Buckle Up, Dodgers: Rays Set Stage for Classic World Series with Game 2 Triumph

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 22, 2020

Tampa Bay Rays' Brandon Lowe celebrates a two-run home run with Willy Adames during the fifth inning in Game 2 of the baseball World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers are now on even ground in the 2020 World Series.

Following an 8-3 loss in Game 1 on Tuesday, the Rays bounced back Wednesday with a 6-4 win. Ace left-hander Blake Snell took a no-hitter into the fifth, while Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle combined to drive in all six of Tampa Bay's runs.

For their part, the Dodgers' experience in Game 2 is liable to raise questions about the club's pitching staff and manager Dave Roberts' handling of it. Combined with the Rays' awakening, such things point toward a long, hard-fought series.

        

Notable Players of the Game

Three for the Rays:

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  • SP Blake Snell: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 2 R (2 ER), 9 K. Though Snell failed to make it out of the fifth inning, the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner held the Dodgers hitless through four and generally had nasty stuff throughout. Thus did he wash away the bad taste left by Tyler Glasnow's rough outing in Game 1.
  • 2B Brandon Lowe: 2-for-5, 2 HR, 3 RBI. Given how cold he had been in the postseason before Wednesday's game, it's huge for the Rays that Lowe broke out with two homers in Game 2.
  • 3B Joey Wendle: 1-for-3, 1 2B, 3 RBI. He didn't go yard, but he nonetheless matched Lowe's RBI count by way of a two-run double in the fourth and a sacrifice fly in the sixth.

       

Three for the Dodgers:

  • RHP Dustin May: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 3 R (3 ER), 1 K. Roberts needed length from May after inserting him with two outs in the fourth inning. But the hard-throwing right-hander fooled nobody, giving up hard-hit balls to six of the eight batters he faced.
  • 2B Enrique Hernandez: 0-for-1, 1 R, 1 K. It's fair to single out Hernandez because of how he booted a would-be double-play ball in the fourth. If he had fielded it cleanly, the Dodgers would have escaped the inning before Wendle's double.
  • SS Corey Seager: 2-for-4, 1 HR, 1 RBI. He joined Chris Taylor (here) and Will Smith (here) in going deep in Game 2, thereby collecting his seventh home run of the postseason.

       

How the Rays Dusted Themselves Off and Put the Dodgers on the Defensive

After winning an MLB-best 43 games and fighting back from a 3-1 deficit against Atlanta in the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers entered the World Series as a heavy favorite to win it.

They indeed looked the part in Game 1. Clayton Kershaw easily outpitched Glasnow, while the Dodgers offense, which outscored Tampa Bay's by 60 runs during the regular season, erupted for 10 hits (including home runs by MVPs Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts) and eight runs.

The series is now tied, however, in large part because Tampa Bay's best offensive player finally showed up in Game 2.

After making his first All-Star team in 2019, Lowe only continued to improve by putting up a .916 OPS and 14 homers for the Rays in 2020. Yet you'd never know it from watching him in these playoffs, wherein he mustered only six hits through Tampa Bay's first 15 games.

Evidently, something clicked for Lowe in Game 2. His home runs left the bat at 104.0 and 105.9 mph, and both went out to the opposite field. This is after he hit zero home runs the other way during the regular season.

Without Lowe at his best, it's little wonder the Rays previously had to win in spite of their offense throughout the playoffs. Notably, they mustered only 25 runs in a seven-game tilt with the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series. If Lowe can stay hot, those days may be over.

Of course, the catch is that Lowe and the Rays offense didn't go off against the Dodgers' best pitchers in Game 2. Rather than Kershaw or fellow ace Walker Buehler, rookie right-hander Tony Gonsolin opened the game and collected only four outs before Roberts turned the reins over to his bullpen.

This is, however, also the scary part for the Dodgers.

Wednesday's game serves as a stark reminder that Kershaw and Buehler are their only reliable starters right now. Roberts otherwise has to do what he can with Gonsolin, May and Julio Urias as openers. It's not a good sign that the first two have now been charged with 13 earned runs over 12 innings dating back to Game 2 of the NLCS.

There's also, of course, the matter of how well suited Roberts is to managing his bullpen.

In his five seasons at the Dodgers' helm, his decisions in that particular arena have been criticized by everyone from writers to presidents. Between his quick hook for Gonsolin and his curious usage of May, Joe Kelly and Alex Wood, Roberts only reinvigorated his critics in Game 2.

There's now extra pressure on Kershaw (next in Game 5) and Buehler (Game 3) to get it done when they take the ball. And it's also on the Dodgers offense to hit less like it did in Game 2 and more like it did in Game 1. Neither should be too much to ask, yet there's also room for doubt in the equation.

For Kershaw, success in the playoffs has tended to be fleeting. Buehler is as nasty as any pitcher in baseball, but his nagging blister issues have mostly rendered him a five-inning pitcher.

And while Game 1 showcased the depth and star power of Los Angeles' offense, Game 2 shone a light on another reality: The Rays, who ranked third with a 3.56 ERA in the regular season, have by far the best pitching staff the Dodgers have seen this season.

So if anyone was projecting a short series after the Dodgers dominated Game 1, it's officially time to rethink those calculations.

       

Where the World Series Stands

-The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1. After an off day Thursday, the Dodgers and Rays will play Game 3 at Globe Life Field on Friday at 8:08 p.m. ET.

-The Dodgers, who'll switch to being the "away" team, will start Buehler in Game 3. The Rays, who will become the "home" team," will counter with veteran righty Charlie Morton.

-Game 4 is slated for Saturday, with Game 5 on Sunday.

     

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.