Rays-Dodgers matchup, position by position

Nathan Grimm
·9 min read



Let's get a few things out of the way.

First, is this a tired bit? Of course. Every bad baseball writer on the internet is publishing some version of this piece today. (The good baseball writers are undoubtedly writing something more creative and better.)

Second, am I even qualified to write this? Just barely. Being a bad baseball writer, comparing both teams' rosters and declaring one better than the other is subjective at best, and probably wrong at worst.

With those items out of the way, let's go down the two World Series rosters, position by position, and see how they measure up ahead of Tuesday's Game 1.

Catcher

The numbers, shockingly, say Mike Zunino has been the better offensive catcher this postseason -- and not by a little. Zunino has slugged four homers in 13 games this month, including a pair while hitting .278/.300/.611 in the ALCS. Meanwhile, Will Smith has hit a pedestrian .222/.286/.356, with just one homer in 45 at-bats. Zunino, of course, makes a lot of his bones on defense, another tally in his favor, but I'm still having a hard time saying the Rays have the better catcher in this matchup. Blame my bad baseball writer brain, but I'm giving a slight edge to the Dodgers.

Winner: Dodgers, barely

First Base

The knee-jerk reaction is to defer to Max Muncy, who's certainly more of a household name than Ji-Man Choi and who's been a sensation since joining the Dodgers in 2018. But Choi is quietly a very good hitter, especially against right-handers, and he's met or exceeded Muncy's offensive output during these playoffs. The presence of Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias mitigates Choi's upside some for this series -- in those instances we'll likely see Yandy Diaz man the position -- but here's to hoping the rest of the country gets to see what those in Tampa already know about their first baseman.

Winner: Rays

Second Base

There's not a great option here, with all three of Brandon Lowe, Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez leaving something to be desired during October. In that instance it's probably best to bet on talent, and Lowe is the most talented hitter of the three. He's struggled mightily this month, but Lowe had a slump in the middle of the regular season as well and was able to snap out of it before closing strong. Does he have another fantastic finish in him? We'll see.

Winner: Rays

Third Base

It hasn't been a great postseason for either Joey Wendle or Justin Turner, but both players are capable of being difference-makers in a seven-game series. During the regular season, Wendle had four homers and eight steals, and that speed is something that Turner lacks. That said, Turner is one of the best pure hitters in the league, let alone this series, and if we're betting on one to make his presence felt in the World Series, he gets the nod.

Winner: Dodgers

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Shortstop

Hear this: Willy Adames has turned himself into a nice offensive player in recent years. In 2020, the 25-year-old hit eight homers with 23 RBI, 29 runs scored and two steals with a .259 average and .813 OPS in 185 at-bats. That's helpful. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, Corey Seager is hitting .298/.358/.766 this month and was just named NLCS MVP. Next question.

Winner: Dodgers

Outfield/DH

Boy. Breaking this down into individual outfield positions would be too easy -- ALCS MVP Randy Arozarena trumps any left fielder the Dodgers could roll out there; Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts get a pretty easy edge over Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot, respectively, in center and right -- but as a unit things get closer, especially when the DH position is added to the mix. (DH could be its own category, but the Rays often utilize Austin Meadows in the position when everyone is healthy, and the Dodgers frequently use Joc Pederson there.) I'd love to take the easy way out and call this a push, but the Dodgers boast two of the game's best offensive talents in the same outfield. Few teams can match that, not even the Rays.

Winner: Dodgers

Bench

One consistent theme with both teams is the depth of their bench. The Rays are sort of the poster child for the mix-and-match lineup construction that's maddening for fantasy players but has proven highly effective for manager Kevin Cash, and the Dodgers have built a similarly versatile group. The Dodgers might have slightly more star power, with any of A.J. Pollock, Pederson, Hernandez, Taylor or Edwin Rios possibly being available to come off the bench in a given game based on how the starting lineup is constructed, but it just feels like the Rays group of Diaz, Mike Brosseau, Yoshi Tsutsugo and Hunter Renfroe has some magic in store. They get the slight edge here.

