by Julian Spivey
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher and 2018 American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell had the best offensive team in Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, looking like single-A minor leaguers facing off against Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson or Madison Bumgarner in some of the greatest World Series pitching performances we’ve ever seen on Tuesday night in game six of the 2020 World Series.
Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena, who had the greatest offensive postseason in the history of Major League Baseball this year, had given the Rays a 1-0 lead in the first inning with a solo home run off Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin. The way Snell was pitching it looked like one run might be enough for the Rays to force a do-or-die game seven against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers could barely even make contact with Snell’s pitches. Through five innings they’d mustered one Chris Taylor single against him and had struck out nine times against. The top four hitters in today’s best offense: Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Max Muncy had gone 0-for-8 against him the first two times through the order and struck out seven times with the only remote contact being a weak dribbler to first by Muncy in the second inning.
Snell had the Dodgers number.
Yet when Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes hit a single with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning off Snell Rays manager Kevin Cash, seemingly always playing the numbers game, decided to remove Snell for reliever Nick Anderson, who had allowed runs to score in five straight appearances before the game. This was despite the fact that the Barnes single wasn’t hard contact and Snell’s pitch count was only 73 and the top of the Dodgers order he’d dominated all night was coming up.
It’s a decision that immediately infuriated me and I just had an intuition as to what was about to happen. But it seemed almost anybody who’s watched the game the majority of their life and those who played the game like Hall of Famer John Smoltz who was announcing the game for Fox Sports and Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, who did postgame coverage for Fox Sports, knew what was going to happen too.
This is Cash’s M.O. It’s how he manages the game. Using analytics and numbers and most of the time it works out. But it doesn’t take a degree from an Ivy League school to know that you don’t take out your hot hand and go to another one who’s been struggling when your entire season is on the line.
I knew it. Smoltz, Rodriguez, Ortiz and probably millions of folks watching at home knew it.
Anderson came in and immediately gave up a hard hit double down the line to Mookie Betts, who Snell had made look more like Spike Lee’s Mookie from “Do the Right Thing” in his first two at-bats. When Seager came up to the plate with his series leading batting average he didn’t even have to swing his bat for the Dodgers to tie the game up as Anderson threw a wild pitch allowing Taylor to score from third and Betts to go from second to third. The wild pitch moving Betts 90 feet from the plate made it a 2-1 game when Seager hit a grounder to Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who threw to catcher Mike Zunino but was unable to beat Betts to the plate. Those two runs would be all the Dodgers would need to clinch their first World Series title in 32 years, though Betts would give them some insurance in the ninth with a blast of a solo shot.
The Rays offense hadn’t exactly looked like a Murderer’s Row the entire game or series for that matter, but Cash’s decision to remove Snell for Anderson and then Anderson giving up the lead truly seemed to demoralize the team. I can’t imagine what it did to the Rays fan-base. The six World Series games were the only six Rays games I caught all season, but it still infuriated me as a fan of the game of baseball.
This just seems to be the way the game is headed – forget what you can see with your own eyes and your own intuition and just go with what it says on paper or on a tablet. Maybe it works most of the time? But it damn sure didn’t on Tuesday on the game’s biggest stage.
It’s something that just confuses veterans of the game to no end, as well.
Immediately following Cash’s decision to remove Snell from the game longtime Star Tribune sports writer Patrick Reusse in Minneapolis phoned hall of fame pitcher Jack Morris, who’s 10-inning shutout performance for the Minnesota Twins against the Atlanta Braves in game seven of the 1991 World Series might be the greatest pitching performance in baseball history given the scenario.
Reusse asked Morris what he thought about the managerial decision, to which Morris said, “We keep seeing it. But taking out a guy who already had struck out Mookie twice … this was unbelievable for me.”
Reusse asked Morris: “What if your manager came to mound to hook you mid-inning as Cash did Snell?” Morris responded: “I don’t know what would’ve happed. It wouldn’t have been good. It might’ve been real bad.”
There’s no way of telling what was going to happen if Snell has stayed in the ballgame in the sixth. For all we know Betts may have taken him deep in the very next AB had he not been removed, but it’s a shot Snell had earned and his manager should’ve had more faith in his player than in his pre-determined strategy.
Cash’s decision to take the on fire Snell out of the ball game when the Dodgers hadn’t even sniffed a run off him the entire game is the worst World Series managerial decision I’ve ever seen in a quarter-century of watching baseball.
by Julian Spivey
The 2020 World Series is unique for many reasons – it’s being played in one, neutral location in Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas and it’s the first World Series with a universal designated hitter – but the uniqueness that most excites and interests me is it’s a rare match-up of best records in each league.
