Is this going to be the year that the Tampa Bay Rays come through and win their elusive first championship?
A team that’s never won a World Series in their more than 20-year existence against a team that hasn’t won a title in more than three decades?
That’s what the 2020 World Series will be, with the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers taking each other on in the Texas Rangers’ new Arlington ballpark.
Four World Series in the previous decade consisted of at least one team that hadn’t yet won a championship. The Rays (and Dodgers) continue the 2010s’ trend of teams looking to end championship droughts – 12 of the 20 World Series participants between 2010 and 2019 were seeking to snap droughts of 25 years or more.
As for 2020, the Dodgers haven’t won a World Series in 32 years, and the Rays haven’t hoisted the trophy in their entire 22-year existence. Tampa Bay’s baseball team was created in 1998 and made it to the 2008 World Series, but only managed to win a single game and fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in five.
The Rays have an incredible offensive lineup led by outfielder Randy Arozarena, whose blast in Game 7 against the Houston Astros set the rookie record for postseason home runs. Arozarena hit four homers during the series, and the offense was backed by four other players adding at least one apiece – Manuel Margot had three of his own.
Ji-Man Choi showcased his abilities at first base countless times through the postseason’s first three rounds, and contributed a solo shot during the ALCS.
Mound dominance might be the biggest confidence booster for the Rays, though. Charlie Morton seemed unhittable against his former Astros in the clinching Game 7, recording four straight 1-2-3 innings and allowing just two hits in 5 2/3 frames. Morton’s statline by the end of the series consisted of a 0.00 ERA, a 2-0 record and 11 strikeouts in 10.2 innings.
While they had their struggles, aces Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell performed relatively well in their starts, but the bullpen is where the Rays excelled. Diego Castillo recorded a pair of saves, while Ryan Yarbrough and Pete Fairbanks had solid outings – and Aaron Loup, who appeared in four games, allowed just two hits while keeping the Astros off of the scoreboard.
Overall, the Rays’ pitching staff averaged an ERA of 3.08 – almost a full point and a half lower than the Dodgers’ total ERA against the Braves.
Behind the mound, the Tampa Bay Rays defense has appeared to be virtually infallible. Willy Adames has made Web Gem after Web Gem at shortstop, and he’s flanked by Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle at second and third base, respectively.
Margot’s highlight-reel catch into the seats during Game 2 of the ALCS was the shining moment for the Rays’ outfield, but the entire cohort had their moments throughout the postseason. Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier will be back at full strength for the World Series, and Hunter Renfroe, made a pair of spectacular catches of his own in Game 3 as a substitute.
Compared to 2008, the Rays’ 2020 situation is strikingly similar. Tampa Bay ousted the heavy-hitting (and defending champion) Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS, who were led by the likes of David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis. The Rays managed to tame the mound presences of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, winning in seven to reach the World Series, and that Red Sox team is comparable to the offense-driven Yankee and Astro teams the Rays upended on their way to the Series this year.
The similarities to 2008 don’t stop there. The Tampa Bay Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, a team led at the plate by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell – all of whom hit more than 30 homers that season – and the Dodgers’ powerhouse lineup that includes the likes of Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Corey Seager is reflective of Philadelphia that year. Starting pitchers Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer added to the Phillies’ exceptional rotation, and Los Angeles also features an ace – Clayton Kershaw – backed by several solid starters, primarily Walker Buehler and Dustin May.
Averaged for a full season, A.J. Pollock and Mookie Betts’ 16 home runs in 2020 would roughly equate Howard’s mark of 48 blasts in 2008. Seager also comes close, while Muncy and Bellinger would be right alongside Utley and Burrell’s homer totals if they continued their pace through a full 162-game season.
As for the Rays, seven players surpassed 120 hits in 2008. At least five Tampa Bay hitters were on pace for that this year.
It’s going to be a tough, uphill battle against the juggernaut that is the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Tampa Bay Rays have all the pieces in place to give the regular season’s best team a run for its money. This series is likely going to go the distance, and it’s a matchup that could very likely conclude with a Game 7 next week.