World Series reset: Do Dodgers or Rays have the edge after splitting first two games?

Mike Oz
·4-min read

Now it’s time to breathe. The Major League Baseball postseason has been a whirlwind of more teams, more games and fewer breaks. After Game 2 of the World Series — which the Rays won decisively — we’re at an unprecedented juncture in this postseason: A day off.

The Dodgers and the Rays will both tell you that they’ll take it.

Having more teams in the postseason was the more talked about change, but the more impactful one is playing all these postseason games without a day to rest. Particularly when many of these teams used to playing in October are also used to having travel days to rest their pitchers. No travel days in the bubble, no breaks for the pitchers.

You saw it in Game 2. There was no rest for the Dodgers. They didn’t really have a starting pitcher, so they trotted out Tony Gonsolin in the first and used four pitchers in four innings, hoping someone would do well. Not exactly a winning formula. Mixed results led to an early Rays advantage and ultimately a 6-4 win.

A day off also gives us a chance to assess where the rest of this series is headed, so let’s look at a few categories.

STARTING PITCHING: Advantage, Dodgers

If the Dodgers were going to lose a game, Game 2 seems acceptable. They’ll come back with Walker Buehler in Game 3, Julio Urias in Game 4 and Clayton Kershaw in Game 5. That rotation almost makes it feel like Game 3 is Game 1 — it has a little more reset to it.

The Rays, meanwhile, used two of their best pitchers already. They have Charlie Morton lined up for Game 3 and who knows after that. Probably a little bit of bullpenning like the Dodgers did in Game 2.

Chaos led up to it, but the Dodgers seem better set for Games 3-5.

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin leaves the game against the Tampa Bay Rays during the second inning in Game 2 of the baseball World Series Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Dodgers pitcher Tony Gonsolin started Game 2, but only pitched into the second inning after also being used in NLCS Game 7. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

BULLPEN: Advantage, Rays

After getting knocked around a bit in Game 1, the Rays bullpen returned triumphantly in Game 2. On paper, they are the better bullpen, they just needed to pitch like it. We saw it Wednesday night. Even though they got a strong start from Blake Snell, when he started to crumble, the bullpen was there to pick up the pieces. Nick Anderson, Aaron Loup and Peter Fairbanks all pitched well in relief.

The Dodgers bullpen still has question marks, starting with their biggest name, Kenley Jansen. Alex Wood and Jake McGee pitched well in Game 2, but consistency hasn’t been this unit’s forte as a whole. After a lot of exertion in NLCS Game 7 and Wednesday’s Game 2, they need those starters to come through and provide some breathing room.

LINEUP: Advantage, Dodgers

The Rays certainly got a boost with the reintroduction of Brandon Lowe, who had been their MVP in the regular season and disappeared in the postseason. His two homers showed that the Rays can win without Randy Arozarena having a huge game.

But the advantage here still has to go to the Dodgers. Even in the loss, we saw another homer from Corey Seager and another big hit from Will Smith. The whole lineup can hit. As out of reach as the game felt at times, there were two instances where the Dodgers could have tied it up with one swing.

It’s not just two guys who can hurt you. Baseball players love to talk about grinding down their opponents. Almost to the point of cliché. But it’s actually what the Dodgers do and how they beat their opponents.

Tampa Bay Rays' Brandon Lowe rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning in Game 2 of the baseball World Series Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Can Rays slugger Brandon Lowe keep the hits coming against Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw? (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Why Game 3 might be a must-win

While the tally above says 2-1 Dodgers, it’s still a very close series that could swing either way.

If we’re forecasting must-win games now, Game 3 looms large. Sure, every World Series game feels like a must-win, but the way the pitching slots in, this could really swing the advantage to either side.

The Dodgers have their best pitcher on the mound in Buehler. Ideally, they count on winning the games he pitches. If they can win that and then enter Game 4 without a legit Rays starter to oppose them, they have to like their chances.

Meanwhile, the Rays likely have to beat Buehler to win this series, so Game 3 is equally important for them. If they can, then the dominoes can fall much more easily — Urias and Kershaw next, then probably a repeat of Game 2 in Game 6. The Rays will take that if they can get it.

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