Believe it or not, especially from a sport that until this season had the fewest teams qualify for the postseason, it’s only the fourth time since baseball expanded to a three division game in 1995 that the top record in each league has met up in the Fall Classic. It’s even harder to believe it’s happened this year with baseball nearly doubling the number of teams that play in October. And with the league probably going to an expanded playoff format in the future it’s less and less likely to occur going forward.
So, who’s going to win the 2020 World Series?
I’ve got to stick with the team that I picked before the season even began – and when I say that I don’t just mean in August when the shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic 60-game season kicked off, but all the way back in March during Spring Training. That team is the Los Angeles Dodgers. I’ve felt the Dodgers have been the team to beat ever since they acquired former MVP Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox in the offseason. It just felt like the final piece they needed to get over the hump that has seen them get so close only to lose as this is the team’s third World Series appearance in the last four years.
It’s going to be a fascinating World Series no matter what. You have the power house, high salaried Dodgers against the low salaried (Clayton Kershaw and Mookie Betts of L.A. make about what the entire Rays roster combined does), young Rays team with many players that many fans outside of Tampa Bay may not be able to pick out of a lineup.
Either way a long drought is going to end. The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988 and the Rays have never won a World Series in their 22 year history (this is the franchise’s second trip to the Fall Classic).
Let’s break the two teams down position-by-position:
Game 1: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) v. Tyler Glasnow (Rays)
Game 2: Bullpen Game (Dodgers) v. Blake Snell (Rays)
Game 3: Walker Buehler (Dodgers) v. Charlie Morton (Rays)
I’m going to stop with probable pitchers here because this is pretty much all we know thus far. Arguably each team has their best pitchers going in game three because they recently pitched in their respective League Championship Series, so if the series goes long enough (as I suspect it will) Buehler and Morton will each only get two starts.
In tonight’s game one the Rays have the young Tyler Glasnow going up against the future hall of famer Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers. Kershaw, as any baseball fan knows, has not been the same postseason pitcher as he is in the regular season – but he hasn’t been bad this postseason. He’s 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA and 23 strikeouts, but in four previous World Series starts he’s merely 1-2 with an ERA over five. He also didn’t look particularly strong in his one NLCS start against the Atlanta Braves giving up four runs in just over five innings pitched. Glasnow is also 2-1 this postseason, but with an ERA more than a run higher than Kershaw’s. Glasnow has struck out the fourth most batters this postseason with 25 Ks.
Blake Snell, the former American League Cy Young winner for Tampa Bay, hasn’t been bad this postseason, but hasn’t been great either. He’s 2-2 with a 3.20 ERA and 19 strikeouts, but the biggest concern for him is he hasn’t pitched more than five innings since the A.L. Wild Card Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays may catch a break offensively in game two with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts saying it’ll be a bullpen game for the Dodgers with Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin all expected to go multiple innings – but sometimes that can actually be a disadvantage for a lineup since they likely won’t face the same pitcher twice.
The Dodgers and Rays had two of the three best bullpens based on ERA during the season. But the Rays have had much better postseason performance out of their bullpen. The Dodgers bullpen, in fact, allowed 15 runs in 15 2/3 innings in the first four games of the NLCS and was the biggest factor in the Braves almost beating them. Rays manager Kevin Cash also seems to have a better knack for strategizing his bullpen than Roberts does for the Dodgers.
Both the Dodgers backstop Will Smith and the Rays catcher Mike Zunino have some pop and are always a threat to hit a homer. Zunino had a horrible regular season but has stepped it up a lot in the postseason with four home runs. Smith is the better all-around catcher, but pretty much half of his offensive output in the playoff came in a historic 5-for-6 game in the final game against the San Diego Padres in the National League Division Series. I have to give the advantage to the Dodgers though with Smith having the better overall season.
The Rays have a platoon going at first base with lefty Ji-Man Choi and righty Yandy Diaz based on who’s on the mound for the other team. Choi has hit much better than Diaz during the postseason. Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy is an outright threatening presence at the plate and always a threat to pop one out of the park.
