The Path to the Dodgers’ Victorious Postseason
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When Kevin Cash came out of the dugout in the sixth inning of Game Six of the World Series to make a move to the bullpen, the entire sports world couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Blake Snell had been pitching like Randy Johnson through the first five and one-third innings, and yet, Cash decided that Snell had gone far enough. Social media exploded, both in the moment and in the days that followed, bashing Cash for what everyone saw as a bad decision. Sure enough, the Dodgers immediately scored two runs in the inning, what turned out to be the deciding runs, and went on to win their first World Series since 1988.
The Dodgers had the best record going into the postseason at 43-17, which put them on pace for 116-46 over a regular 162 game season. Despite this impressive mark, the title was all but assured throughout the postseason, especially in such an unpredictable season.
Going by the numbers, the Dodgers’ sweep of the Brewers in the best-of-three wildcard series, a new addition this year, was fairly easy. They allowed just two runs in the two games combined to move on to a highly anticipated matchup with the up and coming San Diego Padres in the NLDS. But the Padres too were no match for LA, and the Dodgers outscored the Padres 23-9 over the course of three games, sweeping the series while proving that they could score runs without solely relying on the homerun ball, which accounted for only one run. But the NLCS was not as smooth sailing for the Dodgers. They lost the first two games, the second by only one run, but they seemed to give themselves a boost in winning game three 15 to 3 and scoring 11 times in the first inning. Unfortunately for them, the Dodgers were blown out themselves the next game, putting the team a loss away from a trip home. Down 3-1, it seemed like their playoffs would end in disappointment for the eighth year in a row. However, in an incredible feat, the team went on to win the next three straight, including a come from behind Game Seven victory to secure the NL pennant. Corey Seager even set the NLCS home run record for a shortstop with five on his way to MVP of the series.
The World Series started off fairly evenly matched. The Dodgers took Game One, with the Rays answering back by winning Game Two. After a Game Three-win led by six strong innings from Buehler, LA had a chance to go up 3-1 in the series in Game Four, and it looked like that would be the result heading into the ninth inning. The Dodgers were up 7-6 with two out and two on in the ninth, and there were two strikes on Rays’ batter Brett Phillips, who didn’t have a hit in over a month. Phillips roped a single into center field, which was misplayed by the Dodgers’ center fielder Chris Taylor. Kevin Kiermaier easily scored from second, but the misplay allowed the go-ahead run to come around third base and try to score. The runner, breakout star Randy Arozarena, stumbled around third base and would have been caught in a rundown, but the catcher missed the relay throw, and the Rays walked it off, tying the series at two games apiece.
Game Five was a fairly ordinary 4-2 Dodgers victory that set up a Game Six win-or -go-home scenario for the Rays. With former Cy Young winner Blake Snell on the mound though, the Rays weren’t making it easy. Snell looked like the Cy Young that he was in 2018, throwing a gem into the sixth inning before Cash pulled him, making one of the most controversial moves of the last decade if not more.
All throughout the season, Cash has adhered to his policy of listening to the analytics, specifically the ones that said that pitchers were significantly worse the third time through the order. However, Snell’s opponents actually had a lower OPS (on-base + slugging) against him the third time around the batting order as compared to the second in 2019 and 2020. Instead of leaving in Snell, who had struck out Mookie Betts, Seager, and Justin Turner each time they had been at the plate that game and was cruising at only 73 pitches, Cash brought in Nick Anderson, who had allowed one run or more in his six previous outings. Like Anderson, Betts, the next batter, was also better against right handers and hit fastballs best, a pitch Anderson threw 64 percent of the time. As if on cue, Betts pulled a fastball for a double down the left field line, setting up the Dodgers with second and third and one out with Corey Seager coming to the plate. Anderson threw a wild pitch and Austin Barnes scored tying the game, and then Seager grounded out to first scoring Betts, giving the Dodgers a lead they did not relinquish, winning the World Series threeinnings later.
The 2020 season was not normal. It almost did not happen, but the fact remains that the Dodgers won the same season that 29 other teams lost. Plenty of people will put an asterisk next to this victory, but the truth is that the Dodgers are the team hoisting the trophy, so they are the champions, regardless of anybody’s claims.