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Dodgers-Rays rare wild-card era matchup of baseball's best
spt_ap_MLB World Series preview
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Shane McClanahan stands next to the pitcher's mound at Globe Life Field as the team prepares for the baseball World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, in Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The World Series matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays is a rare meeting of baseball's best for the title, and a matchup of organizations with Andrew Friedman's imprint.

Friedman was the Rays' director of baseball operations from 2004-05 and then general manager from until he left in October 2014 to become the Dodgers' president of baseball operations.

Game 1 is Tuesday night.

Retired first baseman James Loney, a veteran of both organizations, describes the Rays as "feisty."

"We were always fighting. But we always did feel like we were the better team," he said Sunday. "I don't ever feel like we went out there overmatched. We didn't care who was pitching. We didn't care what kind of lineup they had. We were bringing that mentality and I think the Rays team this year has that."

"Both teams are really committed to winning and trying to find any kind of edge they could," added Loney, who played for the Dodgers from 2006-11 and the Rays from 2013-15. "The Rays are really known for their analytics and getting in there, trying to find different ways to beat hard teams: Is it a bullpen guy that we need to use in maybe an unorthodox situation? And the Dodgers, I felt we kind of started doing that towards the end of my career."

Despite the shortened schedule and expanded playoffs, the teams with the best record in each league meet in the World Series for just the fourth time since Major League Baseball realigned each league into three divisions in 1995.

Reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger, newcomer Mookie Betts and manager Dave Roberts' Dodgers went 43-17, the best record in the National League by eight wins. They overcame a 3-1 deficit in the NL Championship Series, beat Atlanta 4-3 on Bellinger's late home run in Game 7 Sunday night and reached the World Series for the third time in four years. 

Rookie sensation Randy Arozarena and skipper Kevin Cash's bullpen-rich Rays were 40-20 and topped the American League by four victories. They also won a Game 7, topping Houston 4-2 in the ALCS and earning the second World Series trip in franchise history.

"Going to be a fun Series," Bellinger said.

Because of its superior record, Los Angeles has "home field advantage" when the neutral-site Series starts in Arlington, Texas, and will bat last in Games 1 and 2, and then in 6 and 7, if necessary.

"From the moment that we were able to put a season together, once they figured out that COVID thing, everybody was expecting us to get to the World Series. We were expecting to get to the World Series," said Kiké Hernández, who tied Game 7 with a pinch-hit home run in the sixth inning.

About 11,000 fans will be allowed at Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers with a retractable roof, for each game.

Corey Seager and AJ Pollock boost LA's offense and Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw head the pitching staff. The Dodgers won their 24th pennant by getting past Milwaukee, San Diego and Atlanta, but have not won a title since 1988, falling short in a seven-game Series loss to Houston in 2017 and a five-game defeat to Boston the following year. 

The Dodgers have won half their pennants since leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season.

Tampa Bay is in the Series for the second time and is among six current franchises that have never won, joined by Colorado, Milwaukee, Texas, San Diego and Seattle. The Rays lost to Philadelphia in five games in 2008.

While the Dodgers topped the major leagues with a $95.6 million prorated payroll as of Aug. 1, the Rays were 28th at $29.3 million, according to figures compiled by Major League Baseball. Only Baltimore ($23.8 million) and Pittsburgh ($23.6 million) were lower.

Tampa Bay's offense is much less known to most fans. The Rays' top hitter during the season was Brandon Lowe with 14 homers and 37 RBIs, but he slumped to .115 (6 for 52) with two RBIs in the playoffs. Arozarena has been the breakout star of the postseason, hitting .382 with seven homers and 10 RBIs.

Pitching has been key, with Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton leading the Rays past Toronto, the New York Yankees and Houston. Tampa Bay also is known for taking an innovative approach to the game, employing a versatile staff and occasionally using a four-man outfield.

Since the postseason doubled to eight teams in 1995, the only World Series between the top regular-season records in each league were Atlanta's victory over Cleveland in 1995, the New York Yankees' win over the Braves in 1998 and Boston's triumph over St. Louis in 2013 — all in six games.

Baseball's postseason keeps getting bigger, expanding to 10 teams in 2012 and 16 this year, when the coronavirus pandemic caused the regular-season schedule for each team to be cut from the normal 162 games.

The Rays and Dodgers haven't played that much over the years, only 17 times overall. LA has won 10 of them.

Loney is among a group to have played for both teams that includes Carl Crawford, Jose Cruz, Logan Forsythe, Dioner Navarro and J.P. Howell.

And they share a notorious player in common: Manny Ramirez was acquired by the Dodgers from Boston in July 2008 and stayed until August 2010. He signed with the Rays for the 2011 season but retired after five games rather than face a 100-game suspension for a positive drug test. 

