The World Series starts today, and Major League Baseball lucked out, by having the two teams, with the best record, make it though the expanded playoffs. Think of all that excitement, if it would have been a Reds-Blue Jay Series. The only way it would have been better, was for the Yankees to win, and play the Dodgers. It would have been a ratings coup. Both teams had their scary moments, as the Tampa Bay Rays jumped out to 3-0 lead in the series, only to see Houston win the next 3. However, they were able to prevail, in a fairly tense game 7. The Los Angeles Dodgers fell behind 3 games to 1, in their series, with the Atlanta Braves, but then went on to win 3 straight, as the Braves went brain dead on the base paths, and bat dead in the last 5 innings of game 7. We have the Tampa Bay Rays vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, and on paper, this looks like a bigger mismatch, than last years series, when Washington played the heavily favored Houston Astros. Hey, wait a minute, Washington won that World Series, that saw the visiting team win every game, for the first time in World Series history. Can it happen again, this year. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished in the top five in baseball, in OPS+, OBP, runs scored, ERA+, FIP, Whip, and Defensive Efficiency. On paper, this has the makings of a sweep. If on paper was the determining factor, the Dodgers would be playing the Astros. Let’s take a look at a most interesting 7 game series.
When this series started, I thought the Houston pitching was not going to hold up, but the pitching held up, quite nicely. It was the Houston batters, that left this series on the table. Houston outhit the Rays 59 to 44, but could only muster 22 runs, from those 59 hits. In the four losses, Houston was held to 2 runs or less, and only once scored more than 4 runs. Houston walked 29 times, 5 more than the Rays, and struck out 27 less times. Tampa Bay averaged over 11 strike outs per game. About the only thing they did better than Houston was hit more home runs, but only by 11 to 9. Of course, they won more games, and did score more runs, over all. So how did they do it? By embracing the way the game is played today. Like it or not, the basics are this. Swing for the fences. Strike out a lot, but do not care. Shift players around on defense. Do not let opposing batters see the same pitcher more than twice, if at all possible. The Rays add one little wrinkle, play everybody. Recent history shows, that during the post season, teams have a tendency to shrink the line up, rather than expand it. The biggest example is in bullpen usage. Bullpens of 6 or 7, may see 2, or even 3 relievers, not used, or used very little. Not so, with Tampa Bay, as everybody gets into the act, and I expect to see no change, during this World Series. Even the batting order and line up, changes on a daily basis. Tampa is the poster child for team concept, in this world of individual glory.
I thought Tampa Bay would beat the Astros in 5 games, and even though they won, it was a scary struggle. I also thought if a team won the first 2 games of the National League Series, they would go on to win the series. Of course, that did not happen. So, what is my cracked crystal ball saying for this World Series. You have the Tampa Bay Rays, who are dedicated to today’s style of baseball, vs the Los Angeles Dodgers, who use sabermetrics, but still play a more traditional game. They have the most potent offense in baseball, and as a team, do not swing at balls, outside the strike zone. Both teams are equally confident. You might think that Tampa Bay may have lost some of that swagger, when Houston made the comeback. However, they seemed to take it in stride, as they played a great game 7. The Rays have the system, which they rely on, and believe in. The Dodgers rely on Dave Roberts instincts, which in previous World Series and playoffs, have not been too good. I think having a day off, between games 2 and 3, and 5 and 6, may help the Rays. So far, this has not been the year for ending playoff hexes, as Oakland and Minnesota continued their playoff woes. The Dodgers have not won a World Series since 1988. Is this enough to have another upset winner. Me thinks so.