A surprise performance could clinch issue
The 2020 MLB World Series has its two contestants each pursuing a "first."
The National League champions Los Angeles Dodgers, who won Game One on Tuesday, are seeking their first WS title since back in 1988, when LA swept the Oakland A's, propelled by Kirk Gibson's famous opening game walk-off pinch-hit home run.
The American League titlists Tampa Bay Rays, meanwhile, are after their first world title in the team's history, which dates back to their inception in 1998.
In their only other WS appearance, the Rays fell to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
But the contestants appear to contrast in most other ways.
Start with the teams' payrolls.
Two Dodgers, pitcher Clayton Kershaw and outfielder Mookie Betts, currently make more money yearly than the entire Rays' roster does.
The Tampa Bay club make the fourth lowest in MLB -- just US$28.6 million.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, rank second -- behind only the New York Yankees -- with a total team payroll of $105.5 million. (The Rays eliminated the Yanks in the 2020 AL Division Series, you'll recall).
Year after year over the last decade plus, Tampa Bay somehow field an AL pennant contender despite their financial constraints -- due mostly to playing in an outdated stadium and drawing among the lowest number of fans annually MLB-wide.
Credit astute front office performance in player development within their own organisation as well as in the area of pilfering talent overlooked or under-appreciated by other ballclubs.
See outfielder Randy Arozarena, 2020 postseason breakout star, Tyler Glasnow (owner of the 100mph plus fastball) and slugging outfielder Austin Meadows, among many others -- all obtained in trades.
If you are an MLB general manager, you'd be nuts to strike up a deal with Tampa Bay.
Any Rays' offers for players you own the rights to should signal their value and the fact that you are probably overlooking their potential.
And then when the Rays put together a roster internally and externally, TB have the knack of getting the most out of their assembled crew.
Said centre fielder Kevin Kiermaier: "Management does a phenomenal job of putting the players they've assembled into the best possible position to succeed."
The Dodgers, meanwhile, pay through the nose for the talent they've put together.
But, while they have captured the NL West eight straight seasons, they have failed to walk away with the whole MLB enchilada at campaign's end.
They have lost the three World Series they've appeared in over the past four seasons.
The strengths of the Rays and Dodgers are another way in which the two ballclubs differ.
Los Angeles appear to have the best hitters of the two teams while the Rays' pitching appears superior to that of LA.
Tampa Bay have a starting pitching threesome of Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell -- on paper they appear superior to the Dodgers starting moundsmen.
But if regular season Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw finally comes through in the postseason, the pitching difference between the two could even out.
Kershaw has developed a reputation for sizzling the regular season but fizzling in the postseason.
He is still seeking his first world title, having lost in the championship series twice.
Offensively, the Dodgers appear to have the edge going in. Theirs is a well-balanced attack, paced by Mookie Betts and Clay Bellinger.
The Dodgers had different players step up at the plate when needed as they battled back from a 3-1 deficit to win their NL Championship Series versus the Atlanta Braves.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, rode the white hot bat of Arozarena, who this postseason hit seven homers and driven in 11 runs while compiling a .382 batting average, ahead of the World Series.
But the rest of the Tampa Bay roster, meanwhile, have hit just .183.
Whenever there was any Rays scoring, Arozarena seemed to be in the middle of it.
The Rays ace in the hole come crunch time would appear to be starting hurler Charlie Morton.
He is unbeaten in winners-take-all, series ending games.
Three consecutive times in the past couple of postseasons he has hurled his Rays and Houston Astros clubs to a series-clinching win.
Morton has compiled an ERA under 2.00 in such appearances.
In the relatively short World Series, though, the winners are often determined by a relative surprise performance.
The first ballclub to enjoy such a startling showing could very well enjoy capturing their other much-desired "big picture first."
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