Tampa Bay began as an expansion team in 1998 and transformed from Devil Rays to plain old Rays for the 2008 season, the first after Stuart Sternberg bought control from founding owner Vince Naimoli. The Rays beat Boston in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series that year as Matt Garza outpitched Jon Lester. Evan Longoria, Willy Aybar and Rocco Baldelli then lost to Philadelphia in a World Series that remains the second-lowest viewed since television ratings are available dating to 1968.

In an attempt to become more of a regional draw, Tampa Bay moved a three-game home series to the Braves' then-spring training ballpark in Kissimmee in May 2007 and another in April 2008.

The Dodgers are among baseball's most traditional teams, playing at two ballparks for most of the past century-plus: Brooklyn's Ebbets Field (1913-57) and Dodger Stadium (since 1962), with a short stop at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (from 1958-61). Dodger Stadium remains one of baseball's iconic venues, with seats of yellow, light orange, foam green and light blue, and the San Gabriel Mountains beyond the outfield pavilions.

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg is known for its quirky catwalks that obstruct popups and its largely empty seats. The ballpark was known previously as the Florida Suncoast Dome (1990-93) and ThunderDome (1993-96), and team has fought unsuccessfully for ballpark projects at the site of nearby Al Lang Field (abandoned in 2009) and Ybor City (abandoned in 2018).



Record: 40-20.

Playoff Entry: AL East champions.

Playoff Seed: No. 1.

Manager: Kevin Cash (sixth season).

Projected Rotation: RHP Tyler Glasnow (5-1, 4.08 ERA, 91 Ks in 57 1/3 IP), LHP Blake Snell (4-2, 3.24, 63 Ks in 50 IP), RHP Charlie Morton (2-2, 4.74, 42 Ks in 38 IP), LHP Ryan Yarbrough (1-4, 3.56).

Top Hitters: 2B Brandon Lowe (.269, 14 HRs, 37 RBIs, 36 runs, .916 OPS), LF Randy Arozarena (.281, 7, 11, 1.022 OPS in 23 games), SS Willy Adames (.259, 8, 23, .813 OPS).

Top Relievers: RHP Nick Anderson (2-1, 0.55 ERA, 6 saves), RHP Diego Castillo (3-0, 1.66, 4 saves), RHP Pete Fairbanks (6-3, 2.70).

Series Summary: It's the second American League pennant for the Rays, who began play as an expansion team in 1998. They lost the 2008 World Series to Philadelphia in five games. ... Tampa Bay opened a 3-0 lead in the ALCS against Houston, lost the next three games and then won 4-2 in Game 7 behind Morton, Arozarena and catcher Mike Zunino to avoid joining the 2004 New York Yankees (ALCS vs. Boston) as the only major league clubs to squander a 3-0 advantage in a best-of-seven postseason series. ... The Rays won the AL East this year for the first time since 2010 and third time overall. They won nine of their final 11 regular-season games, finishing 20 games over .500 and completing the best 60-game start to a season in franchise history. It also matched the best 60-game stretch the club has had at any point in a season. ... Tampa Bay swept two games from wild-card Toronto in the first round of the playoffs and edged the rival Yankees 2-1 in the deciding Game 5 of their Division Series on Mike Brosseau’s revenge-tinged homer off hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning. ... The thrifty and innovative Rays had a $29 million prorated payroll as of Aug. 1, which ranked 28th out of 30 teams. The big-budget Dodgers topped the majors at $96 million during this virus-shortened season, according to figures compiled by Major League Baseball. ... It's only the fourth time since 1995, when MLB realigned each league into three divisions, that the teams with the best record in each circuit are meeting in the World Series. ... Tampa Bay is one of six current franchises that's never won the Series. The others are Colorado, Milwaukee, Texas, San Diego and Seattle. ... Dodgers are 10-7 vs. the Rays in interleague play over the years. They split four meetings in 2019, with Kershaw pitching well in a win. Fairbanks had a loss and a save. ... Lowe slumped to .115 (6 for 52) with two RBIs in this year's playoffs. Arozarena, the ALCS MVP, has been the breakout star of the postseason, hitting .382 with a rookie-record seven homers and 10 RBIs. The Cuban Rocket needs one home run to match the major league mark of eight in a single postseason, held by Barry Bonds (2002), Carlos Beltran (2004) and Nelson Cruz (2011). Arozarena's 21 hits are one shy Derek Jeter’s 1996 rookie postseason record. ... Kevin Kiermaier, a three-time Gold Glove winner in center field and the longest-tenured Rays player, missed three starts in the ALCS after being hit by a pitch on the left hand in Game 3. He returned to the lineup in Game 7 but appeared to have trouble swinging. ... Morton, who turns 37 next month, is the only pitcher to win four winner-take-all postseason games — including Game 7 of the 2017 World Series against the Dodgers with Houston. ... Rays led the AL with 20 comeback wins during the regular season. ... Tampa Bay thrived despite injuries that forced Cash to juggle his rotation and tinker with bullpen roles. The team had 12 pitchers earn at least one save, matching the big league record set by the 1973 Rangers. Fairbanks became the 13th in the playoff opener against Toronto. The hard-throwing staff now takes aim at the deep and dangerous Dodgers, who led the majors in runs and homers.



