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ATL or LA? Who Rays should want to face

Tampa Bay will take on winner of NLCS Game 7 in World Series
@juanctoribio
October 18, 2020

Exhale, Rays fans. Despite letting the Astros get back into the American League Championship Series, the Rays are heading to the World Series for the first time since 2008, after a 4-2 win in Saturday night’s Game 7 at Petco Park.

Exhale, Rays fans.

Despite letting the Astros get back into the American League Championship Series, the Rays are heading to the World Series for the first time since 2008, after a 4-2 win in Saturday night’s Game 7 at Petco Park.

Game Date Time Matchup TV
Gm 1 Oct. 20 8 p.m. TB @ LAD FOX
Gm 2 Oct. 21 8 p.m. TB @ LAD FOX
Gm 3 Oct. 23 8 p.m. LAD @ TB FOX
Gm 4 Oct. 24 8 p.m. LAD @ TB FOX
Gm 5* Oct. 25 8 p.m. LAD @ TB FOX
Gm 6* Oct. 27 8 p.m. TB @ LAD FOX
Gm 7* Oct. 28 8 p.m. TB @ LAD FOX

Tampa Bay became the first team to punch its ticket to this year’s Fall Classic, taking the winner-take-all ALCS finale after Houston had tied the series with three straight wins in Games 4, 5 and 6. Now, all eyes shift to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series between the Braves and Dodgers on Sunday night at Globe Life Field, with the winner advancing to face the Rays in Arlington.

That leads to the question: Who should Rays fans be rooting for in the NLCS? Both opponents will present unique challenges, but the answer might be the Braves. Hear us out.

Why?
Well, the Dodgers went 43-17 in the regular season and led the Majors with a plus-136 run differential. The Braves are also a great team, but if you can avoid facing two former MVP Award winners (Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts), you probably want to do that.

But aside from that, the Braves could be a good matchup for the Rays.

The fact that the NLCS is going to a winner-take-all Game 7 is a big win for Tampa Bay, which also needed seven games to beat Houston. Playing a full seven-game series put a dent on the Braves’ pitching staff, which isn’t quite as deep as the Dodgers’ staff.

Max Fried, who has established himself as one of the best pitchers in the Majors, went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 11 regular-season starts and has followed that with a strong postseason, despite his Game 6 loss, which was still a quality start (three runs allowed in 6 2/3 innings).

In his only start against the Rays this season, the left-handed Fried allowed one run and struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings on July 30. But the fact that Fried pitched on Saturday means that he wouldn’t be on full rest until Game 3 of the World Series on Friday. That bodes well for the Rays, who hit .236 against southpaws in the regular season.

The Rays would get another big break if they face the Braves. Atlanta is sending rookie right-hander Ian Anderson to the mound for NLCS Game 7, and he has been nearly unhittable in the postseason. After going 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA in six regular-season starts, Anderson has yet to allow a run in 15 2/3 innings in the playoffs. He likely wouldn’t be available to pitch again until Saturday’s Game 4 of the World Series.

On the other side, the Rays will have Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell ready to start on full rest in Games 1 and 2.

A look at the matchups
Though the Rays should benefit from the Braves or Dodgers entering the World Series with a fatigued pitching staff, Tampa Bay would have its hands full with either offense. But if the Rays had to pick an advantage, it’d always be with the pitching staff.

Atlanta hit .273 against right-handers in the regular season, slightly higher than Los Angeles’ .259 average. That means Charlie Morton, Pete Fairbanks, Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson and Glasnow will have to be on their games.

The Braves not having much familiarity with John Curtiss, Josh Fleming and Ryan Thompson could also fare well for the Rays. Atlanta’s hitters also have not seen Fairbanks or Castillo often.

As the Rays players have been saying throughout the postseason: nobody said it was going to be easy. But if you want to have some rooting interest for the NLCS, go with the Braves.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.