Photo Credit: Desmond Hester Dezhester via Unsplash
Good thing I decided to wait until after Game 4 of the World Series to write this. Golly, what a game. I’m now writing this on the day of Game 5, so by the time this article comes out one team will be up 3-2 heading into Game 6. (Monday morning update: it’s the Dodgers, they’re up 3-2.)
Again, I don’t want to talk too much about Game 4 as it will be relatively old news when this comes out, but man do the Dodgers ever make it hard on Clayton Kershaw. He’s had this cloud of postseason shortcomings looming over him for the past eight years and, instead of getting the opportunity to start in a potential World Series clincher in Game 5, he’s tasked with pitching in a 2-2 series tie with his career’s public perception hanging in the balance.
I still think the Dodgers will win the series — their lineup is just too good — but there is absolutely no room for error. The Rays will not beat themselves. The Dodgers kind of did in Game 4, making four costly mistakes on that final play that gave the Rays the win. Randy Arozarena had no business scoring the winning run; that was only possible because Chris Taylor booted the ball in the outfield, Max Muncy threw to the wrong side of the plate, Will Smith dropped the relay throw and Kenley Jansen didn’t back up the play.
Still, Tampa’s bullpen is no longer the fearsome monster they were through the early rounds of the postseason. They’ve been absolutely run into the ground. They’ve played the maximum number of games possible in the ALDS and ALCS and with their starters consistently going four or five innings they’ve had to really overwork the pen. Nick Anderson allowed one earned run all season. He’s now given up a run in each of his last seven appearances, giving him an ERA of 6.52 over that span. His regular season ERA was 0.55.
With Kershaw on the mound in Game 5, the Dodgers still have Walker Buehler in their pocket for a Game 7 if need be, or they could bump him up for Game 6 on short rest. That should be their recipe to win; get wins from their two best pitchers and let their bats continue to rake. Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner are such a ridiculous 1-2-3 in their order. Seager and Turner each had four-hit nights in Game 4.
If they lose Game 5 then they’d be facing elimination in Game 6 and need to put out their best. Nobody wants another Buck Showalter-Zack Britton situation to happen to Buehler. It would be risky to go all out in Game 6 (assuming they win Game 5 first) because if they lose Buehler’s start then they’d be out of good options for a Game 7 against Charlie Morton.
Still, the roadmap is clear; the Dodgers need to win two out of three games and they have Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler to try and do it. (Another Monday morning update: Kershaw did his job and got the win for L.A. Now it’s looking like Tony Gonsolin will start Game 6.)
The Rays have their three studs set to pitch too, in Tyler Glasnow (although he’s struggled in these playoffs), Snell and Morton. With the Dodgers’ superior lineup though, all the pressure is on them, especially given the history there. They should win the series, but the Rays are freaking good and they will not fold easily.
I think every fan outside of Los Angeles is thankful Tampa won Game 4 and made this a series. Seriously, that game was an instant classic. In a postseason that has lacked any huge moments, Game 4 gave the playoffs its signature game that will be remembered for a long time.
I do hope Kershaw performs well in Game 5. He deserves a ring. Especially since the Dodgers were cheated out of a title in 2017 by the Astros. He’s easily the best pitcher of his generation and is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. You saw it with one of his teammates — even though he opted out of this season David Price, who dominated the regular season but struggled through every postseason — in 2018 when he finally broke through with the Red Sox who ironically beat Kershaw’s Dodgers that year.
Kershaw was very good in Game 1, finishing with a win over six innings while giving up just two hits, one run and one walk, while striking out eight. If he throws another gem in Game 5 and L.A. wins the series, his past failures will be all but forgotten. Again, the Dodgers wouldn’t have put this much pressure on him if they won what was a pretty winnable Game 4, but then again, they’ve never made it easy on Kershaw. It’s a crazy amount of pressure being put on one of the best left arms the game has ever seen. (Final update from Monday: Kershaw delivered for the second time this World Series. He’s shown up this time. L.A. just needs one more win to conquer his demons).