With the Fall Classic knotted up at one game apiece, hard-throwing right-hander’s Walker Buehler and Charlie Morton are set to face off in a pivotal Game 3 matchup between the Dodgers and Rays at Globe Life Field in Arlington on Friday evening. The World Series is a marathon, not a sprint. However, from a purely historical standpoint, the winner of Game 3 in a tied best-of-seven series has gone on to win 69 percent (65 of 94 series) of the time.
The Rays' lineup came alive in a much-needed Game 2 victory on Wednesday, putting them in a position to take control of the series. Second baseman Brandon Lowe, who had been mired in a well-documented playoff slump -- hitting .107 (6-for-56) with one home run over 61 plate appearances -- homered twice and drove in three runs, headlining the Rays’ offensive outburst against a parade of Dodgers’ relievers. Seeking their first World Series title in franchise history, the Rays will turn to veteran righty Charlie Morton in Game 3. On the heels of a pedestrian performance during the shortened 2020 regular season, the 36-year-old curveball artist has been simply outstanding this postseason, compiling a microscopic 0.57 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 17/4 K/BB ratio across 15 2/3 innings through three starts. He scattered two hits and one walk, while striking out six, over 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Astros -- his former team -- in Game 7 of the ALCS, leading the Rays to the World Series.
Meanwhile the Dodgers, who have won eight consecutive NL West division crowns and are back in the World Series for the third time in the last four years, find themselves at a true inflection point in the best-of-seven series, seeking their first title since 1988. Their reliance on seven relievers, including a pair of former starters in rookie right-hander’s Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May -- who were tagged for a combined four runs over 2 2/3 frames -- in a Game 2 loss on Wednesday, further underscored the importance of veteran left-hander Clayton Kershaw’s six-inning gem in the series opener. It also amplifies the pressure on their undisputed staff ace, right-hander Walker Buehler, to deliver in a crucial Game 3 matchup on Friday night. The 26-year-old flamethrower dealt with a recurring blister issue, which sapped his effectiveness and adversely impacted his performance over the final month of the truncated regular season. Yet, he’s been magnificent, posting a sublime 1.89 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 29/11 K/BB ratio across 19 innings (four starts) this postseason. He’ll be pitching on an extra day of rest after hurling six scoreless frames against the Braves in Game 6 of the NLCS last weekend. He’s lined up for a potential Game 7 start on normal rest, but could be available earlier in the series, if needed for an elimination contest.
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Eventually, the loaded bullpens will take over. However, for at least a few innings, Buehler and Morton will lock horns in a throwback pitcher’s duel. That may not be the case in Game 4 as the Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is expected to open with lefty swingman Julio Urias, who has allowed only two runs (one earned) with a 16/3 K/BB ratio across 16 innings (four appearances, one start), oscillating between the rotation and the bullpen, this postseason. Rays manager Kevin Cash hasn’t confirmed a Game 4 starter yet, but has indicated to reporters that lefty reliever Ryan Yarbrough, who threw 19 pitches and recorded two outs in a Game 1 relief appearance, will be in line for a significant workload. With the bullpens set to take over in Game 4 and a heavyweight rematch between Kershaw and Tyler Glasnow on tap for Game 5, the series could hinge on the performances of Buehler and Morton on Friday night.
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system forecasted prior to the World Series that “Los Angeles has a 75.5 percent chance to win the series, while Tampa Bay has a 24.5 percent chance to win the series.” The Dodgers are the more talented squad on paper, and they’re extremely persistent, as evidenced by their NLCS comeback against the Braves. A longer series plays right into their hands, simply by enabling them to get a pair of starts out of Kershaw and Buehler, while relying less on swingman types like Urias, May and Gonsolin as traditional starters. The central question for the Rays is whether their extraordinarily talented bullpen can survive an extended series against a formidable and relentless Dodgers’ lineup.
Major League Baseball Quick Hits: LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Thursday that “as of now, the DH will be AL-only next season.” Neal also noted that “the union and MLB would have to expand it to both leagues through bargaining.” The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) runs through the end of the 2021 campaign … Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported Thursday that the Red Sox have interviewed Cubs coach Will Venable for their managerial opening. He also noted that Dodgers coach George Lombard and Pirates coach Don Kelly are thought to be on their radar, but that former manager Alex Cora is viewed as the favorite to return … Padres left-hander Matt Strahm will undergo surgery to repair a patellar tendon in his right knee … Nationals re-signed INF/OF Josh Harrison to a one-year contract … Carl Edwards Jr. Matt Magill and Nestor Cortes have elected free agency after being outrighted from the Mariners’ 40-man roster … Kevin Long will return as the Nationals' hitting coach in 2021.