ARLINGTON, Texas — Go ahead, pick your poison.
You're on the hill against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and first up is the guy who may get his second MVP in three years. You'd better not feed Mookie a cookie.
So yep, work around Mookie Betts as best you can. Then comes Corey Seager, who was just named as the NLCS MVP against Atlanta and also will snag some regular-season MVP votes this year. Next you've got to deal with Justin Turner, who has one NLCS MVP already and is to October in Los Angeles what pumpkin spice is to Starbucks. Double pump, please.
On and on it goes, so deep and so fearsome that last year's NL MVP, Cody Bellinger, is hitting sixth, for crying out loud.
What we're watching now—these Dodgers who bludgeoned the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2 in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night to move to within two wins of a championship—are the Dodgers who have come as advertised over the years while piling up eight consecutive NL West titles and three NL pennants in the past four years.
But there is no false advertising this time.
These Dodgers are the deepest and best version of themselves, and they are beginning to serve notice nightly: Mess with them at your own risk. But your reflexes better be sharp, and you'd better be able to duck.
"It's not always about driving the ball," said Betts, who went 2-for-5 and stole two more bases in Game 3, giving him four in the first three games of this World Series. "I think we've proven we can do that, and we've proven we can take our singles too.
"We've done a good job putting pride aside for long ball and playing pepper. Sometimes, that's the way to play the game."
The Dodgers are relentless, a lineup that, in today's parlance, has enviable "length" and is as well-balanced as a team can be—right-handed batter, left-handed, right, left, right, left, right, left, right went the hitters one-through-nine who bludgeoned Rays starter Charlie Morton in Game 3.
They play the long game: Turner launched a 1-2 heater for a homer in the first inning.
They play the short game: Catcher Austin Barnes dropped a beautifully executed safety squeeze bunt to score Bellinger in the fourth.
Sometimes they do both: Barnes, after the RBI squeeze bunt, smashed an 0-2 pitch deep into the stands two innings later.
Long ball and pepper, by the way, sounds like an early treatment for a movie or a recipe to win a World Series. Betts dropped the pepper reference—noting shortened swings and sharpened approaches—when asked about the endless buffet of professional at-bats these Dodgers are producing, evidenced especially by this astounding number: The Dodgers this postseason now have scored an incredible 50 runs with two out.
"I didn't realize that," manager Dave Roberts, who oversees this embarrassment of riches, said. "I think it's just a credit to these guys, really every single at-bat, just fighting."
Roberts mentioned Turner's homer, Max Muncy's two-out, two-run single against Morton in the third that pushed Los Angeles' lead to 3-0.
"The fight, the at-bat quality, regardless of the game score, they're really competing in every at-bat," Roberts said.
Take Seager's leadoff at-bat in the ninth inning against Rays rookie left-hander Shane McClanahan. The Dodgers were leading 6-1, and the game was essentially over. Seager already had scored one run and reached twice, when he was hit by a pitch and when he walked.
So what happens? He locks in for what turned into an epic, 10-pitch duel with McClanahan. Seager won it with a single. Didn't mean a darn thing in this game, as things turned out. Except...
"Those are things that might help down road in this series," Roberts pointed out. "We've done it a lot in this series."
Indeed, go back to the third inning after Seager was hit by a pitch with two out: Turner battled Morton for six pitches before belting a double, and then Muncy worked six more pitches before rapping the RBI single.
Facing this Dodgers lineup is like seeing how long you can hold your breath underwater. And Tampa Bay's pitchers are bubbling up and gasping for air.
Meanwhile, after building three decks for his home and those of his fiancee's two brothers in his native Kentucky earlier this year, Buehler spent Game 3 building a bridge toward the title.
He blitzed the Rays with an assortment of 98 mph fastballs, 87 mph sliders, 82 mph cutters and 81 mph knuckle-curves. He became the first man ever to strike out 10 hitters in six or fewer innings in a World Series game (he went six). As analyst Rick Monday said during the Dodgers' radio broadcast at one point in Game 3, "He's not only throwing hard; he's doing surgery on the strike zone."
Buehler now has a 1.80 ERA this postseason and 39 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched. This was a bad matchup for Tampa Bay from the start, as the Rays offense struck out 608 times this season, more than any other MLB team. That includes double-digit strikeouts in seven consecutive games to end the season and in 18 of the Rays' last 25 beginning Aug. 31.
Bottom line, stars must play like stars in order for a team to win the World Series. And in Betts, Turner, Seager, Bellinger, Buehler and the rest of their constellation, these Dodgers are a baseball astronomer's dream.
Look, Tampa Bay is a good team and a fun story in a Little Engine That Could sort of way. And the Rays can still win this World Series. But their path there is a whole lot more hidden and complicated than Los Angeles'.
And if the Dodgers stars keep playing like stars, well, we all know how this ends. Especially if they keep punishing everybody in sight with two-out rallies. Talk about demoralizing for the other guys.
"You're one out away and a walk here, a single here, a double here. Next thing you know, you've given up couple of runs, and it's tough to stop the bleeding," Betts said.
Turner extended his postseason on-base streak to 11 games Friday. During that time, he's batted .285 with five doubles, two homers and two RBI while reaching base in 19 of 49 plate appearances.
Betts is hitting .316 this postseason with six doubles, a homer and six RBI, Muncy has six RBI in this World Series and Seager has clubbed seven homers this postseason.
The Dodgers hit more home runs than anybody during the season (118), led the majors with a +136 run differential and were the only team in the game not to be shut out in 2020. There are not enough bottles of Aleve at your local pharmacy to reduce the headache of facing them.
Turner said he's been off at the plate for much of this month and noted after Game 3 that Friday was the first time he felt good in all five plate appearances.
"How you see the ball, decision-making, pitches you're swinging at, pitches you're checking off on, finding barrels," Turner said. "I felt like I was in the best position I've been in all postseason in terms of swinging what I wanted to swing at and checking off on others, except for maybe that 3-2 cutter from Morton in my third at-bat [a strikeout]."
So now, the Dodgers stand just two wins away from their first World Series title since 1988. And it's worth pausing for a moment to think back to where all this was back in, say, April.
"There was a point during the [coronavirus] shutdown that I was on lot of those phone calls, and I wasn't sure if we'd get to the point of having season," said Turner, the Dodgers' player representative. "With all the stuff going on in the world right now, I'm proud of the players and staff. All the work that's gone into the protocols and making good decisions and the right choices to make sure we were able to have a season. ..."
And, this postseason.
This is a team that, at one point in April and May—had the season been canceled—faced the prospect of Betts moving on to free agency without ever playing a game in a Dodgers uniform and also seeing Turner's highly decorated tenure as a Dodger come to a stunningly quiet end.
Yeah, this is better for Los Angeles. And, it is Betts-er.
So much Betts-er.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter to talk baseball.