January 18, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Dodgers end 32-year World Series drought

It wasn't as long as the Chicago Cubs' 108-year wait to reclaim the baseball world championship in 2016, but after repeated frustrations in recent postseasons, it probably seemed that way to many Dodgers fans. On October 27 (exactly twelve weeks ago!), the Los Angeles Dodgers became the world champions of baseball for the first time since 1988 -- a span of 32 years! It was no surprise, as they had been heavily favored against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Both the Dodgers (43-17) and the Rays (40-20) had the best regular season win-loss records in their respective leagues, and it was noteworthy that the expanded playoff format did not prevent those teams from reaching the final stage. The Rays won their second American League pennant in the 23 years of the franchise's history, which isn't bad for a small-market team with a rather mediocre stadium. The Rays' success in 2020 was rather surprising, and at the beginning of the postseason, they ranked behind the Yankees and the Astros in terms of likelihood of winning the American League pennant.

Despite earning home field advantage in the World Series via their MLB-best regular season record, the Dodgers couldn't really enjoy the advantage because all six games were played at Globe Life Field, the brand new home of the Texas Rangers in the far-out suburbs of Arlington. (One quirk is that Globe Life Field has become the eighth stadium ever to host a World Series in its inaugural year, but of course that's a mere artifact of the "bubble format" adopted to minimize the risk of spreading covid-19. The last one was Yankee Stadium II; a (then) full list can be seen on my October 27, 2009 blog post.) Attendance at each of the World Series games was about 11,400, with fans separated into small groups of family and friends, maintaining social distancing between the groups.

One big question was whether Dodger ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw (guaranteed future Hall of Famer) could get over his reputation for choking in big postseason games, such as Game 5 of the National League Division Series last year. Indeed, he did. In spite of having back spasms that forced him out of a start in the NLCS, Kershaw pitched six full innings in Game 1, and the Dodgers won easily, 8-3.

In Game 2 the Dodgers had to change pitchers almost every inning, while the Rays' Blake Snell struck out nine batters in four and two-thirds innings. Brandon Lowe hit two home runs, a crucial part of the Rays' 6-4 victory, as they evened the series 1-1.

In Game 3 Justin Turner hit a solo homer in the first inning, and the Dodgers just kept rolling after that. The Rays' ace pitcher Charlie Morton gave up five runs and couldn't finish the fifth inning, and the Dodgers won it, 6-2.

Game 4 will be remembered for two crucial Dodger errors and a dramatic ending. With two outs and two-strikes in bottom of the ninth inning -- the ultimate do-or-die situation -- some guy named Brett Phillips came through with a huge clutch hit late last night. It was right around midnight here in the east. It wasn't a home run, he didn't actually get credited with an RBI for the game-winning run, and it didn't end up changing World Series history, but it was still pretty neat. The Tampa Bay Rays won it, 8-7, thus evening the series with Dodgers, 2-2.

That win gave the Rays a fighting chance, as they faced Clayton Kershaw in Game 5. This time he lasted five and two thirds innings as the Dodgers beat the Rays, 4-2. In his two World Series wins, Kershaw struck out 14 total batters while only giving up three runs combined.

In Game 6 the Dodgers once again went through their bullpen early on, and only one pitcher (closer Julio Urias) pitched more than two innings. But unlike Game 2, their strategy worked, and the Rays just couldn't generate much offense after Randy Arozarena hit a solo homer in the first inning. Rays pitcher Blake Snell did fine once again, but reliever Nick Anderson gave up a run on a wild pitch in the sixth inning, and the Dodgers soon had a 2-1 lead. Mookie Betts homered in the eighth inning to make it 3-1, and that was the final score.

Corey Seager was named World Series MVP, with two home runs and a .400 batting average (seven home runs and a .328 average for the whole 2020 postseason). An unfortunate footnote to the Dodgers' long-awaited triumph was that Justin Turner, who had been mysteriously removed from Game 6 in the late innings after the covid-19 test he took came back positive, joined his teammates on the field in the jubilant celebration without a mask.

The Dodgers now have a 6-6 World Series win-loss record since moving to Los Angeles in 1958 (63 years total), and combined with their 1-8 World Series record during their 54 years in Brooklyn since the first World Series (not counting the 20 years that preceded 1903), that yields an overall record of 7-14. For those who are curious, the Baseball annual chronology andthe Postseason scores pages have been updated.

