The Dodgers claimed their first World Series title in 32 years on Tuesday. As is often the case in the playoffs, the series was largely determined by a few key moments. We’ll take a look at the defining moments of the Dodgers' championship run.
Center fielder Cody Bellinger’s home run in the fourth inning of Game 1 brought in the Dodgers' first two runs of the World Series. It also dramatically boosted the Dodgers' odds of winning the game.
The middle line in the graph represents even odds between the Dodgers and Rays. As the green line moves closer to the top, the Dodgers have a higher chance of winning the game, and vice versa.
Bellinger’s home run had a WPA of 0.196, meaning his home run boosted the Dodgers' probability of winning by 19.6%. This was by far the highest WPA mark on any play from Game 1.
“[First baseman Max] Muncy’s on second, I just try to get him in any way possible,” Bellinger said following Game 1. “I saw a pitch that I thought I could drive and tried to put a good swing on it right there.”
Muncy’s RBI single drove in shortstop Corey Seager and third baseman Justin Turner to secure a 3-0 lead over the Rays in the third inning of Game 3.
Muncy’s single had a WPA of 0.158, meaning his single boosted the Dodgers' probability of winning by 15.8%. This was the highest mark from Game 3.
“Tonight’s two-out hit, Muncy was really big … just the fight, just the at-bat quality you see a lot of,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts following Game 3. “Whether it’s two outs, not two outs, regardless of the game score, they’re just really competing every at-bat which is really good to see.”
After Rays outfielders Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot got on first and third respectively to lead off the fourth inning, the Dodgers were in danger of losing their one-run lead. Following Renfroe’s walk, the Rays had a win-expectancy of 59.4%.
Kershaw buckled down and retired the next three batters without allowing a run. After Rays' third baseman Joey Wendle hit a pop-up to Seager, Kershaw struck out Rays' shortstop Willy Adames and caught Margot attempting to steal home to put the odds back in the Dodgers' favor.
This series of events — retiring these three hitters to leave the game scoreless — had a cumulative WPA of 0.232, meaning this moment increased the Dodgers' odds of winning by 23.2%. While not a single play, this was the defining moment of the Dodgers' Game 5 victory.
“That’s happened to me before,” said Kershaw after Game 5 regarding Margot’s attempted steal of home. “It was the same-type situation, there were two outs, trying to steal a run right there. I wasn’t really anticipating it but … that was a big out for us right there.”
In a move that will likely be second-guessed for some time, manager Kevin Cash decided to pull starting pitcher Blake Snell after allowing Dodgers' catcher Austin Barnes to single. Rays reliever Nick Anderson promptly allowed Dodgers right-fielder Mookie Betts to double and both runners to score on a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice.
Though an argument can be made defending Cash’s decision, Anderson’s ineffectiveness out of the bullpen gave the Dodgers a 2-1 advantage in the sixth inning. When Anderson was brought in to pitch, the Dodgers had a 39.1% chance of winning. After Betts scored to give his team the lead, the Dodgers had a 74.8% chance of winning.
“I totally understand and respect the questions that come with [the decision to take Snell out],” Cash said in a postgame interview following Game 7. “Blake gave us every opportunity to win. He was outstanding. They’re not easy decisions.”
October baseball often comes down to a few key moments. For the 2020 Dodgers, those key moments led to a championship.