And now, let the overreaction begin.
(Oops. It already has.)
Late Tuesday night, the prevailing opinion in some quarters was that the Dodgers had nothing to worry about. The Tampa Bay Rays were a speed bump, that funny little team with the funny little strategical quirks playing in the funny little dome that nobody shows up to even when fans are allowed in ballparks. After winning Game 1 of the World Series, 8-3, thanks to six dominant innings from Clayton Kershaw, certain opinion-makers were saying it would be a short series, maybe even a sweep.
It could still be a short series. It won’t be a sweep. Tampa Bay flexed its muscles in Wednesday’s Game 2 – mainly those of Brandon Lowe (pronounced as though it rhymes with how, not low), who homered twice and drove in three runs in the Rays’ series-evening 6-4 win.
Lowe was in such a horrendous postseason slump after leading his team in hits during the regular season (52, with 14 homers and 37 RBI) that a Tampa writer asked manager Kevin Cash before the game about putting Austin Meadows (.108, .424 OPS in the postseason) and Lowe (.107, .341) at the top of the order:
“Is it a matter of faith? Is it a matter of hope? Is it a matter of stubbornness? I mean, what why are they still at the top?”
“Well, I think it’s a matter of, you know, how we view our players. And they’re really good. I know that they’re scuffling, we recognize that they’re scuffling. It hasn’t come easy for them. But for better or worse, we’re going to stick with the guys that we’ve got a lot of faith in. And, you know, speaking of Brandon in particular, we’re not here if it wasn’t for him. And I think, you know, we all wanted to see him get hot. And it’s getting magnified simply because it is Brandon Lowe and what he did throughout the season. But we got a number of guys throughout this lineup that we would like to see get hot and continue to have confidence that they will.”
Call it faith, call it confidence, call it what you wish.
Don’t call it predictable, although the presence of Dustin May on the mound for the Dodgers might be trending in that direction, and not in a good way. Someday May will be a terrific starting pitcher, but in his last three postseason appearances his ERA is 6.23.
This time, as part of the Dodgers’ bullpen game, he replaced Victor González with two out and one on in the fourth and gave up a single against the shift to Manuel Margot and a rocket of a two-run double to Joey Wendle. Then, allowed to begin the next inning, he gave up a two-out single to Meadows and Lowe’s second home run of the night, another rocket into the left field seats on an 0-2 pitch.
May’s time in Dave Roberts’ Circle of Trust may be over for a while.
That second home run gave Tampa Bay a 5-0 lead. With a dominant Blake Snell and the looming shadow of a bullpen of hard throwers, plus the 34-0 record the Rays had amassed before Wednesday when leading after seven innings in both regular season and playoffs, it looked dire.
So, of course, the Dodgers had the tying run at the plate in the eighth inning.
First observation: This isn’t going to be easy for either team. Nor should it ever be expected to be. This is, after all, a World Series between the best regular-season team in each league, just like the old days.
Second observation: If Commissioner Rob Manfred was watching – and we’re never completely sure if he actually likes baseball enough to pay close attention – it’s worth re-thinking the notion of the three-batter minimum as a way to make games go faster. It didn’t this season, and the expanded pitching staffs that resulted from the expansion of rosters to 28 men have a lot to do with it.
The Dodgers have a 15-man pitching staff for this World Series. They have two traditional starting pitchers – Kershaw in Games 1 and 5, and Walker Buehler, who will pitch Friday’s Game 3 and will be available if there’s a Game 6. Julio Urias, who almost certainly will start Game 4, is at this stage a hybrid starter-reliever. May and Tony Gonsolin are bullpen game fodder at this point.
The Dodgers used five pitchers in Game 1, even with Kershaw going six. They used seven in Game 2. It’s a lot of extra commercial time Fox can sell, but it doesn’t do much for the pace of play.
The Rays? Even though Snell had a no-hitter before Chris Taylor’s two-run homer wrecked it in the fifth, they used five pitchers, with right-hander Diego Castillo replacing left-hander Aaron Loup with two out in the ninth strictly for a right-vs.-right matchup.
The time of game was 3 hours, 41 minutes. What, you’re surprised?
The Rays actually have more traditional starters than the Dodgers do. One of them will be a familiar sight in Friday’s Game 3 against Buehler. It’s Charlie Morton, who pitched twice against the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series – and pitched the final four innings of Houston’s Game 7 victory at Dodger Stadium.
As we said, there is no predicting. And there’s certainly no sense overreacting. (Yet, anyway.)
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter