Dodgers-Rays World Series is a matchup of baseball’s best – Press Enterprise

Dodgers-Rays World Series is a matchup of baseball’s best – Press Enterprise

ARLINGTON, Texas — This time, the Dodgers aren’t going to the World Series. The World Series is coming to them.

The 2020 season provided several unique challenges for MLB teams – coronavirus outbreaks, health and safety protocols that changed the sport’s daily way of life, empty stadiums, quarantine bubbles for those who made the postseason where they played at neutral sites and shared their hotel with the opposition.

The sport has come through all of that and wound up with an old-fashioned World Series matchup – the best team in the National League facing the best team in the American League, the way it was for decades before divisions and wild cards and expanded postseason fields.

The Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays combined for a .692 winning percentage during their regular seasons this year. According to STATS Inc., that is the highest combined winning percentage for a World Series matchup, surpassing the previous high of .690 when the Chicago Cubs and White Sox met in the 1906 World Series.

Those concerns about what competitive abominations a 60-game regular season and 16-team postseason field might produce – and what a World Series title in that environment would be worth – seem as silly now as our brief obsession with “Tiger King.”

“Winning the World Series is winning the World Series,” third baseman Justin Turner said as the Dodgers completed their fourth week in quarantine, the last 17 days of it in Texas. “I know there was a lot of talk on it as to whether or not this is a normal season or what a World Series championship would mean. But from Day One, we came out as a group and said if there’s a championship to be won we’re going to go after it and we’re going to try to try to run it down.

“Playing good teams, a difficult format (in the postseason), not playing at home, being in a bubble, not seeing a lot of the teams all year long that we’re playing in the postseason … there’s a lot of challenges that go into winning a championship this year. And, it’s still gonna be special.”

From Day One – if not earlier – the Dodgers were expected to be in this position. Though it’s not as shocking as it was in 2008, the Rays are never supposed to make it this far. Saddled with the financial handicaps that come with a domed stadium more suitable for RV shows and a fan base that doesn’t extend much beyond Dick Vitale and the early-bird crowd at a Golden Corral, the Rays live in the land of the giants in the AL East and have to get by on their wits.

“Payrolls don’t decide the standings. I think we see evidence of that every year,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “I think having a really deep and talented roster, regardless of what your payroll is, is the key to winning games and that’s what they have. It’s been through a lot of very shrewd moves – some through the draft, some through trades and all kinds of different creative ways of player procurement.

“And so, here they are, and it’s not by accident.”

The Rays have changed their brand so thoroughly since Friedman took over as GM in 2006 that their Game 1 starter in this World Series, Tyler Glasnow, could talk about “growing up, knowing they were always in playoff contention.”

Startling as it is to learn Glasnow is only 15 years old, Friedman can take pride in having played some part in creating the small-market monster that the Dodgers now face.

“I’ve been trying to process it today,” said Friedman whose first 11 years in the baseball business were spent cogitating for the Rays. “It kind of hit me today, waking up and processing all the text messages and questions about it. It’s definitely surreal. Some of my best friends in life are there. We joked when I left the team that we were going to meet up in the World Series one day and for it actually to happen is surreal.”

The challenge is real.