After a dominant 8-3 win in Game 1, the Dodgers offense was stymied by Blake Snell and four relievers in Game 2. With the balance of power in the series up for grabs, Los Angeles handed the ball to Walker Buehler for his first appearance in the Fall Classic.
The Rays countered with their veteran ace, Charlie Morton, who owned a 0.70 ERA in his previous five playoff starts dating back to last year.
Buehler came out on top with a brilliant performance. The right-hander struck out 10 and allowed one run on three hits over six innings. The offense picked Morton apart with five of their six runs coming during his 4.1 innings.
Justin Turner and Austin Barnes each hit solo homers in the win.
Notable Game Stats
- Walker Buehler (LAD): 6 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 10 K
- Mookie Betts (LAD): 2-for-5, RBI, 2 SB
- Justin Turner (LAD): 2-for-5, 2B, Solo HR
- Austin Barnes (LAD): 1-for-3, Solo HR, 2 RBI
- Charlie Morton (TB): 4.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, BB, 6 K
- Willy Adames (TB): 1-for-3, 2B, RBI
Versatile Dodgers Cruise to Easy Win
When MLB fans think of versatility, the Rays are often the first team that comes to mind. They posted the best record in the American League during the regular season thanks to a deep bullpen and the use of extra defenders in the outfield.
But the Dodgers play their own unique style that can breed success. Justin Turner got the scoring started with a solo homer in the top of the first, but their next four runs off Morton were from a combination of stringing hits together and playing small ball.
Los Angeles' lineup is arguably the deepest in MLB, but that group was going against a pitcher who doesn't typically give up many runs in the playoffs. In the battle between an irresistible force and an immovable object, the Dodgers' hitting got the better of things in Game 3.
L.A. has shown it is capable of getting to Tampa's pitching. The Dodgers scored eight runs over three innings in the middle of Game 1. They chased Morton from the mound after 4.1 frames.
While the offense was doing its job, Buehler continued his career-long playoff dominance. The 26-year-old extended his MLB record of consecutive postseason starts with at least six strikeouts:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Tonight is Walk Buehler's 11th postseason start, and he's struck out at least 6 in all of them. He extends his record streak of games with 6 K tonight. Buehler is the 7th pitcher in MLB history to accumulate at least 80 K through his first 11 postseason appearances. https://t.co/b03CiwuC8D
The Rays' lineup hasn't been a strength in October. Six of the nine hitters used by manager Kevin Cash in Game 3 had an OPS of .685 or lower.
Since the Rays can't outhit the Dodgers, their biggest advantage was going to be on the mound. Morton has proved himself to be a big-game pitcher, but Friday was his worst playoff showing since Game 3 of the 2017 ALCS against the New York Yankees.
Los Angeles' ability to play any style has served it well all season. Now, that versatility has the National League champions two wins away from a World Series title.
Struggling Morton, Offense Put Rays in World Series Hole
It's hard to overstate how important Morton is to making the Rays as good as they were during the season. He had a 2.84 postseason ERA in 12 previous playoff appearances.
When the Rays have been in a crucial moment, Morton, more often than not, has been the pitcher they will turn to.
The last time Tampa was in a 1-1 playoff series and needed a win, Morton got the ball in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Yankees. He delivered by allowing only two runs (one earned) over five innings in an 8-4 win for the Rays.
Things took a dark turn for Morton, who saw second-shortest playoff start of his career.
If the Rays aren't going to get great pitching, whether from their starters or their bullpen, they will have a difficult time being successful. Their lineup ranked eighth overall in FanGraphs offensive value but 13th in weighted on-base average.
In their two World Series game losses, the Rays have a total of 10 hits and five runs. If they want to even the series, that group has to show up against Dodgers pitchers to at least give their own starter a fighting chance.
Morton has proved himself to be capable of bouncing back if he gets a second chance.
In order for that second chance to come, the Rays have to start hitting like they did in Game 2. If they don't, this series will be over before the Rays figure out what hit them.
The Dodgers and Rays will play Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday at 8:08 p.m. ET on Fox.