Winner: Rays

Rotation

The question is, do you prefer quality or quantity when assessing a rotation for a seven-game series? There's a case to be made that the Dodgers boast the two best starters in this series in Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, but it's also true that any of the Rays' top three (Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell, Charlie Morton) could outduel either pitcher on a given day and nobody would bat an eye. The Dodgers have gotten this far by piecing entire games together on days when Buehler and Kershaw aren't starting, but how long can that formula hold up? Can the group make it through another long series without springing some leaks? And that's assuming that Kershaw and Buehler both hold up their end of the bargain. Those two alone could win a series for a team, and it appears they'll both get two starts each if the series goes seven games. That said, the Rays' slightly better quantity of slightly worse quality gets the nod from me.

Winner: Rays

Bullpen

We didn't discuss Urias, Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin in the rotation section, so we can't go through the bullpen without talking about the trio. Urias, of course, was brilliant in Game 7 of the NLCS, pitching three flawless innings on a razor's edge to finish off the Braves. May and Gonsolin both pitched in that game as well and were less inspiring, but all three are young, live arms who give manager Dave Roberts options to start, enter early or pitch in high-leverage situations late. Other options include Blake Treinen, Jake McGee, Pedro Baez, Brusdar Graterol and Kenley Jansen, all of whom have provided value to Roberts this postseason. A fully healthy Rays bullpen would make this a conversation, but this iteration of the pen just can't match up. For once, the Dodgers have the enviable bullpen in a matchup.

Winner: Dodgers

Manager

Why try to say it any funnier/smarter/better than Ben Carsley already has?

Winner: Fans of Twitter #jokes

So there you have it, a definitive position-by-position breakdown of the World Series from which we can conclude ... very little? It's not like the opposing third basemen stand on platforms and hit each other with pugil sticks until one falls off, American Gladiator-style. It's a team sport where a bunch of guys try to hit a round ball with a round bat. Anything can happen, and nothing can happen. But enough about Mike Zunino's plate appearances.

If nothing else, hopefully this was a fun way to pass 10 minutes as we all wait impatiently for Game 1 to start. And in that way, we're all winners.

Quick Hits: Clayton Kershaw will start Game 1 of the World Series for the Dodgers against the Rays on Tuesday. It was the expected decision after Kershaw didn't pitch in Game 7 of the NLCS on Sunday, but now it's official. The veteran southpaw allowed four runs over five-plus innings in his most recent start in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Braves last Thursday. Much like the Dodgers, Kershaw is trying to finally win the big one ... The Rays intend to start Tyler Glasnow in Game 1 of the World Series against the Dodgers on Tuesday. This means that Blake Snell will start Game 2. Glasnow last pitched on Wednesday of last week, giving up four runs over six innings in a Game 4 loss to the Astros. He has a 4.66 ERA and 25/8 K/BB ratio in 19 1/3 innings over four starts during the postseason ... Cody Bellinger said Monday that his right shoulder feels "pretty good." Bellinger's shoulder popped out of place during a celebration with Enrique Hernandez following his go-ahead home run in the seventh inning of Sunday's NLCS Game 7. He said that the shoulder has popped out 3-4 times before in the past, so it wasn't a total surprise to him and he knew what kind of pain to expect. While obviously not ideal, it doesn't sound like the injury is something to be overly concerned about ... Kevin Kiermaier (wrist) said Monday that he's "good to go." Kiermaier didn't start Games 4-6 of the ALCS after being hit on the left wrist by a pitch in Game 3, but he was back in the lineup for Game 7 and claims he'll be fine for the World Series. We wouldn't necessarily expect him to say anything else given what's on the line ... Trevor Bauer's agent, Rachel Luba, wrote on Twitter on Sunday that her client is open to open to and will be considering "ALL types of deals" in free agency. Bauer said in the past that he wanted to go year-to-year in free agency, but his thoughts have apparently shifted on the matter. It makes sense that he would do so coming off a Cy Young Award-caliber season with the Reds where he posted a 1.73 ERA and 100/17 K/BB ratio in 73 innings over 11 starts. He's shaping up to the the top free agent starter on the market and one of the best available players alongside J.T. Realmuto and George Springer.