2020 postseason: very strange

No one knew what to expect when the abbreviated, 60-game baseball regular season season got underway, and the same was true of the wide-open 16-team postseason arrangement. The two highest teams in each division automatically qualified, including two teams (Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros) with records below .500; that was an embarrassment. Due to the coronavirus, no fans were allowed at any MLB games during the regular season, and only in the NL Championship Series and the World Series (both held entirely at Globe Life Field) were any fans allowed.

The Atlanta Braves, with first place in the NL East, overcame their recent history of postseason failure by beating the Cincinnati Reds in the wild card series, including the bizarre first game in which neither team scored during the first nine innings. In the 13th inning, finally, Freddie Freeman hit a walk-off RBI single, and that was that. The next day the Braves put it away with a 5-0 victory, advancing to the NL divisional series. They faced the Miami Marlins, who had beaten the NL Central leading Chicago Cubs in two games. The Marlins were ahead in Game 1 until the seventh inning, when the Braves scored six runs, winning 9-5. No Marlins crossed the plate in the next two games, and the Braves earned a series sweep.

The Los Angeles Dodgers made quick work of both the Milwaukee Brewers and the San Diego Padres, sweeping both teams. So both the Dodgers and the Braves were undefeated in the postseason as they faced each other in the NL Championship Series played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The Braves won the first two as the "visiting" team, but were then beaten badly (15-3) in Game 3; the Dodgers scored an unbelievable 11 runs in the first inning, setting an MLB postseason record. Starting pitcher Kyle Wright gave up seven of those runs. The rest of the series was back and forth, as Marcell Ozuna's two homers helped the Braves win 10-2 in Game 4, giving them a 3-1 series lead. In Game 5 the Dodgers won 7-3, with a memorable moment occurring when their catcher Will Smith hit a home run off the Braves' pitcher Will Smith! In Game 6, Corey Seager and Justin Turner hit back-to-back homers in the first inning, helping the Dodgers win, 3-1. That set up the deciding Game 7, in which the Braves had a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning, whereupon Enrique Hernandez tied it with a solo home run. Cody Bellinger did likewise an inning later, and the Dodgers won the game 4-3, thus taking the series.

One of the pleasant surprises from the 2020 season was the Chicago White Sox taking one of the AL wild card spots. In Game 1 of the wild card series against the Oakland Athletics, their young ace pitcher Lucas Giolito (a former Washington National) had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning; the White Sox won that one 4-1, but lost the next two games and were eliminated. Giolito is clearly a rising star for the future. Oakland then faced the Houston Astros in the divisional series, losing three games to one. Thus the scandal-tainted Astros made it to the AL Championship Series in spite of their 29-31 regular season record.

With Gerritt Cole on the mound, the New York Yankees looked hard to beat in the postseason, and indeed the Cleveland Indians fell in two straight games of the wild card series. But the Tampa Bay Rays displayed consistent offensive power and just enough pitching prowess in the latter games to give them the divisional series win, three games to two. In the deciding Game 5, Mike Brosseau hit a solo home run against Aroldis Chapman to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, and that was the final score.

In the AL Championship series, played at Petco Park in San Diego, the Tampa Bay Rays won the first three games against the Houston Astros, but almost blew it as the latter team came back with three straight wins to set up a deciding Game 7. Veteran pitcher Charlie Morton (who had pitched for the world champion Astros in 2017) was in command for nearly six innings, and the Astros did not score until the eighth inning. Final score: Rays 4, Astros 2.

(Milwaukee) County Stadium update

After confirming my impression that foul territory was a little too big in my Milwaukee County Stadium Milwaukee County Stadium diagrams, I made some significant revisions to them. The lower deck of the grandstand is bigger than I had previously estimated, and so (ironically) the total stadium "footprint" is larger. The upper deck has essentially been "pushed back" by about ten feet, and the second lateral walkway is now exposed to the sun. Another difference is that the grandstand extends straight for about 50 feet near the respective foul poles, rather than conforming to a smooth curve as I had previously assumed. Thus, there are now distinct angles at the junctions between the outfield fence and the two wings of the grandstand. The position of the structural beams and entry portals has changed, but this is only visible in the "uncovered" first- and second-deck diagrams. Finally, the position of the light poles has changed slightly, and in the 1976 diagrams, there is a small section of lights at the far end of the upper deck near the right field corner. [They were moved there after one of the light poles in right field was taken down to make room for the expanded scoreboard.]

And, as you can imagine, working on the old home of the Brewers got me looking more closely at the new home of the Brewers (now called "American Family Field" rather than Miller Park), so I have been busy at work on those diagrams as well...