Dodgers win first World Series in 32 years
The Dodgers' bullpen did yeoman's work in a 3-1 win over the Rays in Game 6.
After 32 long years, the Dodgers are champions once again. They defeated the Rays 3-1 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on Tuesday night, taking the World Series in six games. It wouldn’t be a World Series game without second-guessing a manager, though. But first: a recap.
Randy Arozarena bolstered his playoff record, belting a solo home run in the top of the first inning to stake the Rays to an early 1-0 lead. Arozarena set the playoff record with his ninth postseason home run in Game 4. His Game 6 blast was No. 10. All 10 of his home runs came in the ALDS or later, so his achievement can’t even be discredited by the extra playoff round. Arozarena also made a strong case for World Series MVP even though his team lost.
A week ago, when I wrote my World Series preview, I mentioned that Snell hadn’t been striking batters out during the postseason. He struck out 28% of batters during the regular season but only 10 of 61 batters (16%) in his previous three postseason starts entering the World Series. Snell changed that in a heartbeat, fanning nine of the 20 batters he faced in 4 2/3 innings of work in Game 2, ultimately a 6-4 win for the Rays.
Snell continued his bat-missing ways in Game 6, looking absolutely dominant. He struck out the side – Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner – for an easy first inning. He set the side down in order again in the second with a pair of punch-outs. He worked around a leadoff single to Chris Taylor in the third, struck out the side in the fourth – Seager, Turner, and Max Muncy – and went 1-2-3 in the fifth as well. He faced 16 batters and struck out nine of them to this point.
Snell had accrued a rather economical (and nice) 69 pitches through five innings. Unsurprisingly, manager Kevin Cash let him start the sixth inning. That was never in question. Snell got A.J. Pollock to pop out on the first pitch. Austin Barnes then smacked a 1-1 slider to center field for a single, marking the Dodgers’ first base runner since Taylor’s single in the third.
Cash strode quickly out to the mound, removing a bewildered Snell from the game in favor of reliever Nick Anderson. Anderson was dominant during the regular season but struggled immensely in October, allowing runs in each of his six most recent appearances and in seven of nine appearances total.
In fairness to all of the second guessing that will be done in the coming days, my timeline was filled with iterations of “this is a bad move” from traditionalists and statheads alike. What happened next was nothing if not predictable. Betts ripped a double down the left field line, sending Barnes to third base. Facing Seager, Anderson uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Barnes to score and Betts to advance to third. Seager then hit a grounder to first baseman Ji-Man Choi, who decided to throw home in an attempt to get Betts but it was too late. Anderson was able to get Turner to fly out before Aaron Loup took over, inducing a Muncy ground out to end the frame.
From there, it was a matter of the Dodgers’ bullpen being able to handle the pressure. It was a bullpen game from the beginning, as starter Tony Gonsolin recorded only five outs before Dave Roberts called on Dylan Floro for the last out of the second. Alex Wood tossed a pair of scoreless innings. Pedro Báez got the first two outs of the fifth. Victor González got the final out of the fifth and put up a zero in the sixth. Brusdar Graterol handled the seventh, ultimately getting chased by a two-out Mike Zunino single.
Roberts then handed the ball to Julio Urías, who would prove to be his final pitcher of the game. Urías looked absolutely dominant closing out Game 7 of the NLCS against the Braves, tossing three perfect innings. He was also solid in Game 4 of the World Series, allowing only a pair of solo homers to the Rays while striking out nine in 4 2/3 innings.
Urías fanned Yandy Díaz for a quick resolution of the seventh inning. The Rays didn’t put up much of a fight in the eighth, as Arozarena lined out, Hunter Renfroe grounded out, and Brandon Lowe struck out in a 10-pitch inning. Just for good measure, Betts tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer off of Pete Fairbanks in the bottom of the eighth to make it 3-1.
It was business as usual in the ninth. Manuel Margot flied out to right field. Urías then struck out Mike Brosseau and Willy Adames to clinch the Dodger’s first World Series since 1988.
Seager, who went 8-for-23 with a pair of homer uns, six walks, six RBI, and seven runs scored, won World Series MVP honors. And the bullpen, which otherwise looked so unreliable, combined for 7 1/3 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts, no walks, and only two hits allowed.
Second-Guessing Kevin Cash
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was the skipper being constantly second-guessed during the World Series. In Game 6, the tables turned as Rays manager Kevin Cash took the heat. As mentioned, he had a quick hook with starter Blake Snell, who was dominating the Dodgers for the most part nearly through the sixth inning.
Austin Barnes, to whom Snell allowed his night-ending single, batted ninth and represented the last of the Dodgers to get a second cut. The lineup turned over with Betts ready for a third look at Snell. Given how analytics have taken over baseball, it is pretty much gospel now that there is a third-time-through-the-order penalty.
Managers always get heavily second-guessed during the World Series, it’s just part of having millions of people watching you during the most important series of the season. But as I mentioned, there was nearly unanimous agreement among the traditionalists and statheads that I follow on Twitter – I follow over 1,000 people, many of whom were actively tweeting about the game – that Cash’s hook of Snell was premature.
Former player Alex Rodriguez was among those to chime in with criticism of Cash. He wrote, “Computers running the game. Not humans. Binders lead to blinders. Manage with blinders on, you miss what’s actually happening in real time.”
