The World Series kicks off on Tuesday, and for the fourth straight season, the Cubs will be watching from home.
In a matchup of No. 1 seeds, the Dodgers — who the Cubs dispatched in the 2016 NLCS to advance to the Fall Classic — are taking on the Rays. The two franchises are quite different — although both have done tremendous jobs building their farm systems, the Dodgers have one of the game’s highest payrolls. The Rays consistently have one of the lowest.
One thing the clubs have in common is they each have a few easy to miss Cubs connections. Here's a few to look out for as you watch the series.
Your eyes won't be deceiving you when the Dodgers have a mound visit. Their pitching coach is none other than former Cubs starter Mark Prior, making his first World Series appearance in that position. Of course, Prior was on the mound when the Cubs were five outs away from the 2003 World Series, before they collapsed late in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Marlins.
That was only Prior’s second big league season, but his career was cut short by shoulder and elbow injuries. He attempted comebacks with the Padres, Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox and Reds from 2008-13 but never made another big-league appearance after 2006.
Prior worked his way up the coaching ranks, joining the Padres front office 2013 before being named minor league pitching coordinator in 2015. The Dodgers named him bullpen coach in 2018, and then pitching coach after the 2019 season.
Prior isn’t the only former Cub on Los Angeles’ staff. Outfielder Brant Brown, who joined the club as assistant hitting coach starting in 2018, is a co-hitting coach. You may remember him from this notorious play late in the 1998 season.
That loss nearly cost the Cubs in their three-team race for the NL Wild Card. They wound up in a tie with the Giants, forcing a Game 163 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won that game 5-3 to clinch their first playoff berth since 1989.
While we’re on the subject of 1990s Cubs, outfielder Ozzie Timmons is Tampa Bay’s first base coach. Timmons, a fifth-round pick by the Cubs in 1991 (and 44th-round by the White Sox in 1988), played 142 games with the Cubs from 1995-96. He hit .235/.299/.431 and was out of the major leagues after 2000.
One person who has left a mark on both the Dodgers and Rays — and in a way, the Cubs — is Andrew Friedman. The Dodgers president spent 11 years in the Rays front office, including a run as general manager from 2006-14.
Friedman leaving for the Dodgers after 2014 allowed Joe Maddon to trigger an opt out in his Rays contract and become the Cubs manager. Maddon led the Cubs to their 2016 championship, and the Dodgers have yet to win a title under Friedman (losing the 2017 and '18 World Series).
Friedman was also rumored to be in the mix for the Cubs’ general manager opening in 2011, before they hired Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer as president and GM. Now, Epstein’s future in Chicago is uncertain, while Friedman signed a contract extension with Los Angeles after last season.
Lastly, Cubs fans should have extra appreciation seeing Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena break out this October. Last winter, the rival Cardinals traded him (and current Cub José Martínez) to the Rays in a deal that sent pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore to St. Louis.
At the time of the deal, Arozarena was the Cardinals' No. 10 prospect (MLB Pipeline) and Liberatore was No. 4 for the Rays. However, it’s safe to say the Rays are happy with Arozarena, who has set the rookie record for most home runs in a single postseason (7 and counting).