MLB
October 20, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

5 Biggest X-Factors in the 2020 World Series

In what has been an utterly wild, crazy and unpredictable 2020, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the 2020 World Series. While the Los Angeles Dodgers are the early betting favorites over the Tampa Bay Rays, clearly anything can happen this year.

After all, both teams led their respective league in wins during the regular season and are coming off intense and competitive seven-game series in the League Championship Series. You could say that both the Dodgers and Rays were lucky to have survived to reach the Fall Classic and we can only hope for an equally compelling World Series.

To help make sense of what we’re about to witness, here are the five biggest X-factors in the 2020 World Series between the Rays and Dodgers.

Cody Bellinger

Bellinger was the hero in Game 7 of the NLCS, hitting the home run that put the Dodgers ahead for good. It was his third home run and 10th RBI in 12 postseason games. Despite hitting 12 home runs in the regular season, he batted just .239 and had an underwhelming .789 OPS. It was a huge drop-off for a player who won MVP last season and then had plenty of pressure taken off his shoulders when the Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts before the season.

Of course, the spotlight is back on Bellinger after his heroics in the NLCS, not to mention there’s a little bit of concern over his shoulder, which he hurt celebrating his Game 7 homer against the Braves. Bellinger will also enter the World Series with a career .196 batting average in the postseason. In 12 previous World Series games, he’s just five for 44 (.114) with an OPS of .406. Luckily for the Dodgers, they have plenty of firepower in their lineup, so they aren’t overly reliant on Bellinger. But if he can build off the momentum of what he did in Game 7 and return to his MVP form from last year, Bellinger could be the biggest difference-maker in the 2020 World Series.

Ji-Man Choi

Everybody has learned the name Randy Arozarena during the postseason after the likes of Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames led Tampa’s lineup during the regular season. Although he's flown under the radar, Choi has come up big in some key spots during the playoffs, making him an overlooked X-factor for the World Series. In the postseason, he’s hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs, but he’s also done a great job of getting on base.

With young righties like Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin taking on prominent roles in the Los Angeles rotation alongside ace Walker Buehler, Choi is bound to start most games during the World Series to help balance out the lineup. He’s not going to be at the top of the scouting report for Dodgers pitchers. But Choi is someone the Rays won’t mind hitting with runners on base. He’s bound to make an impact in this series when you least expect it.

Kenley Jansen

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has stuck with Jansen during the postseason despite concerns that he’s not the same dominant closer he was a few years ago. So far, Jansen has answered the call, as he was outstanding in all three appearances he made against Atlanta’s potent lineup during the NLCS. His confidence is high heading into the World Series, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. After all, Jansen has 47 postseason appearances under his belt with a 2.14 ERA in the playoffs. 

That being said, the Rays know that Jansen is vulnerable after a rocky regular season. Tampa’s hitters can be pesky and get under a pitcher’s skin. Keep in mind that outside of former Padres Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe, Jansen doesn’t have a lot of experience against the hitters he’ll face in the World Series. On top of that, Jansen blew two saves during the 2018 World Series and had another blown save during the 2017 World Series. He’s not always come up big in the Fall Classic and is a little bit of a scapegoat for the Dodgers failing to win a World Series in their recent attempts. In a series this tight, one blown save from Jansen could make the difference, and given the year he’s had, he’s a huge X-factor.

Tyler Glasnow

The Rays are confident with what they’ll get out of ace Blake Snell and thrilled with the way Charlie Morton has pitched in the postseason. However, Glasnow is more of a mystery, making him an X-factor in the rotation. The 27-year-old pitcher was 5-1 during the regular season, but he wasn’t the dominant starter he was in 2019. Glasnow has also run into some trouble during the postseason, which was also the case last year when he lost both of his starts in the playoffs.

As the Game 1 starter, Glasnow is arguably Tampa’s most important starting pitcher in the World Series. He’ll likely come back to start Game 5, making him a virtual lock to start two games. But if Glasnow loses both of those games, the Rays might not be able to get that deep into the series. After all, they are the underdogs in the series.

It’s worth noting that Bellinger has homered in both of his at-bats against Glasnow while Mookie Betts is 3 for 9 with a double and two walks against him. If he can’t do better against those two hitters, Glasnow is going to have a tough time keeping the entire Los Angeles lineup in check.

Defense

This is where the underdog Rays could have an advantage over the Dodgers that isn’t going to show up in the box score. With Kevin Kiermaier, Margot and Arozarena playing together, the Rays essentially have three center fielders on the field, so they cover a lot of ground. Renfroe is also a Gold-Glove-caliber right fielder, so there isn’t much of a drop-off when he’s in the lineup. Meanwhile, Joey Wendle and Adames are both above-average defensive players on the left side of the infield. While the Dodgers can mash, they aren’t going to get many cheap hits with all of the ground the Rays cover defensively.

In fairness, the Dodgers have also impressed defensively during the players, especially Betts in right field. Los Angeles also has a lot of versatility thanks to players like Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor. However, while the Dodgers are solid at most positions, Tampa is capable of the spectacular on the defensive side of things. Of course, one way or another, a great defensive play is bound to have a profound impact on the World Series.

Photo: Getty Images