MLB

Dodgers vs. Rays: Five things we’ve learned from Games 1 and 2 of the World Series

The World Series is now a best-of-five. The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 on Wednesday night (TB 6, LA 4) to knot the series up at a game apiece. The Dodgers won Game 1 handily on Tuesday (LA 8, TB 3). Thursday is an off-day and Game 3 will be played Friday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

This is the first World Series featuring the two No. 1 seeds since 2013, and while two games don’t tell us much in the grand scheme of things, there is some stuff we can learn from Games 1 and 2. Here are five things we’ve learned in the first two games of this year’s Fall Classic, in no particular order.

1. We could be in for a high-scoring series

The Dodgers and Rays are two of the best run prevention teams in baseball. Los Angeles allowed 3.55 runs per game during the regular season, second fewest in baseball behind Cleveland (3.48), and Tampa Bay ranked fourth at 3.82 runs per game. (The Twins sat in third at 3.58). Two great run prevention teams means we’re in a low-scoring series, right? Not exactly.

Through two games the Dodgers and Rays have combined for 21 runs and 47 baserunners. Eight home runs too. That damage came even though Clayton Kershaw was marvelous in Game 1 and the Rays threw their two best starters in Games 1 and 2 (Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton), and their top relievers in Game 2. Great pitchers have not led to great run prevention yet.

The Dodgers have scored 12 runs in two games because they always score a ton of runs. Their lineup is deep, powerful, and patient, and they wear down opposing pitchers. The Rays broke out for six runs in Game 2 because Brandon Lowe finally snapped out of his postseason slump with two homers, and because Joey Wendle provided a rare hit with runners in scoring position.

Lowe went into the World Series in a 6 for 52 (.112) skid with one home run in the postseason and the Rays as a team were hitting .174/.301/.362 with runners in scoring position this October. In the span of five innings in Game 2, Tampa seemed to get the monkey off their back offensively. Lowe broke out and they scored runs on something other than a home run.

“He can go quiet for a little while, but he can get as hot as anybody in baseball. Hopefully that’s the trend that we’re looking at moving forward,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters, including MLB.com’s Juan Toribio, about Lowe’s breakout game. “You gotta be able to be tough-minded, and Brandon is, a lot of our guys are. You feel for them when it’s not coming as easy as you’d like, but we owe it to our guys to stick with them. And Brandon, go ahead and get hot now and feel good about yourself.”  

Will the series continue to be high-scoring? Eh, probably not given the two pitching staffs, but Games 1 and 2 show that good hitting can beat good pitching. It’s not always the other way around. The Dodgers are really great offensively and Game 2 might be an indication Tampa is about to break out of their postseason offensive funk.

“We have a complete offense,” Cash told Toribio. “I know they’ve been quiet, but we have a lot of confidence in this group that we can be really balanced and have good at-bats and put pressure on pitchers and opposing defenses.”  

2. The Dodgers will not give in to Arozarena

Randy Arozarena, the breakout star of the postseason, is 1 for 6 with three walks and a strikeout through two World Series games. He socked three homers in the ALDS and four more in the ALCS, and the Dodgers have taken notice. They are attacking him with breaking balls, even in three-ball counts, and are willing to walk him rather than give him something over the plate.

Here are the pitches and locations Arozarena has seen in the World Series:

The Dodgers are attacking Randy Arozarena with breaking balls.
Baseball Savant

Arozarena has seen 29 pitches in the World Series: 16 sliders, seven fastballs, three changeups, two curveballs, and one splitter. Only seven fastballs among 29 pitches. It became painfully obvious the Dodgers will not challenge Arozarena with fastballs in the ninth inning of Game 2, when Jake McGee threw him three sliders four-pitch at-bat. McGee is an extreme fastball pitcher who threw only two sliders the entire month of September (out of 124 pitches).

Los Angeles is not willing to pitch Arozarena in the strike zone and, to his credit, he is not expanding the zone and is taking the walks when they come. It’s not the Barry Bonds treatment entirely, but it is close. The Dodgers have apparently decided they will not let Arozarena beat them and have pitched him accordingly.

“I don’t blame anybody for being very careful with him. They’re throwing him a heavy dose of breaking balls. He’s going to get one here eventually,” Cash told reporters, including MLB.com’s Adam Berry. “He’s going to get timed up and see it. We saw him make those adjustments against New York and Houston, and he’s going to do it again here, too. I’m impressed — we’re all impressed — with what Randy’s plate discipline has been. He’s still making good decisions at the plate, which is very encouraging for a young player.”

3. Anderson is still in the Circle of Trust™

The postseason has not been kind to Rays relief ace Nick Anderson. He surrendered a solo home run in Game 2 and has now been scored upon in five straight games and in six of his eight postseason games overall. This is a guy who allowed a run in only five of his 42 regular season appearances with Tampa.

To be fair, Anderson did record maybe the biggest out of Game 2. He entered with runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth inning, with Justin Turner at the plate representing the tying run, and he blew a fastball by him for the inning-ending strikeout.

That strikeout was Anderson’s first in 24 batters, which is hard to believe because he struck out 44.2 percent of batters faced during the regular season. One of the game’s premier strikeout relievers has had trouble missing bats in October. He’s also given up three homers to righty batters this postseason after allowing one hit to righty batters during the regular season.

Despite his struggles, Cash is sticking with Anderson as his top high-leverage option. He brought him into Game 2 early in what he considered the highest leverage moment, something he’s done consistently this postseason. For better or worse, Cash sticks with his guys. He’s stuck with Lowe despite his slump and he’s sticking with Anderson as his go-to fireman.

“He’s been as good as any reliever in baseball from the day that we acquired him,” Cash told reporters, including MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince, when asked about Anderson’s role. “And when the game’s on the line and he’s available, we’re going to go to him.”  

4. The young Dodgers pitchers might be overworked

Tony Gonsolin, 26, and Dustin May, 23, are two of the better young pitchers in the game and any team would love to have them. The duo threw 102 2/3 innings with a 2.45 ERA during the regular season. In Game 2 though, they were tagged for four runs in 2 2/3 innings, continuing their postseason struggles. Gonsolin and May have allowed 14 runs in 16 2/3 innings this October.

May’s outing in particular was ugly. He allowed four batted balls in the fifth inning. Their exit velocities: 107.0 mph, 108.4 mph, 104.0 mph, and 107.5 mph. Lowe took him deep and the home run had the lowest exit velocity of the inning. Yikes. Given their recent workloads, I can’t help but wonder whether Gonsolin and May are starting to wear down a bit. Their recent pitch counts:

Gonsolin

88

41

29

May

21

55

18

25

That spans NLCS Game 1 to World Series Game 2. With the exception of NLCS Game 2, when Gonsolin was thrust into the rotation because Kershaw was scratched with back spasm, the Dodgers have used Gonsolin and May as openers and multi-inning bullpen guys, which has led to frequent use, especially lately. May’s pitched three times in six days now.

The workload and the unusual schedule — how do you prepare for frequent relief appearances or short starts when you’ve been a full-time starter your entire career? — may be contributing to Gonsolin’s and May’s struggles. I suppose the good news is there will be off-days after Game 2 and after Game 5 this series, so that’s built-in rest. 

“Yeah, you know it’s a big ask, to be quite frank,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters, including MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick, when asked about Gonsolin and May changing roles in the postseason. “Right now with the off-days every team is going to go down a starter, so that’s one thing. And so people have to adjust to certain roles … (These) guys are in uncharted territory and a credit to them, they’re not making excuses, they expect themselves to make pitches. It’s different, certainly. But we still need those guys to get important outs going forward for us to win this thing.”  

The Dodgers have Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, and Kershaw lined up to start Games 3-5 in that order (Urias will start Game 4 because he was not needed in relief in Game 2). We might not see Gonsolin or May again until Game 6 next Tuesday. They could probably use the break. At the very least, the Dodgers should be able to avoid the struggling youngsters the next few days.

“I think that I still trust them, I still believe in them and they’ve just got to make pitches,” Roberts told Gurnick. “I know that they want to make pitches, execute pitches. We’ll kind of look at the video and see what we can do better at, but they’re still going to need to get big outs for us.”  

5. The Dodgers are three-true outcoming the series

Through two games the Dodgers have sent 77 batters to the plate in the World Series and those 77 batters have produced five home runs, 11 walks, and 26 strikeouts. That’s 42 true outcomes and 35 balls in play. More than half their plate appearances have resulted in a ball not being hit to fielders. Yikes. (The Rays have 25 true outcomes in 73 plate appearances.)

Homers and walks and strikeouts are the name of the game these days, and the postseason tends to amplify everything we see in the regular season (more homers, more strikeouts, more pitching changes, etc.), and the result is not always aesthetically pleasing baseball. It can be slow-paced and we’ll sometimes go full innings between balls in the play. Add in the later start times on the East Coast and it’s not the greatest viewing experience.

At 41.2 percent, the Rays actually had the highest three-true outcome rate on offense during the regular season (MLB average is 36.1 percent), but it’s the Dodgers doing it in the World Series. They’re hitting homers and they’re taking their walks against Tampa’s pitchers. They’re also striking out a bunch too, which comes with the territory when you work deep counts.



 

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