(Image via Clutch Points)
When I wrote AFTR PRTY’s MLB Power Rankings before the season started, I ranked the Dodgers at No. 1 and the Rays at No. 3 (we won’t talk about where I ranked my beloved Yankees). The primary consequence of broadcasting your personal sports opinions is that people will argue with you. So, after I ranked the Rays as high as I did, I had people hitting me with every argument in the book: "Can you name more than 3 guys in the Rays lineup?” “You know the Rays’ payroll is $28.3 million, right?” “Even if they get past the Yankees, how are they gonna beat the Twins, A’s, or Astros?”
I get it. In a sport with no salary cap, people have a hard time comprehending that the richest teams aren’t always the best. Theoretically, rich teams should be able to buy all the best players, which should automatically translate to the most wins. I’m guilty of this too, as I put the Dodgers and Yankees at the top of my Power Rankings. Guess who had the two highest payrolls in the majors this season?
I’ve said it before: I hate the Rays. As a division opponent that has turned into a bonafide rival over the past couple of seasons, I can’t stand them. But as an objective fan, I love everything they represent. They had the third-lowest payroll in the majors this season, ahead of only the dumpster fire Pirates and Orioles. They play in the worst stadium in professional sports. Richer teams routinely poach their most prized baseball operations execs. Their highest-paid player, Charlie Morton, made a grand total of $5.5M this season. Much like another Florida team with an underdog mentality, they now have to take down the star-studded juggernaut team from the City of Angels. So, who has the edge? Let’s look at the tale of the tape:
LOS ANGELES DODGERS (-205 to Win Series)
KD-era Warriors notwithstanding, I think these Dodgers are the most stacked team that we’ve seen in recent American sports history. They’ve made three of the last four World Series, and in that span have done nothing but continue to improve. You know the usual suspects: Former MVPs Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw alongside legit stars like Corey Seager, Walker Buehler, Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, and Joc Pederson. Since then, all they’ve done is add solid veterans like 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts, Blake Treinen, and A.J. Pollock as well as young studs like Dustin May, Gavin Lux, Will Smith, and Julio Urías. Honestly, there’s no need to even analyze this group further. On paper, this team is fuckin’ unfair. David Stern would have vetoed some of the acquisitions they’ve made.
All that said, it’s not like the Dodgers are a lock. Their bullpen is shaky at times. They have a penchant for absolutely shitting the bed in the biggest moments (see: Kershaw, Clayton). Until they win their first big one since 1988 (!!!!!), their reputation as underachievers precedes them. Maybe a player of Mookie’s caliber finally helps them get over the hump, but I gotta say, I’ve already placed a pretty hefty future on the...
TAMPA BAY RAYS (+175)
You know how some teams just have that aura? I’m thinking along the lines of the 2007-08 New York Giants in the Super Bowl against the undefeated Patriots. Everyone counted them out. They were clearly the inferior team. They had way less experience in big moments.
Yet in some ways, I think those factors almost worked to the Giants’ advantage back then. They played free and easy, unburdened by the weight of the outsized expectations that the then-undefeated Patriots had. They played with a chip on their shoulder, eager to prove to the world that they belonged on the biggest stage. Once those guys got between the lines, no one gave a shit about how many MVPs the opposing roster had or how dominant they were in the regular season. They just played their game as hard as they could, and they’d live with the results.
Realistically, there’s a good chance the Rays get swept and I end up on @FreezingColdTakes. Maybe I just love underdog stories, but after watching this Rays team closely throughout the past couple of seasons, I really think this is their time. The front office constructed this roster to win in October. They have an elite front end of their rotation with Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell, and Charlie Morton. Their bullpen is chock-full of absolute psychos who throw 101 mph. Their lineup is almost alarmingly anonymous, but it doesn’t even matter. They just somehow get shit done. A prime example is Manuel Margot, who hit one homer in the regular season but has five in the playoffs. Dudes like Kevin Kiermaier, Willy Adames, Hunter Renfroe, and Ji-Man Choi leave their imprint on games in so many ways. Together, these guys add up to more than the sum of their parts.
They play the field exceptionally well. They run the bases exceptionally well. They use analytics to find game-changing advantages (think shifts, platoon advantages, hitting approaches, etc.). They hit extremely well in high-leverage situations and have an uncanny ability to hit well-timed homers. Also, Randy Arozarena decided to morph from some random dude into Babe Ruth practically overnight. Where the Dodgers can become too reliant on late-game heroics or unbelievable Mookie Betts catches, the Rays do all the little things that lead to victories in a seven-game series.
Much like the Giants grinding out a brutal 17-14 victory over the Patriots, I predict the Rays will beat the Dodgers in seven games. It won’t be pretty, and they’ll probably need to grind out a couple of high-leverage, low-scoring games to get it done, but I like their chances. As much as it pains me to say it, I think the 2020 World Series trophy will return to the AL East… just not in New York City😓.