The World Series that most thought would never happen has started. They even let a few thousand fans into the neutral site stadium in Texas.
The opponents are the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays. As I write this, the Dodgers own a 1-0 series lead. I am still going to spend some time previewing the best of seven series as I would not count out the Rays.
The contrasts between the two teams is quite obvious. Los Angeles is known for its big spending habits. As a result, its lineup is loaded with stars. The Dodgers latest acquisition was Mookie Betts, the former MVP who was acquired from the Boston Red Sox. It was thought Betts would finally put Los Angeles over the top as the franchise attempts to win a World Series for the first time since the 1980’s. The thinking may be correct as the Dodgers seem to annually make the playoffs before coming up short.
Conversely, Tampa Bay fields a lineup of relative unknowns. The average fan would be hard-pressed to name more than a few of the Rays starters. Los Angeles has one of the game’s largest payrolls while Tampa has one of the lowest. The Dodgers and the Rays both dominated to get to this point, but did so in different ways. One is a big spender and the others is a bargain hunter.
At this time next week, we will know which contrasting style worked the best. We will also have our third champion during the month of October. During the COVID era of sports with professional sports attempting to get games and seasons in whenever they can, the Tampa Bay Lightening won the Stanley Cup and the Los Angeles Lakers captured the NBA Title 12 days later. Now, either Tampa Bay or Los Angeles will add another trophy. The Rays have never won a World Series and the Dodgers have not won one since 1988.
Tampa has relied on an excellent group of relieving pitchers and the offense of one of its unknown players, Randy Arozarena. The American League Championship Series MVP hit .321 with power in the series while the rest of the Rays hit .183.
The Rays rely on timely hitting and late inning pitching to win games. The Dodgers rely on their star power. Only Los Angeles could field a team that has a former MVP, Cody Bellinger, who bats sixth or seventh in the batting order.
Having stars like Betts or Bellinger on their roster is an afterthought for Tampa. The Rays simply do not compete for expensive veterans. Their payroll this season was just $28.2 million, third lowest in baseball. The Dodgers ranked second at $107.9 million, trailing only the Yankees.
Small market team versus large market team. Big guy versus little guy. Big spenders vs. bargain hunters. A true study in contrast. It would be refreshing to have the little guy win a title but it will be a tough task. Betts, who is scheduled to make $27 million this year compared to Tampa’s whole roster making $28 million this season, may just end up being the difference.