Rays hope to join Bolts as champs

Could Tampa, Fla., be the new sports capital of the U.S.?

Their NHL team, the Lightning, just won the Stanley Cup. Their football team, the Buccaneers, appear to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And in between those two sports championships, their baseball team could win the 2020 World Series.

The upstart Rays defeated Houston in seven games after blowing a 3-0 lead. Their opponent, the Los Angeles Dodgers, also needed seven games to win the NLCS.

The Dodgers opened as consensus 2-1 favorites to win the Series with slight variations from book to book. As we went to press on Tuesday, eight hours prior to the start of Game 1. The Dodgers were up to -220 at several Las Vegas books. The takeback on Tampa was generally between +170 and +190.

Unlike the prior rounds of the postseason, the World Series will be played in a traditional best-of-seven format with scheduled days off following Games 2 and 5, even though the Series is being entirely played at the neutral site of Arlington, Texas.

Both bullpens should benefit from the stretching out of the Series after playing their previous playoff games on consecutive days. Tuesday’s opener was the Dodgers’ 13th playoff game since starting out on Sept 30. It will be Tampa’s 14th postseason game since starting their playoff run a day earlier. 

The Dodgers have the much better offense, having averaged 5.8 runs per game during the regular season compared to Tampa’s 4.8 rpg. The runs allowed averages are much closer but the Dodgers still have the edge having allowed 3.6 rpg vs. 3.8 rpg.

In 12 playoff games, the Dodgers averaged 5.8 rpg while allowing 3.7. The Rays have scored 4.1 rpg while allowing 3.5. The Dodgers’ significant edge at the plate has continued in the postseason and the closeness of runs allowed has also carried over from the regular season.

The Dodgers have a huge edge in playoff experience, playing in their third World Series in four seasons, losing to Houston in 2017 and Boston in 2018. They seek their first title since 1988. They’ve made the playoffs each season since 2013.

Tampa is in the Series for just the second time, the first being in 2008. They lost their ALDS series to Houston in 2019 in their first playoffs appearance since 2013.

The Rays are sneaky tough and won’t be an easy out. Manager Kevin Cash’s use of his pitching staff has been brilliant with opposing hitters rarely facing the same pitcher twice. And the Rays play excellent defense.

But ultimately the Dodgers’ depth, especially at the plate, will be decisive. The forecast is for the Dodgers to win the title that’s eluded them since 1988 by defeating the Rays in six games.

Wednesday

Rays vs. Dodgers: Blake Snell was expected to start Game 2 for Tampa. The Dodgers had yet to name their starter although they’ve announced their second-best starter, Walker Buehler, will start Friday's Game 3.

Should that change if the Dodgers lose the opener, Buehler would be starting on three days' rest after pitching a strong six shutout innings on Saturday. Otherwise I expect either Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin to get the start and asked to pitch an inning or two in what likely will be a bullpen game.

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Snell has been effective all season, although he’s never completed six full innings (averaged 4.7 per start). In 15 starts (including four in the Playoffs) Snell’s more than three runs just twice and has a solid 82-28 strikeout to walk margin. 

This is a good spot for Tampa, even if they pulled the upset in Game 1. RAYS

Friday

Dodgers vs. Rays: Charlie Morton should get the start for Tampa after pitching last Saturday when he tossed 5.2 innings of shutout baseball and would be pitching on four days’ rest. Buehler also pitched last Saturday.

As a testament to both bullpens neither averaged more than five innings per start with Buehler putting up slightly better stats. Morton’s allowed just one earned run in three

postseason starts, covering 15.2 innings. In four postseason starts, Buehler’s allowed just four earned runs over 19 innings.

With this being a matchup of two quality pitchers, this game presents the greatest likelihood of being low scoring, especially early. FIRST 5 INNINGS UNDER

Saturday

Dodgers vs. Rays: Game 4 will likely be a bullpen game for both teams as neither Game 1 starter is expected to start on three days’ rest. Both bullpens should be relatively fresh but can also be expected to be called upon with both ‘openers’ not pitching more than a couple of innings.

Unless one team is in position to be swept, this game may not be as tightly managed as when a team faces elimination with both managers keeping in mind considerations for Sunday’s Game 5.

This game presents an ideal situation for being one of the higher scoring games in the series with perhaps one or both Game 1 starters set to return on Sunday. OVER

Last week: 0-1

Season: 17-11