we are eternally grateful. But it also might have signaled that we’re going to have a World Series as riveting, unexpected and historic as the rest of this season has been.

The series tied at one game apiece, we now head into Game 3 on Friday, a pivotal tilt and a chance for one team to break the tie and leap ahead. One suspects, as good as both of these teams are, it won’t be our last tie. This series looks like it’ll be going on for a while. Thank goodness.

Here are your top Game 3 storylines:

1. Is back?
If you've been watching the Rays for the first time during this postseason, you might wonder how this Lowe fellow keeps staying in the lineup. (He was, in fact, on the bench for one game.) With 14 homers and 37 RBIs during the regular season to complement a .269/.362/.554 slash line, Lowe was Tampa Bay's best hitter before his postseason slump, but he might have just broken out of it in Game 2, with two homers in the Rays’ victory.

There were signs heading in that he was slowly starting to work his way back, and Wednesday was the breakthrough he and Tampa Bay had been waiting for. The Rays have sought any offense they can find in this series. Their best hitter returning to his best self is an ideal solution.

2. Are the Dodgers ever going to figure out how to use ?
May was one of the happier, more purely enjoyable stories of this baseball season, a big, doofy, likable guy who had great stuff, made 10 terrific starts and hopped around the mound like he had pogo sticks in his spikes. But in the postseason, manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers have tried to use May like he’s 2016 Andrew Miller crossed with an '18 Rays opening pitcher and it’s just not working. May’s stuff has looked diminished and even confused, and he’s getting knocked around while also putting the staff into awkward positions.

The Dodgers have their three best starters (, and ) set up for the next three games, but it will be fascinating to see if they use May in any of these games or punt on the experiment and let him just start a hypothetical Game 6. He’s a great weapon, but he is clearly not being deployed properly in this series.

3. Does everybody appreciate how good Buehler has been in the postseason?
In his first career postseason appearance, Game 3 of the 2018 National League Division Series against the Braves, Buehler allowed five runs in his first two innings in a would-be clincher, including that infamous grand slam hit by Ronald Acuña Jr. But since that second inning, Buehler has thrown 53 1/3 postseason innings and allowed just 10 earned runs. (That’s a 1.69 ERA, if you don’t have your calculator handy.)

He has, in other words, been (by far) the best Dodgers postseason pitcher for three years. He’s lined up for Game 3, and a Game 7 start if it goes that far.

4. How many innings can give the Rays?
The Dodgers have their rotation set up perfectly for these next three games, but the Rays have Morton in Game 3, probably in Game 5 and a likely bullpen game in Game 4. The Stable, the Rays’ nickname for their bullpen, did its job in Game 2, but it got a little bit shaky, and asking , and the rest of the crew to throw five-plus innings at the beginning of a three-game set during which one of the games will be a bullpen game is asking quite a lot.

Morton has thrown more than five innings only twice all season, including his most recent start, Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Will Tampa Bay push him to save the bullpen the rest of the series? Will the Rays have a choice?

5. When’s the homer coming?
People, it has been 12 plate appearances since Arozarena hit a home run. What is going on? The ALCS MVP and overall superhero has only one hit in the series so far -- he’s tied with Derek Jeter for the most hits by a rookie in a postseason. It's also worth noting that the Dodgers are being particularly careful with him: He has walked three times. With the rest of the Rays finally starting to pick up the offense a bit, Arozarena may finally see some pitches to hit. We are not ready for this wild story to be over yet. Twelve plate appearances is too many!

6. Is the best hitter on the Dodgers right now?
and (understandably) get most of the attention, but it’s Seager who has been the best hitter on this offense. He’s hitting .302 and has a team-high seven homers this postseason, including his smash in Game 2 of this series. Ensconced in that No. 2 spot behind Betts and in front of the bashers, Seager is in an ideal position to be a constant thorn in the Rays' side, particularly because he hasn’t had much of a platoon split: Four of his homers are off left-handers. When Seager won his NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016, it was widely thought he’d win an MVP someday. He sure looks like an MVP right now.

7. How much will each manager try to win Game 3?
The team that wins Game 3 of a series ends up winning the series 69 percent of the time, so obviously, this is a pretty important game. But the way these teams are constructed, and with so many roster spots, no off-days for the next three games (and with the Rays probably throwing a bullpen game in Game 4 and Urías likely making just his second start of the postseason that game), the question is how all-out the Rays and Dodgers will go in Game 3.

Roberts was actually a bit passive after falling behind in Game 2, not using his top pitchers, a sign that these managers are always looking ahead. It’s a challenge of any World Series: How much does now matter, and how much does tomorrow matter? And the next day? You need to win Game 3. But you really need to win the series. How do the managers balance that? It’ll be fascinating to watch.