Los Angeles Dodgers Battle 3 Decades of Demons and 4 Months of the Pandemic to Capture 2020 World Series Championship
After 32 years, the Los Angeles Dodgers are back on top of the baseball world. The powerhouse team beat the Tampa Bay Rays in game six, 3-1, to win the World Series, four games to two.
At the start of spring training, Dodgers president Andrew Friedman and the rest of the team’s front office showed they meant business, completing a trade with the Boston Red Sox to bring 2018 American League [AL] MVP Mookie Betts to L.A., adding to their already stacked offense led by 2019 National League [NL] MVP Cody Bellinger, 2016 ROY Corey Seager and the heart and soul of the clubhouse and lineup Justin Turner.
The Dodgers went all out this year after losing the World Series in 2017 and 2018. The 2017 loss came with a huge asterisk, as at the start of 2020 MLB confirmed that the Houston Astros had cheated by illegally using technological aids to steal signs during their “championship” campaign.
When the Dodgers traded for Betts in February, they became the consensus favorite to win the World Series. Betts only had one more year on his contract, so the long term impact of the trade was a gamble. When the coronavirus hit during spring training, it looked like Betts may never play for the Dodgers. The league settled on a 60 game regular season and an expanded 16 team postseason. The coronavirus affected play early with players on multiple teams catching the virus and having to cancel games, but the league found a groove and saw minimal cases. The Dodgers and Rays had the two best regular season records, finishing at 43-17 and 40-20 respectively, marking only the second time this century that the number one seeds faced each other in the World Series.
The path to the World Series was not straightforward for either team, as both the NL and AL pennants went seven games. Both teams won their first series handedly and then faced two of their division foes. The Dodgers swept the San Diego Padres 3-0 while the Rays had to pull out all of the stops to beat a strong Yankees team, three games to two. In the NL championship series, the Dodgers fell into a 3-to-1 hole against the Braves before winning three consecutive elimination games. On the AL side, the Rays took a 3-0 lead against the Houston Astros before dropping three straight games and eeking out game seven with a 4-2 win.
While their roads were not easy, the table was set for two teams built by Friedman to face off on the biggest stage in a “secure zone” in Arlington, Texas.
The Dodgers won Game 1, 8-3, behind a dominant and potentially Cooperstown-bound Clayton Kershaw, who allowed one run over six innings. Kershaw’s only blemish on his outstanding record which includes three Cy Youngs, a pitching triple crown, and an MVP season has been his playoff performances, where he held a 4.23 postseason ERA heading into 2020 and allowed home runs at twice the rate of his regular season performances. For Kershaw, 2020 served as a redemption campaign, as he went 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA and can finally add World Series Champion to his long list of accolades.
On the offensive side, Cody Bellinger, who dislocated his shoulder celebrating in Game 7 of the NL championship after hitting the game winning home run, hit a two run shot off Tyler Glassnow to start the scoring. Aggressive base running from Mookie Betts broke open the game when he walked, stole two bases and then slid home beating out an infield grounder, becoming the first player to do so in a single inning in the world series since Babe Ruth in 1921.
The Rays answered in Game 2, winning 6-4 behind a dominant effort from their bullpen, affectionately known as “The Stable.” Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell held the Dodgers hitless through 4 and ⅔ innings. When the Dodgers did break through and scored two runs on a Chris Taylor homer, Rays Manager Kevin Cash pulled Snell and brought in Nick Anderson. Anderson ended the inning with a strikeout of Justin Turner. After the game, Cash commented that “[Anderson] has been as good as any reliever in baseball from the day that we acquired him…and when the game’s on the line and he’s available, we’re going to go to him.” While the Rays had a rested staff, the Dodgers had to rely on a piecemeal strategy of pitchers without any starters rested. They used four pitchers through five innings who collectibly gave up five runs, including a solo shot and two run homer by Branden Lowe.
Game 3 showcased an ultimate pitchers matchup with the Dodgers young ace Walker Buehler who battled through a blister on his pitching hand throughout the postseason, facing veteran Charlie Morton, who pitched a successful World Series Game 7 in 2017 for the Houston Astros. The Dodgers took the game behind a six inning, 10 strikeout gem from Buehler who allowed just one run on three hits. Los Angeles was able to spoil Morton consistently with two outs, like they had all post season, scoring 59 out of their 101 postseason runs with two outs. Dodgers catcher and ninth hitter, Austin Barnes, who was in the game for his defensive prowess compared to the more offensive Will Smith, came up big with his bat, executing a safety squeeze in the fourth and launching a home run in the sixth. Rays left fielder Randy Arozereana, the hottest hitter of the 2020 postseason who set postseason records for homeruns (10) and hits (29), blasted a homerun off Dodgers closer Kenly Jansen in the ninth inning. This blemish in the ninth continued to raise questions about who the Dodgers manager should trust to secure the final three outs of the game.
