The Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves on Sunday to win the National League pennant. They will be taking on the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series beginning Oct. 20.
“The job’s not done,” Dodgers' utility man Kiké Hernández said following Sunday’s victory. “The goal wasn’t to get to the World Series, the goal is to win the World Series. Now that we can shift the focus on the Tampa Bay Rays... we’re going to enjoy what we just accomplished, but at the same time the job’s not done.”
This year marks the third time in four years that the Dodgers have advanced to the World Series. After losing to the Astros in 2017 and the Red Sox in 2018, the Dodgers are eager for another chance to win the Commissioner’s Trophy.
“It’s another opportunity,” Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw said following Sunday’s game. “Not too many people get to go to the World Series three times… We gotta go make it happen, and I’m looking forward to getting another chance.”
The Dodgers enter the World Series as the favorites. According to the ZiPS projection system, the Dodgers enter with a 51.9% chance of winning the series. Ahead of the Fall Classic, here are some important things to keep an eye on.
Both the Dodgers and the Rays boast roster versatility. In a seven game series, the ability to move players around to target key matchups is important for both Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Rays manager Kevin Cash.
The Dodgers have a very balanced lineup, with an even mix of left- and right-handed hitters. Roberts has typically staggered these hitters, making it more difficult for opposing pitchers to adjust to facing one side or the other.
Typically, hitters perform better against opposite-handed pitchers, meaning left-handed hitters usually play better against right-handed pitchers and vice versa. These are known as platoon splits.
In 2020, Dodgers hitters performed better against same-handed pitchers and the Rays' pitchers performed much better against left-handed hitters. Since each pitcher is required to face a minimum of three batters, distributing the left- and right-handed hitters in the Dodgers lineup could expose the Rays' weaknesses.
Additionally, the Dodgers boast flexibility in the bottom part of the order. Outfielder Joc Pederson has historically crushed right-handed pitchers, but has struggled against left-handed pitchers. In his career, his weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 128 against righties means his overall offensive production has been 28% higher than league average, while his wRC+ of 59 against lefties indicates his overall production has been 41% worse than league average.
Utility player Kiké Hernández performs much better against left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers. Over his career, his wRC+ of 120 against left-handed pitchers is much higher than his wRC+ of 82 against right-handed pitchers. He showed what he can do against left-handed pitching on Sunday against the Braves with a clutch pinch-hit home run against reliever A.J. Minter to tie the game.
While Dodgers lineups typically have an even spread of left- and right-handed batters, the Rays typically load up on opposite-handed hitters and construct different lineups based on the opposing pitchers. In the 60-game season, the Rays had 59 different starting lineups. On Sept. 11, the Rays made history by starting the first all-lefty lineup in MLB history.
Rays' right-handed hitters perform well against left-handed pitchers, so loading the lineup with right-handed hitters has been an effective strategy against lefty opponents. In 2020 against lefties, Rays' right-handed hitters posted a wRC+ of 134, a much higher total than the 102 mark they posted as left-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers.
While the Rays lack the financial prowess of the Dodgers, they have found creative ways to take advantage of these platoon splits to construct a solid lineup while possessing the lowest payroll among MLB teams. The creativity of the Rays in constructing their lineup to maximize their platoon advantages could impact the World Series as soon as the first inning when lefty Clayton Kershaw takes the mound.
The Rays are unafraid to break tradition in an effort to gain a competitive advantage. Whether it be the use of “openers” to start a game, limiting pitchers to one time through the order or pairing relievers who attack hitters from multiple angles, the Rays have shown the willingness to use any pitcher at any time.
Not only are the Rays willing to get creative with their pitcher usage, but they have the electric arms to relentlessly attack hitters. Referred to as “The Stable,” the Rays bullpen is filled with big arms that have limited opposing hitters thus far in the postseason. Even against the dangerous lineups of the Yankees and Astros, the Rays allowed fewer than five runs in all but two of their fourteen postseason games.
Though the Rays will likely rely heavily on their bullpen during the World Series, their starters also pose a threat to the Dodgers' offense. Starting pitchers Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton will likely start the majority of games in the series, and each pitcher has proven capable of rising to the occasion. If the Rays starters can pitch deep enough into games, the bullpen has the ability to close out games against even the best offenses.
Though the Dodgers lack the Rays' bullpen dominance and unconventionality, they still possess some elite arms that can power through the mediocre Rays lineup. In 2020, young pitchers Dustin May and Brusdar Graterol ranked first and second respectively in fastball velocity among pitchers to throw at least 250 innings.
While many critique Roberts' postseason moves with respect to pitcher usage, he has shown a willingness to get creative at times. Against the Rays' flexible lineup, this creativity will be called upon to suppress the Rays offense.
Both the American League Championship Series and the National League Championship Series were games of defense.
Good defense is crucial for both teams, and both excel defensively. In 2020, the Rays ranked first in baseball in defensive runs above average (Def), which measures defensive value relative to league average, while the Dodgers ranked second in defensive runs saved (DRS), which is another measurement of defensive value.
Defensive alignments will also be worth watching. This year, the Dodgers shifted against 1,146 total batters, the most in the MLB. The Rays, who constantly seek to find an edge analytically, employed the second most non-traditional shifts in 2020 and even used a four-man outfield in the Division Series.
Game 1 is Tuesday at 5 p.m. PT.