Ness Notes: Wednesday, October 28

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at BigAl.com. I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary." 

World Series recap and closing thoughts: The LA Dodgers won their EIGHTH consecutive NL West title in 2020, finishing the pandemic-shortened season with a MLB-best record of 43-17 (LA's .717 winning percentage would have translated to 116-win season over 162 games). The Dodgers were clearly MLB's best team in the regular season, noting the team's run differential of plus-136 was 52 runs higher than their closet competitor (SD Padres) and a whopping 76 runs higher than their World Series opponent, the Tampa Bay Rays (Rays owned the best record in the AL at 40-20, second to only LA in all of MLB). However, the Dodgers found themselves down 3-1 to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, before rallying to sweep the final three games of the series. That allowed LA to reach the World Series for the FOURTH time in the last four seasons. It marked the 63rd instance in major league history that a team had reached three World Series in a four-year span and only TWO teams among the group did not win a World Series. The Dodgers, who lost to the Astros in 2017 and to the Red Sox in 2018, sure didn't want to join the 1907-09 Detroit Tigers and the 1911-13 NY Giants in that 'club.' 

As already noted, the Rays had the AL's best regular season record. However, they were extended to the limit in both their ALDS with the Yankees (won Game 5, 2-1) and in the ALCS by Houston (took a 3-0 series lead only to be pushed to a Game 7 that they won 4-2). Tampa Bay reached the World Series for just the second time in franchise history, having lost the 2008 World Series to the Phillies, 4-1. Of note was that a Dodgers/Rays matchup was only the FOURTH time in the wild-card era (since 1995) that the teams with the best record in each league would meet in the World Series.

Game 6: Tampa Bay rookie Randy Arozarena gave the Rays a 1-0 lead with a first-inning HR against Gonsolin. He became the second rookie ever to hit three HRs in a single World Series, joining Charlie Keller of the 1939 New York Yankees, while extending his all-time record for a single postseason to 10 HRs (his 29 hits also set an all-time record for a single postseason). He also became the first rookie to collect an RBI in four consecutive World Series games. However, the Rays never scored again after Arozarena's HR, Roberts pulled Gonsolin after 1.2 innings and SIX relievers (NONE named Jansen), gave him 7.1 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, while striking out 12 Rays. Tampa Bay finished with just FIVE hits and 16 Ks. 

As for the Dodgers, they looked helpless against Snell, who struck out NINE batters while giving up two hits, including one to Austin Barnes in the sixth with one out. It was then that Tampa Bay manager took Snell out of the game, much to Snell's dismay and as it turned out, all ALL Tampa Bay fans and bettors. Cash decided to bring righty Nick Anderson into the game to face Mookie Betts, despite the fact that Betts was hitting just .218 against left-handers this season and had struck out in his first two at-bats of this game against Snell. Sure enough, Betts doubled to put runners on second and third with just one out. A wild pitch scored the tying run and then Corey Seager's run-scoring groundout gave LA a 2-1 lead. With Tampa Bay helpless against A's bullpen, Mookie Betts solo HR in the eighth, sealed the 3-1 victory.

SS Seager batted .400 with two HRs, five RBI and six walks against the Rays, including last night's sixth-inning grounder that allowed Betts to race home from third base with the go-ahead run. He was named World Series MVP after winning MVP in the NLCS against Atlanta. He hit .310 with five HRs and 11 RBI in the NLCS, including three HRs as the Dodgers fought off elimination in Games 5, 6 and 7. He drove in runs in FIVE consecutive plate appearances, starting with his final two at-bats in Game 2, to match a feat that had been accomplished only by the Houston Astros' Carlos Beltran in 2004. Only EIGHT players have won MVPs in a LCS and WS in the same season (all National Leaguers), with the most recent being San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner in 2014. However, it seems only fitting that Seager would pull off this rare 'double-double,' just like Orel Hershiser did in 1988, the last time the Dodgers won the World Series.

It was a 'redemption' World Series for Clayton Kershaw, who entered the 2020 World Series having struggled badly in his first two two World Series appearances (2017 and 2018). He had gone 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in five appearances (four starts) in those two series. The Dodgers were 1-3 in those four starts, as Kershaw had allowed 21 hits and 16 ERs over 22.2 innings for a 6.35 ERA. However, he went 2-0 vs the Rays, posting a 2.31 ERA with a 14-3 KW ratio over 11.2 innings. He became only the third starting pitcher to earn two wins and strike out at least one-third of the batters he faced in a single World Series, joining Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. Long-suffering Kershaw fans will lament that he is the first pitcher to do so on a winning team and NOT win World Series MVP.

My closing thought is on Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash. Let me say going in, I 'hate' him for introducing the practice of using "an opener," as it has wreaked havoc on handicappers and bettors. Way too many times we have all waited for teams to announce a starting pitcher, as linemakers are forced to wait on establishing a line. What has been worse, is a starting pitcher named in the morning, only to find out shortly before the first pitch that "an opener" will get the nod, thereby canceling one's play or bet. I'll add that I'm also no big fan of "analytics" but that said, I don't despise them as so many my age do.

My most vivid childhood memories are of Sandy Koufax dominating the Yankees (1963) and the Twins (1965), while Bob Gibson did the same against the Yankees (1964), the Red Sox (1967) and the Tigers (1968). In that vein, I can't imagine taking Snell out of the game last night after giving up a one-out single. As noted, Betts had struggled against lefties all season (see above) and had already struck out twice against Snell in his first two at-bats. Who knows what would have happened if Snell was left in? However, we do KNOW what happened when he was taken out. One wonders if either Snell or Cash will ever get another chance in a World Series? A return is NOT guaranteed.

That said, let me say this for Cash. He was hired by the Tampa Bay Rays as their manager back on December 5, 2014, succeeding Joe Maddon, while becoming the youngest manager in the MLB. He took over a team playing in an awful stadium with some of the worst fan-support in MLB, as well as working with one of MLB's lowest payrolls. The Rays did little his first three seasons but then won 90 games in 2018, although they didn't qualify for the playoffs. However, 2019 was a breakout season, as they won 96 games, then beat the Oakland A's in the wild card game, before pushing the Astros to a full five games in an ALDS. I noted above what Tampa Bay accomplished here in 2020 and will note that the Rays did it all with a $29 million payroll, which ranked 28th out of the 30 major league teams.

I KNOW Rays fans are devastated but would they really want to bring back Joe Maddon, who guided the LA Angels, with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, to a 26-34 record in 2020, FOURTEEN games worse than Tampa Bay's? Cash has been making the same type of decisions (like he did with Snell last night), since arriving in Tampa. It should be noted that last night's contest was Snell's 17th start of 2020 and he had NEVER completed six innings in ANY of his previous 16. One's memory doesn't have to be stretched too far to remember Snell's start in Game 2 of the Series. He didn't allow a hit through four innings, while striking out two Dodgers in each of the first four innings. However, his dreams of a no-hitter ended in the 5th. He walked Kiké Hernandez with two out and served up a two-run HR to Chris Taylor. A walk to Mookie Betts and a single by Corey Seager ended Snell's night. Coulda, shoulda, woulda!

Good luck...Larry

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