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A Cardinals fan’s guide to the World Series

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What to watch for between the Dodgers and Rays

American League Championship Series Game 7: Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The World Series begins tonight and, for the seventh straight season, the Cardinals will not be participants. Rather, we get the Rays against the Rays-but-if-they-had-more-money-to-spend. (Former Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman is now the Dodgers’ President of Baseball Operations.)

A matchup between the top seed in each league’s playoff bracket should make for a compelling enough series on its own, but here a few other tidbits for those of us without a horse in the race.

Former Cardinals

Let’s start with the obvious name: Randy Arozarena. There isn’t much for me to say here that hasn’t already been said about the ALCS MVP, but if I had to make a bold prediction, look for him to not sustain a 58.3% homer-to-flyball rate through the remainder of the postseason.

On the Dodgers’ side, noted fastball control artist Joe Kelly has made his way into three playoff games in 2020. Previously, he and the 2013 Cardinals lost the World Series against Boston. Then as a member of the Red Sox in 2018, all signs pointed towards domination as Kelly captured his first title, defeating, ironically enough, the Dodgers. (Joe Kelly to the Rays to continue the pattern?)

It’s worth noting that rings are also at stake for:

  • José Martínez, who began the season with Tampa Bay before the Cubs acquired him at the trade deadline.
  • Ryan Sherriff, who worked 9.2 scoreless regular season innings for the Rays but was omitted from the postseason roster.
  • Sean Gilmartin, a former Cardinals waiver claim who never pitched in the majors for St. Louis but did so twice for the Rays this year.

Creative pitching management

I doubt the Cardinals will suddenly leap to the progressive forefront in 2021, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on where the league’s best are trending. The playoffs continue to be an interesting case study for various challenges to baseball orthodoxy including more aggressive bullpenning. This was largely due to the lack of off-days within each round, although the World Series will have the usual breaks between Games 2/3 and 5/6. To get this far, both teams made use of the opener, a tactic the Rays popularized in which the “starting” pitcher makes a brief appearance to begin the game before giving way to another pitcher for extended innings. For example, Rays reliever Ryan Thompson recorded 1.2 innings to open ALDS Game 4 with Ryan Yarbrough proceeding to toss five innings. The Dodgers have employed similar strategies, most notably Dustin May drawing the “start” for NLDS Game 3 in addition to leading off a pair of bullpen games in the NLCS.

The Rays shouldn’t need any bullpen games; the aforementioned Yarbrough, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow give them four starting pitchers to cover the best-of-seven affair. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have ample pitching depth, but their rotation picture becomes far messier beyond Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, the latter also battling back issues as of late. Julio Urías has provided Los Angeles much-needed flexibility, logging five innings of relief in NLDS Game 3, a five-inning start in NLCS Game 3, and the final nine outs of NLCS Game 7. Similarly, Tony Gonsolin started Game 2 of the NLCS and also saw relief work in Game 7 against the Braves.

Four-man outfield

115 regular season plate appearances occurred with a fourth outfielder, 60 of those (52.2%) belonging to the Rays. (If you’re curious, the Cardinals rolled with four outfielders exactly once: a one-pitch Jorge Polanco at-bat that ended with...a groundout. Baseball never ceases to amaze.) Tampa Bay has already used quadruple outfield alignments throughout the postseason as well—and they now meet a Dodgers offense with the highest flyball rate (40.3%) in all of baseball.

This World Series should be weird and fun, which is objectively the best type of baseball—especially when it’s not my team playing. I join what I imagine is the majority of VEB readers in rooting for the Rays, but it’s safe to say Tampa Bay are the underdogs in this one. I think that’s a testament to how ridiculously good this Dodgers club is more than anything else, but, hey, 2020 has seen much more bizarre things happen.