Home SportsMLB World Series 2020: Four things that must happen for the Rays to come back against the Dodgers

World Series 2020: Four things that must happen for the Rays to come back against the Dodgers

by Ryan
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The Dodgers lead the best-of-seven series 3-2

By Mike Axisa    CBS Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers are one win away from their first World Series championship in 32 years. The Dodgers won Game 5 behind Clayton Kershaw on Sunday night (LA 4, TB 2) and will look to clinch their first title since the year Kirk Gibson hit his iconic home run when the series resumes with Game 6 on Tuesday.

For the Tampa Bay Rays, the Game 5 loss means they are in survival mode. They’ve had their backs up against the wall before and came out ahead — they needed the full five games to beat the Yankees in the ALDS and the full seven games to beat the Astros in the ALCS — though the Dodgers are the most daunting opponent they’ve played in this postseason.

“Always confident in this bunch,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier told reporters, including MLB.com’s Juan Toribio. “If there’s any team that can respond well with their backs against the wall, our group is the group that has come through when we need it the most. We’re going to enjoy the off-day (Monday), get off our feet a little bit, and come back on Tuesday ready to work.”

You needn’t look back far to see the last team to erase a 3-2 series deficit in the World Series. Just last year the Nationals dropped Game 5 to the Astros, then went into Houston and won Games 6 and 7, and the first championship in team history. The Rays will try to the same thing and win their first ever title after falling behind 3-2 in the series, only they’ll have to do it at a neutral site.

Beating the Dodgers twice in a row is doable but not easy. Here are four things the Rays must do in Games 6 and 7 to pull off the comeback and win the 2020 World Series.

  1. Don’t fall behind early again.

The Dodgers scored first in Games 1, 3, 4, and 5 — they put multiple runs on the board before the Rays scored their first run in all four games — including scoring in the top of the first inning in Games 3, 4, and 5. The Rays did come back to win Game 4, but it damn near took a miracle, and playing from behind consistently is no way to beat a team as good as the Dodgers.

“It is a problem,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told Toribio about the first inning runs. “There’s no denying it’s a problem, and we need to correct that, and we don’t have that much time to correct, so it needs to be fixed for Game 6 for sure. Home, away, it doesn’t matter. Prevent runs. I don’t care how we do it. We’ve got to do a better job at it.”

Historically, the team that scores first wins roughly 70 percent of the time. Beyond the obvious scoreboard advantage of scoring first, there is also a confidence component to consider. The Rays get on the board early in Game 6 and they’re feeling great. Fall behind early again though, and bad thoughts can creep into your head. Tampa needs to avoid another early deficit.

  1. Get length from Snell.

The Rays have played 19 postseason games this year and only twice in those 19 games did the starter complete six innings. Tyler Glasnow did it in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Blue Jays, and Glasnow did it again in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Astros. Both times he went exactly six innings. In only eight other games did their starter complete even five innings.

The short starts are partly by design — the Rays don’t like their pitchers going through the lineup a third time — and they can be effective. They also tend to tax the bullpen. The off-day Monday will help, but Tampa’s core relievers have worked pretty hard the last few days. Here are their pitch counts:

Oct. 25  Oct. 24 Oct. 23 Oct. 22 Oct. 21 Oct. 20
RHP Nick Anderson 23 19
RHP Diego Castillo 8 26 3
RHP John Curtiss 14 30 3
RHP Peter Fairbanks 12 23
LHP Josh Fleming 40
LHP Aaron Loup 12 11 11
LHP Shane McClanahan 26
LHP Ryan Sherriff 16 17
RHP Ryan Thompson 15 5 6

Anderson was the club’s ace reliever during the regular season but he has not been good in October, allowing eight runs in 14 1/3 innings and being scored upon in each of his last six appearances. Cash still trusts him implicitly — he went to Anderson in the biggest moment of Game 2 — but his ineffectiveness has also pushed others into high-leverage roles.

The best case scenario for Game 6 would be a big early lead, Blake Snell getting the Rays through six innings, the Fleming eating up the final few innings to save the core relievers for Game 7. Short of that, the Rays at least need Snell to get them through five innings. Four and dive means a bullpen that has worked hard already will have to work even harder with the season on the line.

Cash and the Rays will do whatever they have to do to win Game 6, of course, but the Rays need to win two games to complete this comeback, not one. The deeper Snell goes in Game 6, the better positioned the Rays will be going into Game 7. It’s hard to see how this comeback starts with anything less than a dominant outing from Snell.

  1. Get Gonsolin out of Game 6 early.

The Dodgers have leaned on bullpen games all postseason and they will do so again in Game 6. Tony Gonsolin will get the start but it’s unclear how long he’ll remain in the game. He faced only six batters in his Game 2 start and 11 batters in his relief appearance in Game 7 of the NLCS. Gonsolin might get the Dodgers through the order one time in Game 6. Might.

After that? Who knows. Dustin May threw 30 pitches in Game 5 and could be an option. Julio Urias threw 80 pitches in Game 4 and Game 6 will be his usual between-starts throw day, so he might be good for an inning or two. Point is, the Dodgers and manager Dave Roberts will mix and match with the bullpen in Game 6. That’s the plan going in.

The Los Angeles bullpen had 2.74 ERA during the regular season, second lowest in baseball, but it has allowed 14 runs in 21 innings in the World Series. The ninth inning is unsettled — Blake Treinen got the save in Game 5 after Kenley Jansen blew Game 4 — and no one inspires confidence when they enter the game. It’s a very weird, very unsettling vibe.

The sooner the Rays get Gonsolin out of Game 6, the more cracks they’ll have at what has been a shaky Dodgers bullpen. They want a fatigued May or Urias in there, and they want Roberts to sweat using Jansen in a close game. The more bullpen they see, the better Tampa’s chances of winning Game 6, and they better they’ll set themselves up for Game 7.

  1. Get a little lucky.

Hey, it never hurts to pray to the baseball gods. The Rays could use a few bounces and a few calls going their way the next few days. It’s better to be lucky than good, sure, but to beat as team as good as the Dodgers, you kind of have to be both. A line drive staying just fair or getting the call on a bang-bang play are the sort of things that swing a series. You can never really count on them happening, but they do happen, and the Rays could use some good old fashioned luck now they’re down 3-2 in the series.

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