As for the Rays, their flamethrower struggled to throw strikes and their postseason star was kept unsuccessful.
After an 8-3 win over the Rays, the Dodgers now hold a 1-0 lead in the World Series. Here are some takeaways from the opening of the series …
Not bad for a guy who can’t pitch the playoffs
Three hitters in Game 1, Clayton Kershaw found himself in a precarious position. Thanks to a single from Yandy Diaz and a walk to Randy Arozarena, the Rays had two with just one out against a pitcher who struggled often in October.
But Kershaw escaped the first with a strikeout and a groundout, and from that point on he looked like the guy who’s posted a 2.16 ERA this season. After some initial problems controlling his cursor, this terrain became a weapon for Kershaw, who used it to induce 11 swing strikes. Those puffs contributed to eight strikeouts for Kershaw and the only run he allowed came on a Kevin Kiermaier solo circuit.
Round by round, Kershaw pushed back against the idea that he was ineffective in October. More importantly, his team now has three wins away from winning it all. And after throwing just 78 shots in the first game, he should be well rested for his next appearance.
Betts at its best
At this point in the postseason, Mookie Betts’ most memorable contributions have come with the glove. He’s hitting pretty well – .311 / .407 / .444 in 12 games – but nothing he’s done at plate compares to the series of memorable catches he’s made in the NLCS.
On Tuesday Betts showed the rest of their skills. With the Dodgers leading 2-0, he started the bottom of the fifth inning with a step before stealing the second and third. Then when Max Muncy hit a Grounder first, Betts broke for home plate, defying Diaz’s arm and narrowly beating the pitch.
The very next round Betts started again, this time with their first home run of the postseason. During both of those attacks, the 28-year-old showed why he is such a dynamic attacking threat.
It was because of that ability that the Dodgers acquired him from Boston and quickly signed him to a 12-year extension last offseason. The Red Sox may have payroll flexibility, but the Dodgers have one of the best players in the game and he does it all when it matters most.
An in-depth study
The best teams have stars, of course. But as the Dodgers and Rays can attest, depth is just as important as star power. In Game 1 of the World Series, it was the Dodgers who showed their depth in a particularly memorable way.
Consider these examples and decide for yourself which one is the most remarkable:
• AJ Pollock, who tied Betts for the lead with 16 home runs this season, was not in the starting lineup. Sure, he had an OPS of .881 in the regular season and would top most batting orders, but for the Dodgers, that’s not quite enough to beat the starting nine.
• Kike Hernandez, who has a life of .820 OPS against lefties, is perhaps more valuable when he’s not starting. On days he’s available on the bench, manager Dave Roberts just has to wait for a left-handed reliever to enter the game before deploying Hernandez. On Tuesday, that led to a single RBI for Hernandez against Ryan Yarbrough.
• Cody Bellinger, who won the MVP title last year and had a winning home run in the Dodgers ‘final game, was sixth in Roberts’ roster. Again, so many elite hitters to choose from. And again, Bellinger succeeded. Only this time, he celebrated more cautiously after dislocating his shoulder in the clincher series over Atlanta.
Difficult start for Glasnow
Sometimes the Rays are accused of over-tinkering their pitch stick. They rarely go far the other way.
Still, in Tuesday’s game opener, Rays manager Kevin Cash showed a lot of confidence in Tyler Glasnow, staying with him for 112 shots – the Rays’ most pitching count in more than two years. This time around, despite a blazing fastball that helped the 27-year-old generate eight strikeouts, he struggled. The patient side of the Dodgers worked six marches against Glasnow to reach six earned runs in just 4.1 innings.
Next time around, Cash won’t leave him there for that long, but the Rays will need Glasnow again if they are to bounce back from that loss and win the series.
Keep the powder dry for the second game
It took five of a possible five games for the Rays to beat the Yankees and seven of a possible seven for them to beat the Astros. To say that the last two weeks have heavily taxed their enclosure would be an understatement.
With that in mind, there is a positive potential in a Game 1 loss to Tampa Bay. Because the Dodgers took a big lead early on, Cash didn’t use Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson or Pete Fairbanks, meaning the three are candidates to start Game 2 when Blake Snell is expected to start.
Of course, the same logic holds true for the Dodgers, as Kenley Jansen, Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen all made it through the night as well.