7 key storylines for World Series Game 5

October 25th, 2020

As excellent as both the Dodgers and the Rays have been all season, in the regular season and the playoffs, one thing the World Series between the two teams had been missing, three games in, was a truly classic individual game. Like 2017 Game 5, 2016 Game 7 or 2011 Game 6.

That is … no longer an issue. My goodness.

Here are seven storylines for Game 5 on Sunday night, after a truly incredible Game 4 on Saturday night

1. Uh … are the Dodgers gonna be OK after that?
The thing that has been so remarkable about this Dodgers team, the thing that felt different about this club, is that it was constantly coming back, constantly scoring two-out runs (57 for the postseason, including all seven in Game 4), constantly having wild clutch moments. Los Angeles has looked unflappable. The Dodgers have looked like they knew this was their year. Until … until the last play of Game 4.

It was as if, after (Brett Phillips!) hit that little flare and it sneaked into right-center field, the Dodgers, all at once, were so surprised by it that it actively rattled them. Center fielder muffed picking up the ball to throw home, and then, with Randy Arozarena a clear dead duck at the plate, catcher forgot to, uh, catch the ball, allowing the winning run to score. (It wasn't a great relay throw from first baseman either.) The Dodgers in 2020 have not played like a team that has suffered crushing postseason loss after crushing postseason loss for the last few decades; they have played like they were ready to be done with all that. Until that last play. And now you wonder … are they rattled?

2. Brett Phillips!
That's not really a storyline or anything: It's highly unlikely, after all, that Phillips will even play in Game 5. (He'd been 0-for-2 this postseason until that hit.) But the thing about the Rays all season is that they have kept finding ways to win even when it looked like the other team had more stars, more boldfaced names, more gravitas. And yet there Tampa Bay is, beating more heralded teams with guys you never saw coming, from Mike Brosseau off Aroldis Chapman in Game 5 of the American League Division Series to now Brett Phillips (Brett Phillips!) in the World Series. That was the 38th game that Phillips has played this year (including 18 with the Royals), and that was his 11th hit. The Rays are always making hits like that count. It might not be Phillips in Game 5, but with Tampa Bay, it's always somebody.

3. Will the Dodgers just spot the Rays two outs every inning?
If you are looking for a high-drama postseason game, you really can't do much worse than one team scoring all their runs with two outs. For all the talk of the Dodgers scoring all those two-out runs this postseason, it's worth noting that they are a very good offensive team and thus likely to score a lot of runs no matter how many outs there are. But it sure was something to watch them just keep plugging and plugging and plugging. They might have one of the best regular-season records in baseball history, but they clearly have the soul and pluck of an underdog. Or at least they did until that ninth inning.

4. So are the Dodgers just giving the Barry Bonds treatment now?
Before all the insanity of that last at-bat, the most surprising moment of the ninth inning might have been that fat fastball right down the middle gave Arozarena on the first pitch. Arozarena looked so stunned by it that he didn't know what to do with it, and it ended up being the only real hittable pitch he got the whole at-bat. That's to say: The Dodgers were willing to put the tying run in scoring position in the ninth inning to avoid letting Arozarena beat them. It makes sense: Arozarena did hit his record-setting ninth postseason homer in the fourth inning of Game 4, not to mention notch three hits. The Dodgers showed in the ninth they won't let him beat them. Will they keep that up in Game 5 and the rest of the Series?

5. Can rebound from his rough postseason in time?
Glasnow is widely considered to have the best stuff of any of the Rays' starters, and it doesn't take long watching him to see why: He had eight strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings in Game 1 and it almost felt like he could have more. The problem, though, were those six walks, which ended up leading to six runs. This theoretical ace now has a 7.27 ERA this postseason, and he finds himself going up against a Hall of Famer who sure has a lot to pitch for in this particular game. For all Glasnow's electric stuff, he has had only one truly excellent season, when he had 12 outstanding starts in 2019. The time to channel his stuff is right now.

6. Speaking of guys with great stuff, what is going on with ?
It has been very frustrating for all of us Nick Anderson honks, all of us who have been enraptured with the oft-unhittable Rays reliever for a couple of years now. We've heard all your Orlando Magic missed free throw jokes, and we know that it is you who are missing out, it is you who haven't been able to appreciate the brilliance of the Brainerd, Minn., native. But even we cannot pretend we have not seen this.

The whole Rays bullpen, the one that was supposed to be the advantage for them in this Fall Classic, has been wobbly: They've put up a 4.82 ERA this Series. (To be fair, this is much better than what the starters' ERA has been.) The Dodgers even got to on Saturday. The Rays haven't had a starter make it out of the fifth inning yet, so they're going to need the bullpen plenty on Sunday and the rest of this Series. Can they get back to normal?

7. , once, always and forever.
You didn't think we'd forget about him, did you?

Kershaw was so good in Game 1 that you wanted that to be it, for that to be the great World Series start that finally gets everyone off his back. Or, at the very least, you wanted him to be able to go out and pitch Game 5 for a World Series title, the ultimate triumphant moment for the pitcher who has waited so long for it. Instead, Kershaw isn't just not pitching for a title, he's pitching in the pivotal game of this whole Series. If he isn't Clayton Kershaw in this game, it won't just be another stain on his postseason resume: It might just put the Dodgers one game from another World Series elimination.

It's difficult to lose a game in more painful fashion than the Dodgers did in Game 4. Kershaw can put an immediate end to all the negativity in Game 5, or he can ratchet up Dodger Nation panic to a fever pitch. Kershaw is one of the best pitchers any of us have ever seen. But this is the biggest start of his entire career. This may be the one we all remember him for … one way or another.