Record: 43-17.

Playoff Entry: NL West champions.

Playoff Seed: No. 1.

Manager: Dave Roberts (fifth season).

Projected Rotation: LHP Clayton Kershaw (6-2, 2.16 ERA, 62 Ks), RHP Dustin May (3-1, 2.57, 44 Ks), RHP Walker Buehler (1-0, 3.44, 42 Ks), LHP Julio Urías (3-0, 3.27, 45 Ks).

Top Hitters: SS Corey Seager (.307, 15 HRs, 41 RBIs, 38 runs, 12 doubles, .943 OPS), RF Mookie Betts (.292, 16, 39, 47 runs, 10 SBs, .928 OPS), C Will Smith (.289, 8, 25, .980 OPS), LF AJ Pollock (.276, 16, 34, .881 OPS), 3B Justin Turner (.307, 4, 23, .860 OPS), CF Cody Bellinger (.239, 12, 30, .789 OPS).

Top Relievers: RHP Kenley Jansen (3-1, 3.33 ERA, 11 saves), RHP Blake Treinen (3-3, 3.86, 1 save), RHP Joe Kelly (0-0, 1.80), RHP Pedro Báez (0-0, 3.18, 2 saves), RHP Brusdar Graterol (1-2, 3.09), RHP Dylan Floro (3-0, 2.59), RHP Tony Gonsolin (2-2, 2.31, 46 Ks in 9 games, 8 starts).

Series Summary: After winning the franchise's 24th National League pennant, Dodgers seek their seventh World Series title and first in 32 years. ... Dodgers won their third pennant in four years by overcoming 3-1 series deficit against Atlanta in NLCS. They rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 down in Game 7, getting a tying homer from pinch-hitter Kiké Hernández in the sixth inning and a go-ahead shot from Bellinger in the seventh for a 4-3 victory. Los Angeles allowed only seven runs while winning the final three games — aided by some spectacular defense from Betts. Seager batted .310 with five homers, two doubles and 11 RBIs to earn series MVP honors. ... Dodgers won their eighth consecutive NL West crown with baseball’s best record this season but are still chasing their first championship since 1988. They made back-to-back World Series appearances in 2017 (lost to Houston in seven games) and 2018 (lost to Boston in five games with Betts on the Red Sox roster). They won a franchise-record 106 games last year and didn’t make it out of the Division Series. “This year is our year,” Roberts said after the NLCS comeback vs. Atlanta. ... With much of the 2020 postseason played at neutral sites because of the coronavirus, LA stays at the Texas Rangers' new ballpark with a retractable roof for the third straight round. Dodgers will be the “home team" and bat last in Games 1 and 2 of Series, and 6 and 7 if necessary, thanks to superior regular-season record. About 11,000 fans will be allowed to attend each game. ... Dodgers had only one day off before Series opener. Tampa Bay got two. Kershaw will be on regular rest in Game 1, but LA must decide whether to start Buehler on three days’ rest in Game 2 or have him pitch Game 3 on extra rest. Another option for early innings of Game 2 is likely some combination of May and Gonsolin, who both pitched in Game 7 against Braves. ... The 24-year-old Urías is already pitching in his fourth postseason. He went 4-0 with a 0.56 ERA and 16 strikeouts over 16 innings in four playoff games (one start) this year. He won Game 3 of NLCS as a starter and Game 7 in relief. ... Buehler, who has been dealing with blisters, has 29 Ks and a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings this postseason. ... Kershaw went 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA in three playoff starts, leaving the three-time Cy Young Award winner 11-12 with a 4.31 ERA in his postseason career. He lost Game 4 against Atlanta after his NLCS start was pushed back a couple of days due to back spasms. He is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in four World Series starts and a Game 7 relief appearance in 2017. ... Los Angeles dispatched No. 8 seed Milwaukee and division-rival San Diego in the first two rounds of the playoffs, outscoring them by a combined 30-11 while winning all five games. ... Jansen struggled with diminished velocity during a shaky outing against the Padres before getting pulled. But he looked much better in the NLCS and saved a 3-1 win in Game 6 with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. ... Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP, has been more productive in postseason following a 2020 drop-off. ... Turner’s exploits in October have made him one of the franchise’s greatest postseason performers, but he was on the injured list with a strained hamstring in September and tweaked his thumb on the last weekend of the regular season. He batted just .209 with a homer and four RBIs during the NL playoffs. ... One of the Dodgers’ biggest weapons is their depth. They move players in and out of multiple positions frequently — Betts even started at second base. Roberts has all sorts of options at his disposal. ... Andrew Friedman’s fingerprints are all over both teams. Friedman was Tampa Bay's director of baseball operations from 2004-05 and then general manager until he left in October 2014 to become the Dodgers' president of baseball operations.