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1 vs. 1 promises to be 'a heck of a battle'

October 20, 2020

On the surface, sure, the Dodgers and Rays don’t have much in common. The Dodgers have a long and proud franchise history with 24 National League pennants, six World Series championships and a current roster full of household names like Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger. The Rays have

On the surface, sure, the Dodgers and Rays don’t have much in common.

The Dodgers have a long and proud franchise history with 24 National League pennants, six World Series championships and a current roster full of household names like Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger. The Rays have only 23 years of history with two American League pennants, nine winning seasons and a constantly churning roster packed with young players.

But there is a tie that binds them beyond the connection of Andrew Friedman, the former Rays general manager who now runs the Dodgers’ baseball operations department: They were, without question, the two best teams in baseball throughout the shortened regular season and expanded postseason.

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

“Two one seeds facing each other. This is how you script it up, what you want to see in the World Series,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “It’s going to be a heck of a battle. I know that, and I know we’re all looking forward to it.”

Whether you’ve been following throughout the season or just want to see the Majors’ two best teams square off on the game’s biggest stage, here are three things to know about each team:

1. Arozarena is a one-man wrecking crew right now

If you don’t know his name yet, you will soon. Randy Arozarena, the Rays’ rookie outfielder acquired from the Cardinals in January, has earned some version of this title from his teammates: best player on the planet.

Arozarena has 21 hits in the postseason, more than any other player and 11 more than any of his teammates. He is one hit shy of tying Derek Jeter’s record for most hits by a rookie in a single postseason. Arozarena also has seven home runs this postseason. His next will tie him with Nelson Cruz (2011), Carlos Beltrán (’04) and Barry Bonds (’02) for the most homers in a single postseason.

The Rays’ lineup hasn’t been great, batting just .209 with a .702 OPS this postseason. But the Dodgers must be wary of Arozarena. Be careful throwing him a fastball, curveball or probably anything at all, because this month’s breakout star can beat Los Angeles the way he has beaten everyone else this month.

“It almost feels like it doesn’t matter what pitch gets thrown to him,” Rays teammate Brandon Lowe said. “He’s going to hit it, and he’s going to hit it hard.”

2. They will catch everything -- seriously, everything
Chalk it up to athleticism, analytics or whatever else. The Rays’ run prevention has been outstanding in the postseason. Especially in their AL Championship Series victory against the Astros, it seemed as if Tampa Bay’s defenders were always exceptionally well-positioned, extremely athletic and capable of frustrating even a hard-hitting lineup.

Their outfield is particularly noteworthy because of the range of Kiermaier and Manuel Margot, but shortstop Willy Adames seems to have a knack for making big plays in the postseason, as well. What’s their secret?

“I think our defense is just good,” manager Kevin Cash said during the ALCS.

3. Expect the unexpected from the pitching staff
No surprise here: The team that made the opener trendy will occasionally pull starters earlier than you might think, use some of their best relievers early in games and trot out a bunch of dominant, if somewhat unheralded arms -- guys with elite velocity, elite breaking pitches and/or funky deliveries.

The Rays have three frontline starting pitchers in Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell, along with the quietly effective Ryan Yarbrough. The back end of their bullpen, nicknamed “The Stable,” is led by flamethrowers Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo and Pete Fairbanks.

But one of the Rays’ greatest strengths is that they don’t let opposing hitters get comfortable. Their entire staff presents a plethora of pitch mixes and arm angles, and Cash is adept at deploying all his available arms. With scheduled off-days after Games 2 and 5 in the World Series, Tampa Bay’s bullpen should be well-rested at the right time.

1. This time they have Mookie

Yes, the team with a timeshare in the Fall Classic looks similar to the one you’ve seen in past years. Kershaw, Bellinger, Justin Turner, Walker Buehler, Corey Seager, Kenley Jansen, Chris Taylor -- they’re all back. But this year they Dodgers added Betts, one of the most dynamic players in all of baseball who can wow you with his bat, his baserunning and his highlight-reel plays in right field.

Betts has been here before, too, as his Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series.

Betts has been excellent offensively in the postseason overall, batting .311 with six doubles, two steals and nearly as many walks (eight) as strikeouts (nine). But he really dazzled on defense as the Dodgers reeled off three consecutive wins to beat the Braves in the NLCS. This is how Dodgers manager Dave Roberts boiled down Betts’ running catch in Game 5, his leaping grab in Game 6 and his home run robbery in Game 7: “Mookie making web gems every single night.”

2. This team can win in many ways
The Dodgers can grind out at-bats and string together rallies, as they lead all postseason teams with a .355 on-base percentage this month. They swept the Padres in the NL Division Series while posting a higher OBP (.409) than slugging percentage (.406).

They can also pummel opponents with power, as they did while hitting 118 homers during the regular season -- 15 more than the Braves and 22 more than anyone else. They bashed 16 homers in the seven-game NLCS.

Their lineup is remarkably deep, and the overall depth of their roster is unmatched. They can play defense with the best of them. They can win close games, too, even with only two traditional starters this month -- Buehler and Kershaw -- because they have talented, versatile young arms like Dustin May, Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin.

3. They’re competing against the Rays and the narrative
As good as they are, the Dodgers have some demons to exorcise. The team hasn’t won a World Series in 32 years despite all their recent success. Kershaw has struggled in October, with those issues amplified as the Dodgers advance. And it’s unclear if their closer is still their closer, although Jansen has pitched well in his past two outings.

“This year is our year,” Roberts said after winning the NLCS.

Perhaps this World Series will prove him right.

“We’re just more well-rounded, deeper. We had good teams in the past, but this one’s been around a little longer,” Seager said. “Having those extra years, just know where people are going to be and expecting things out of people because you’ve seen it in the past makes everything that much better. When you’ve been there before, you know what to expect.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.