Dodgers-Rays World Series? Book it!
One of the best things about this era of baseball is that there’s only a teensy difference between the top 10-15 teams. At least 18 teams still have a legitimate shot at the postseason. And what decides the playoff berths may be things that haven’t happened yet—a trade or an injury.
Perspective on playoff races changes by the week, especially in the American League East. The Red Sox have spent 91 days atop the division despite some adversity. At some point, we may have to acknowledge they’re the best team in the best division.
But not yet.
Let’s push the pause button for a brief tribute to the Reds and Tigers. I love those teams. I love their makeup and the way they go about things. They’re expected to win. They have demanding fans. Neither club has had a spectacular first half, but they’ve soldiered on, the Tigers staying atop the AL Central and the Reds positioned for a fourth playoff appearance in five years.
When you play the Reds or Tigers, you know what you’re going to get: a good team, a mentally tough team, a team that reflects its manager. Jim Leyland and Dusty Baker have more yesterdays than tomorrows in the game, but both are the gold standard for preparing teams and riding out the highs and lows.
Okay, back to the 2013 World Series.
Right now, it’s the Dodgers and Rays.
There’s an easy to be made for the Cardinals, Pirates, Nationals, Tigers, Reds, A’s and Rangers. There’s a bit tougher case to be made for the Orioles, Diamondbacks, Yankees and Braves. If you look at the Indians, Phillies and Rockies just so, you can be convinced they’ve got a shot, too.
On this day, though, I’ll take the Rays and Dodgers against the field.
And there still are at least 20 teams with legitimate hope of making the postseason.
First, the Rays. They’ve got David Price back pitching at a high level. He has a 1.08 ERA since his return from the Disabled List. Alex Cobb may also contribute in the second half. All season, we’ve been waiting on the Rays to get their rotation straightened out. Consider it done.
They’re also playing terrific defense and scoring more runs than a lot of us expected. To watch Yunel Escobar and James Loney is to be reminded that no general manager is better at what he does than Andrew Friedman.
The Rays have the best record in the majors since May 8 (41-23), which means nothing. But it tells you they’re capable of playing at a very high level over a long period of time.
Now the Dodgers.
They’ve been constructed the old-fashioned way: with a sledgehammer approach to spending money and a lame-duck manager. Some of us wondered if all those large personalities could coexist, and for a long time, the Dodgers were a mess.
But Yasiel Puig began spraying line drives all over the field, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez got hot and the rotation looks terrific with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Ricky Nolasco and Hyun-jin Ryu.
The Diamondbacks have fought their tails off and been pretty much what their GM and manager hoped they’d be. Their rotation is potentially good enough to take control of the race, especially if GM Kevin Towers adds a bullpen arm or two. I’m hopping the All-Star Break is a reset button for the Giants and that Matt Cain gets things figured out. They, too, are still capable of winning.
At the moment, the Dodgers seem likely to win.
On June 21, they were 30-42 and 9 1/2 games out of first place. If you’d told their fans they were about to take off, you’d been laughed out of the room.
They sprinted into the All-Star Break on a 17-5 run and cut their division by seven games, to 2 1/2. Even with the lack of production at third, they’re solid everywhere else, and like all championship teams, they’re getting contributions from all around their clubhouse.
Now they’re starting to feel it. Gonzalez and Ramirez and Kemp and the others seem to be having fun, with their confidence growing by the day. It would be silly to completely discount the Diamondbacks—and for that matter, the Giants and Rockies—but it’s tough to pick anyone other than the Dodgers in the NL West.