After all the hand-wringing about a shortened season, bloated brackets, sub-.500 postseason squads and division winners subjected to arbitrary best-of-threes, what are we left with?
The two best teams in baseball, on the World Series stage.
Let’s hear it for the American League champion Rays and National League champion Dodgers for adhering not only to health and safety protocols, but also to their own postseason potential. They each survived a particularly painstaking League Championship Series round to get to Game 1 of a fascinating Fall Classic tonight at Globe Life Field in Arlington -- the first World Series played at a neutral site.
“You’ve got to beat the best to be the best,” said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, “and that’s what this World Series is going to be about.”
The Rangers’ ballpark, which houses the World Series in its inaugural year, sits 1,220 miles from L.A. and 925 miles from St. Petersburg. So this is about as close to the concept of “Let’s meet in the middle” as one could concoct. The World Series will still be played in the traditional 2-3-2 format, however, with the Dodgers serving as the "home" team (batting in the bottom of the inning) in Games 1 and 2 (and 6 and 7, if necessary). The Rays will be the "home" team for Games 3 and 4 (and 5, if necessary).
To suggest the Dodgers, who are in the World Series for the third time in four years and trying to end a title drought that goes back to 1988, and the Rays, who are trying to avenge a loss in their only previous Fall Classic appearance in 2008, got to this best-of-seven meeting in different ways is an understatement. Though they both have Andrew Friedman’s expertise running through their blood, the Dodgers have money, while the Rays have Cash ... as in, manager Kevin Cash.
The Rays feed off a deep, cheap bullpen (“a stable of guys who throw 98 mph,” as Cash put it) and a sudden sensation in rookie Randy Arozarena, who won ALCS MVP. The Dodgers feed off established stars like Clayton Kershaw, Turner, NLCS MVP Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger -- who, with the help of 2018 World Series champion Mookie Betts -- are trying to get the ring that has eluded them.
So this is a clash of financial contrasts. But ultimately, it’s a clash of the No. 1 seeds for only the second time this century (joining Red Sox-Cardinals in 2013). We took a winding path to get to this point, but here we are: Baseball’s best on baseball’s biggest stage. A satisfying end to a strange year.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
The game will air Tuesday on FOX at 8:09 p.m. ET/5:09 p.m. PT. It is also available to stream on MLB.TV with authentication.
What do the starting lineups look like?
Rays: Yandy Díaz will lead off against Kershaw, and Manuel Margot, who has five home runs in the postseason and is a career .274 hitter against lefties, bats fifth and is starting in left.
Dodgers: Will Smith will be the designated hitter, with Austin Barnes catching for Kershaw. Joc Pederson gets the nod in left over AJ Pollock.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Rays: The Rays announced on Monday that Tyler Glasnow will get the ball in Game 1, followed by Blake Snell in Game 2. Glasnow warmed up in Game 7 and looked ready to pitch the ninth inning, but Pete Fairbanks was able to get the last out of the game. That allowed the Rays to head to the World Series for the second time in franchise history, but it also saved Glasnow for the start of the series. Glasnow went 5-1 with a 4.08 ERA this season and is 2-1 with a 4.66 ERA in four postseason starts.
Dodgers: Kershaw will be on regular rest for Game 1. In his NLCS Game 4 start, pushed back two days because of back spasms, he allowed one run over the first five innings and was hurt by an infield hit, throwing error and a pair of doubles. He was charged with four runs.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Rays: As we’ve seen throughout the postseason, Cash won’t be afraid to go to the bullpen in key situations. He pulled Snell after just four-plus innings in Game 6, and he took out Charlie Morton despite the right-hander pitching a 66-pitch gem into the sixth one night later. Expect more of the same as the Rays are going to lean heavily on Diego Castillo, Fairbanks and Nick Anderson. The Rays are 36-1, 33-0 and 40-0 when leading after six, seven and eight innings, respectively. And it’s all because of the bullpen.
Dodgers: On-again, off-again closer Kenley Jansen is rested and coming off two strong outings to earn back a position of trust. Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Pedro Báez share right-handed leverage roles, while Joe Kelly’s role has been minimized. Lefty Victor González has pitched important innings, but the Dodgers might need Julio Urías, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin to do more starting and less relieving.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Rays: The Rays enjoyed two days off before the start of the World Series, so the bullpen should be in good shape heading into Game 1.
Dodgers: Treinen pitched in three consecutive games in high leverage, so he might need more than just the off-day to bounce back. May threw only 18 pitches in Game 7, but his wildness is sure to give management pause. Gonsolin was equally ineffective and threw 41 pitches on Sunday, so he’s probably down for Game 1
Any injuries of note?
Rays: Kiermaier is still battling a sore right hand, but the center fielder played in Saturday’s Game 7. He should be full-go in the World Series.
Dodgers: While celebrating his home run, Bellinger’s troublesome right shoulder popped out while performing a forearm smash with Kiké Hernández. But he finished the game and has played with the same injury before.
Who is hot and who is not?
Rays: Arozarena is having one of the best playoff runs in Major League history. The 25-year-old rookie has seven home runs, the most by any rookie in a single postseason, and is just one hit away from tying Derek Jeter’s rookie record (22).
While Arozarena is red hot at the plate, the Rays are still waiting for Austin Meadows and Lowe -- All-Stars in 2019 -- to get going offensively. Meadows is 4-for-35 with two home runs, while Lowe is 6-for-52 with one homer in the postseason.
Dodgers: Seager won the NLCS MVP despite going 0-for-5 in the clincher because he was unstoppable the other six games (five home runs, 11 RBIs). Hernández, who had two game-tying homers against the Braves, is one of those players who rises to the occasion of the postseason. Smith repeatedly delivered big hits in the NLCS, and Betts was game-changing with his glove.
Anything else fans want to know?
Rays: The Rays were the ninth team in Major League history to play a winner-take-all game in the Division Series and League Championship Series, but only the third team to win both, joining the 2012 Giants and 1981 Dodgers. Both the Giants and Dodgers won the World Series in those seasons.
Dodgers: The Dodgers are in the World Series for the third time in the past four years. They have won 21 pennants, most of any NL club and second-most all-time to only the Yankees (40).