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Rays not fretting 2-1 Series deficit to Dodgers

@adamdberry
October 24, 2020

There was no panic in the Rays' clubhouse at Globe Life Field after they lost Game 3 of the World Series to the Dodgers, 6-2, on Friday night. "It's just a very positive group. Even right now, the guys are in there. They're still loose," veteran starter Charlie Morton said

There was no panic in the Rays' clubhouse at Globe Life Field after they lost Game 3 of the World Series to the Dodgers, 6-2, on Friday night.

"It's just a very positive group. Even right now, the guys are in there. They're still loose," veteran starter Charlie Morton said after the Rays fell behind in the Series, 2-1. "Just got to turn the page, and they've done a really good job of that."

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 20 LAD 8, TB 3 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 21 TB 6, LAD 4 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 23 LAD 6, TB 2 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 24 TB 8, LAD 7 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 25 LAD 4, TB 2 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 27 LAD 3, TB 1 Watch

But there was urgency in manager Kevin Cash's voice as he looked forward to the Game 4 matchup between Tampa Bay's Ryan Yarbrough and Los Angeles' Julio Urías. Only minutes after dropping Game 3, Cash was thinking about how the Rays can put themselves in position to even the Series.

"We seem to be a much better club when we get early leads," Cash said. "That makes a lot of sense, so whatever we can do to get some runs early on."

7 Rays who could play World Series hero

Indeed, the Rays are 7-1 this postseason when scoring first. They were a Major League-best 25-6 when doing so in the regular season. If they can get on the board early and ride their bullpen late, the state of the Series could feel entirely different than it did on Friday night. The Dodgers understand that, too.

"We know how difficult this is. We know there is still a lot of work to do in front of us," third baseman Justin Turner said. "We were down 3-1 in the last series and fought our way back. So you don't take anything for granted."

Here are four reasons the Rays still have hope even after losing Game 3.

1. This has happened before
History certainly favors the Dodgers here. The Game 3 winner in a best-of-seven series that was tied, 1-1, has gone on to win the series 65 of 94 times (69.1 percent).

But while the odds are against the Rays, what they're trying to accomplish has been done by 29 other teams. And they don't have to look too far back to find some good examples.

The last team to fall behind, 2-1, in Game 3 of the World Series was the 2016 Cubs. They were shut out by Cleveland in Games 1 and 3 then came back to win it all. The '14 Giants fell behind the Royals in Game 3 then won the Fall Classic in seven games. The '13 Red Sox immediately stormed back to win Games 4, 5 and 6.

By comparison, only two teams in the last decade turned a 1-1 split into a 2-1 lead then won the World Series: the 2017 Astros and the '11 Cardinals.

And as good as the Dodgers are, they're capable of losing three out of the next four games. They did so twice during the regular season -- Aug. 8-11 (Giants and Padres) and Sept. 10-14 (D-backs, Astros and Padres) -- and, of course, they lost three of four against the Braves to begin the National League Championship Series last week.

2. The "stable" is rested
Morton's 4 1/3-inning start forced the Rays to turn to their bullpen more than they probably expected in Game 3. But with the game out of hand early, they utilized their depth to cover the final 4 2/3 innings. Right-hander John Curtiss recorded five outs, lefty Ryan Sherriff got three, Ryan Thompson worked an inning and Shane McClanahan finished the game.

The good news, relatively speaking? Coming off a scheduled off-day, the Rays were able to give their top high-leverage arms -- Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo and Pete Fairbanks -- another day to rest before back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday. The Rays could ride them hard in Games 4 and 5, and if the Series goes beyond that, they'd have another breather with Monday's built-in day off.

For what it's worth, Anderson didn't give up a run this season when pitching on two days' rest; he struck out 13 with two hits and a walk in 6 1/3 innings over eight appearances. Castillo also made four scoreless appearances when working with two days of rest this season, while Fairbanks allowed three runs (two earned) with 15 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings over nine outings.

The extended break would be especially beneficial if those three relievers are asked to pitch multiple innings, as they've done more often in the postseason.

3. Their horses are lined up after Game 4
Should we note that the Rays' bullpen is the "stable," but their rotation is home to their "horses?" Discussing that discrepancy is a matter for another day -- Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, they hope.

While the Dodgers are plotting out bullpen games around their two starting pitchers this entire Series -- two great ones, though, in Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw -- the Rays will have their top three starters ready to roll in Game 5 (Tyler Glasnow), Game 6 (Blake Snell) and Game 7 (Morton).

"That's a really good team over there. They put together great at-bats, had a great game plan," Rays catcher Mike Zunino said Friday night. "They just took it today, but I think the goal is to even this Series tomorrow and look forward to hopefully [giving] Charlie the ball one more time this Series."

Tampa Bay may not necessarily have an advantage in two of those games. Kershaw outpitched Glasnow in Game 1, and Buehler was outstanding while Morton struggled in Game 3. But in a potential Game 6, the Dodgers would likely piece together another whole-staff outing like they did in Game 2 -- and that one worked out well for the Rays.

4. They hit left-handers well this season
There are no easy draws in the postseason, even when the Dodgers are patching over the holes in their rotation. But the Rays will see two lefties the next two days in Urías and Kershaw, which could help get their lineup back on track.

Tampa Bay posted the Majors' sixth-highest OPS against left-handed pitchers this season, slashing .237/.339/.455 as a team. Only the Giants and Angels hit more homers against southpaws during the 60-game season. And while it's a small sample size, the Rays have been slightly more productive against lefties in the postseason (.214/.309/.396) than against right-handers (.206/.276/.406).

Facing a couple lefty starters will allow the Rays to slot Yandy Díaz back into their lineup, which could provide a boost. They might also find a spot for Mike Brosseau. Randy Arozarena, who slugged his way into the postseason record books yet again in Game 3, will have the platoon advantage again -- as will Manuel Margot, Willy Adames and Zunino.

Tampa Bay might also fare better against Kershaw after seeing him in Game 1, when the future Hall of Famer limited the Rays to just one run (a Kevin Kiermaier solo shot) while striking out eight in six innings.

Adam Berry covers the Rays for MLB.com and covered the Pirates from 2015-21. Follow him on Twitter @adamdberry.