Overall, there was a large reactionary pile-on to analytics, blaming them for Cash’s poor decision. And there is definitely some room for criticism. However, it’s worth noting that the Rays’ analytics department – not just Cash – should be held accountable for this, then, as they likely went into Game 6 with a game plan. Cash’s potential decisions were almost certainly discussed ahead of time depending on what happened. Snell dealing, but the lineup turns over for a third time with a runner on base? Bullpen time. Snell dealing, lineup turns over but the bases are empty? Snell can try to finish the inning.
I have not been shy criticizing analytics in this space, and there’s a lot more criticism that should be done, especially from a labor point of view. That being said, analytics are an eventuality in any solvable game with sufficient technology. The motivation is especially present with the billions of dollars and fame at stake every year as is the case in baseball. If you run 1,000 simulations of our world beginning in, say, 1990, and we continue to advance with technology the way we have, Major League Baseball will always eventually be taken over by analytics because it’s efficient and yields results.
The issue is not with analytics but with its application. For one, as I mentioned, they’re used to exploit the players’ labor, which is extremely problematic. More relevant to recent events, though, some use them inflexibly. The Rays, indeed, seemed to utilize analytics inflexibly for Game 6 of the World Series, causing them to remove their ace too early. The front office and Cash could have simply decided to allow Snell to continue pitching but otherwise relied on stats for strategic clues.
Remember, though, that until Tuesday night, the Rays had been praised from every direction for utilizing analytics to overcome financial disadvantages within the sport. The Rays had a payroll of approximately $94 million in 2020 while the Dodgers came in at a lofty $225 million, nearly 2.5 times more. The Dodgers, not to be left out of this, were one of the first teams to fully buy into the analytics movement. Analytics won this debate years ago and continues to win year after year, including in 2020. Treating Snell’s early hook in Game 6 of the World Series as a referendum on analytics is misguided.
Justin Turner Tests Positive for COVID-19
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was mysteriously removed from the game to begin the eighth inning. Edwin Ríos took over at the hot corner. At the time, many were confused, wondering if this was Roberts making a late-game defensive replacement or if Turner might have gotten injured somehow.
The truth was much worse: Turner tested positive for COVID-19, Fox reported after the conclusion of the game. Turner’s test from Monday came back inconclusive. MLB got word from their Utah-based lab about that during the second inning of Game 6. His test from Tuesday was then expedited and came up positive. Informed of that near the end of the seventh inning, MLB passed word along to the Dodgers and told them to remove Turner from the game.
Turner was spotted celebrating with his team on the field after the game, holding the World Series trophy and hugging his teammates. He also posed for non-socially-distanced pictures with his teammates and kissed his wife without a mask.
(Roberts is on the left, Turner is in the middle with the beard, and Andrew Friedman is on the other side of the trophy.)
Why did it take more than 24 hours for Monday’s test results to come back? MLB boasted before the season begin in July that its tests would have 24-hour (or quicker) turnaround time. Why did MLB treat an inconclusive result as a negative rather than a positive? Why was Turner allowed back on the field after the game? Why did anyone willingly come within six feet of him and without a mask? Why did Turner take his mask off? In fact, why did he bother returning to the field at all? At minimum, MLB should have made Turner return to and remain in his hotel, interacting with as few people as possible, or find some place within the stadium to serve as a place to safely quarantine, at least until the crowd thinned out.
MLB’s handling of testing has been subpar from the very beginning. And enforcement of mask-wearing and social distancing among players and coaches has been close to nonexistent. It completely went out of the window once the season was officially over. Manfred is just lucky the game ended tonight instead of forcing a Game 7 with Game 6 potentially acting as a superspreader event.
As much fun as this postseason was, and as much of a distraction as it might have been during a really tough time, it was always immoral and unethical to have the players put on this season during a pandemic. MLB deserves to have what should be its most important, most watched, most feels-good moment of the year marred by its own greed and incompetence.
The 2020 season is officially over. It has been a strange year, but I wanted to take the time to thank you for following me and continuing to read my work, whether or not you’re a paying subscriber here.
I lost my full-time job with NBC Sports in early August. It was my dream job and losing it was crushing. Losing your job sucks. Losing your job because of a once-a-century pandemic sucks even worse.
While my loyal subscribers here allow me to afford food and to continue paying off my car loan, simply having an outlet to continue writing about baseball has also been nice. Continuing to interact with those of you who followed me over from NBC has given me people to be accountable to and a sense of normalcy in a world seemingly bereft of it. So, truly: thank you.
Despite the season ending, this is certainly not goodbye for now. We have an offseason full of uncertainty and I’m ready to cover it. If you’d like to join me on this adventure, you can subscribe for just $5/month or $50 for an entire year. Subscribers get access to every single post, including past posts, not just the one per week that I make free to read. Subscribers can also ask me a polite, safe-for-work, baseball-related (or tangentially baseball-related) question for my mailbags that I’m obligated to answer.
With an entire offseason coming up, I’m doing another mailbag. Want me to predict where your favorite free agent player lands? Curious what a big contract might look like during a pandemic? Wondering which 2020 rules might stick around? Ask me whatever’s on your mind. Leave a comment here, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or @ me on Twitter. I’ll post the mailbag with my answers at some point in the next week or two.