This is one of the spots I’d like to say the Rays have an advantage, but not if Brandon Lowe continues to hit like he has this postseason. Lowe hit .269 with 14 homers in the shortened regular season but has only hit .115 with one homer and only two RBI during the postseason. Still I think Dodgers second baseman Chris Taylor is probably the weakest bat in their lineup, which is saying something because he hit .270 this season, so I’ll expect Lowe to turn things around a bit.
Justin Turner at the hot corner for the Dodgers was seemingly made for the postseason. He’s the all-time hits leader in postseason history for L.A. (granted they play more games now than they did for the bulk of baseball history). The Rays basically have a three-man platoon option going with Joey Wendle, Michael Brosseau and Yandy Diaz. The trio combined to hit nearly .300 during the regular season, but this is Turner’s advantage.
The two young shortstops on these days are a bunch of fun to watch: Corey Seager for the Dodgers and Willy Adames for the Rays. Adames plays a real slick shortstop, but he hasn’t hit this postseason with a mere .132 postseason batting average. Seager on the other hand is the hottest hitter in the Dodgers lineup right now as he just had the best NLCS ever for a shortstop with five homers and 11 RBI. Gotta go with the hot bat.
The Dodgers have Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts in their outfield and lineup – that’s pretty much enough said. Thrown in former All-Star A.J. Pollock and it’s pretty impossible for any outfield in baseball to top this one. The Rays have two stellar defensive players in their outfield with Kevin Kiermaier in center and Manuel Margot in right (but the guys manning those positions in L.A. are both gold glovers). They also have Hunter Renfroe who has some pop in left. Bellinger and Betts didn’t hit well for much of the NLCS, but both showed signs of life in the pivotal game 7 win. This one isn’t even close.
Rookie Randy Arozarena has been the hottest hitter of any team this postseason with seven home runs, which is just one away from the all-time single postseason record of eight held by Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz (so watch for potential history in this Fall Classic). The Dodgers will likely be running multiple hitters out at DH during the series depending on how Roberts wants to work his lineup and defense.
The Dodgers have a clear offensive advantage and the Rays have a slight pitching advantage. If the Rays staff can hold that Dodgers offense at bay, I think we’ll have a long, close series (which is what I’m predicting). If not, it could be over quickly.
You already know I’m sticking with my preseason prediction of the Dodgers winning the World Series, but I think the Rays will force them to win it all in a seventh game.
by Julian Spivey
The biggest success story of 2020 – and I don’t just mean the biggest sports success story, but overall success story – just wrapped up on Sunday night (Oct. 11).
I’m talking about the NBA bubble at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Fla., which was a major success and truly showed the rest of the country (though much of the country seems indifferent toward it) how we could move forward amidst a deadly pandemic.
On March 11 when the NBA abruptly suspended the season due to COVID-19 after Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus many felt that was it – the end of the season. When the pandemic worsened shortly after and the NBA went through April and May and past when the NBA Finals would have typically ended in June without any decision on a resumption to the season it seemed for certain the season would never resume.
But the NBA never gave up. Commissioner Adam Silver along with the NBA Players Association were always determined, even when racial unrest in the country had some thinking things would be better for the country without the distraction of the NBA, to continue the season and to crown a 2019-20 NBA champion.
In June, the league announced a very ambitious return that would host the remaining eligible teams for the finish of the season and then the playoffs in a bubble in Orlando that came with 113 pages of safety protocol and a bundle of skepticism.
My buddy Preston, who often collaborates on NBA articles with me here on the site, never once thought the NBA season would resume (we were both skeptical on whether or not it should, but I felt the players deserved the opportunity).
The fact that they were able to begin and tonight finish with the Los Angeles Lakers being crowned the champions of the league in a series against the surprising and hard-fighting Miami Heat was maybe not a miracle, but at least a small cherry on top of what’s been the worst year for most of us living in this country.
The greatest statistic of 2020 in any sport is zero. Zero. Not typically a number that inspires awe amongst sports fans, but that’s how many positive COVID tests the NBA saw in its bubble and that number might well be a miracle.
It’s also proof that the commissioner of the NBA Adam Silver has run a professional sports league better than the President of these United States and the government under him has run the country. The NBA proved with its bubble and more than 100 pages of safety protocols that life can succeed during a pandemic with order and rules and people who care. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the country doesn’t seem to have the desire and will power the NBA had to succeed.
In a recent ESPN article, Andy Thompson, the Vice President of Production for NBA Entertainment, said: “This was going to be a one-of-a-kind thing. This was the NBA’s moonshot.”
It certainly was.