Up in the series 2-1, the Dodgers looked to win Game 4 to give Kershaw a chance to clinch the series the next day. As the Dodgers took an early lead on home runs by Justin Turner and Corey Seager, it appeared they would do so. However, The Rays kept fighting and eventually took the lead, 5-4, in the sixth on a three run home run by Brandan Lowe. The Dodgers answered in the next inning on a Joc Pederson single but a home run by Keven Kiermeir tied up the game. Corey Seager came up clutch again singling in Chris Taylor in the eighth and gave the Dodgers a 7-6 lead heading into the ninth inning. Once again, Roberts brought in Jansen to close the game. Jansen struck out pinch hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo before Kevin Kiermier singled. Jansen then got the second out on a lineout by Joey Wendle. After walking Arozarena, Jansen faced pinch hitter Brett Phillips who had only two at bats in the postseason prior to stepping into the batter’s box. At that point the Dodgers had an 83 percent chance of winning the game, per ESPN. In one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history, Phillips singled to center fielder Chris Taylor who bobbled the ball, allowing Kiermaier to score. Taylor then threw the ball to the cutoff man, Max Muncy, who threw the ball home in plenty of time to tag out a stumbling Arozarena. Dodgers catcher Will Smith, however, did not catch the ball and Arozarena scored easily to win the game on a double error, 8-7, and tie the series 2-2.
The Dodgers entered Game 5 eager to shed the sting of the stunning defeat in Game 4, while the Rays hoped to capitalize on a shift in momentum. Game 5 proved to be Clayton Kershaw’s ultimate postseason test. In the end, he aced it, in part due to a heads up throw home. Kershaw played with fire throughout the game, allowing the leadoff man on base in all of the first four innings. In the fourth inning the Dodgers were up 3-2, but the Rays’ Manuel Mangot took a walk and ended up on third after stealing second and third on an error by Chris Taylor. Hunter Renfore then walked and Kershaw had two men on with no outs, he ultimately created a weak popout and a strikeout. With runners on first and third, two outs, and Kevin Kiermaier at the plate, Margot attempted a straight steal of home, a feat no player has achieved in the world series since Jackie Robinson in 1955. Kershaw, a lefty, has a famously large windup as he brings his hands high above his head. First baseman Max Muncy alerted Kershaw to Margot’s break, yelling “home, home, home” and Kershaw was able to step off the rubber and throw home without balking in the run. Catcher Austin Barnes tagged Margot on the wrist in a bang bang play at home to end the inning and maintain the lead. This defensive victory for the Dodgers seemed to swing the momentum back in their favor. When the time came for LA to close out the game, Roberts turned not to Jansen, but to Blake Treinen who gave up a single to Margot before a strike out, lineout, strikeout to end the game and give the Dodgers a 3-2 series lead.
The Dodgers looked to clinch in Game 6 while the Rays had to play for their lives with their Cy Young pitcher Blake Snell taking the ball. For the Dodgers it was another piecemeal bullpen game. The Rays took the lead in the first with a homerun from Randy Arozerena. Blake Snell was dominant through the first five innings only allowing one hit and holding the electric trio of Betts, Seager, and Turner zero for six, with six strikeouts. In the sixth inning, Snell got AJ Pollock to pop out before Austin Barnes singled into center to bring up Mookie Betts. Cash stuck with the plan he referenced after game two, pulling Snell and bringing in Nick Anderson. This decision, while successful in game two, was seen as one of the biggest managerial mistakes of all time around the world as players, fans, and broadcasters shared their disbelief on twitter and on air. Many saw it as an indictment on the Sabermetrics era of baseball. Cash brought in a righty to face Betts who dominated against righties while Snell struck him out easily the first two times he faced him. Betts seized on the opportunity, hitting a double to bring Austin Barnes to third. Barnes then scored on a wild pitch bringing one of the best baserunners in baseball 90 feet away from home. Corey Seager hit a ground ball to a drawn in first baseman yet Betts scored easily to bring the game to 2-1. Betts then added an insurance homer in the eight inning. Defensively in the eighth, Edwin Rios came in for Justin Turner at third base without any explanation. The Dodgers hoped to replicate how they closed out game seven of the NLCS: Julio Urías. He pitched a perfect 2.1 inning save to close out the game, two days after throwing 80 pitches in game four and a week after a perfect 3 inning save in game seven in the NLCS. And just like that, the Dodgers were World Champions.
The celebrations took a strange turn as it was announced that Tuner was pulled after the seventh inning when the Dodgers got the news that he had tested positive for coronavirus and entered into isolation. MLB played with fire in their expanding bubble and was ultimately unable to keep their players safe. It appeared that the team would have to celebrate without their leader. The fans in attendance booed Commissioner Rob Manfried as he spoke before handing out the trophy. Manfred has come under fire for his light punishment of the cheating Astros and the multiple COVID outbreaks in the regular season. MLB named Corey Seager the MVP for his dominating offensive performance with a .400 batting average, .556 on-base percentage and 1.256 OPS (becoming the eighth player to win both the CS and WS MVP). Dave Roberts focused on Clayton Kershaw — World Series Champion — in his speech and even thanked players who no longer played for the team such as recently traded Ross Strippling.
When the Dodgers assembled for their celebratory team photo, announcers and fans around the world were confused when Justin Turner took center stage in between the trophy and manager and cancer survivor Dave Roberts. Turner apparently decided to leave his isolation with the team’s blessing to join the Dodgers for the celebration. Suddenly the sport that was supposed to provide relief and distraction left viewers sharply focused back on the pandemic blazing throughout the country and around the world.
The chaos of the 60-game season and the confusion of the celebration aside, the Dodgers ended up where most thought they would be before the coronavirus hit the U.S. as World Series Champions.