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Are SEC defenses this bad, is Lane Kiffin’s offense this good and more Week 6 questions

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Week 6 of the college football season was the most college football week yet. You had Pitt kicker Alex Kessman nailing a 58-yard field goal to force overtime against Boston College, then missing a PAT to lose the game. You had Oklahoma beating rival Texas in four overtimes despite blowing a late two-touchdown lead and head coach Lincoln Riley displaying all of his worst, most destructively conservative tendencies. You had unexpected blowouts, actual home-crowd advantages and upset bids galore.

Most of all, you had dissonance down South. Nick Saban’s Alabama took part in the most prolific regulation game in SEC history, a 63-48 win over Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss that included 111 points and 1,370 yards. Six other SEC teams scored at least 38 points, and three weeks into the league schedule, six SEC teams rank 53rd or lower (out of 76 teams to have played so far) in total defense. That includes LSU, Florida and Alabama.

WHAT?

Using that as a prompt, let’s look at the teams that have played the most out-of-character ball thus far.

Here are some of the offenses and defenses that have overachieved or underachieved the most compared to their preseason SP+ projections. We’ll look at what they’ve done particularly well or poorly, and we’ll look at why their fortunes might change moving forward.

(Note, the list of underachieving defenses below doesn’t include Alabama because the Crimson Tide haven’t underachieved their projections as much as you might think — they were projected merely 19th in defensive SP+ because of turnover in the secondary, and they’ve fallen only to 22nd so far. Fear not: You’ll read plenty about the Alabama D in Friday’s massive Georgia-Bama preview.

Underachieving defenses

Not even including Alabama, maybe the three most surprisingly bad defenses in the country all reside in the SEC.

Florida Gators

Week 6 result: Lost to Texas A&M 41-38

Raw statistics: 58th in scoring defense (33.3 points per game), 72nd in total defense (495 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): Third in defensive SP+ in the preseason, 20th after six weeks. As mentioned in Sunday’s SP+ release, a team’s ratings are still derived heavily from preseason projections, so it’s almost impossible for a team projected as high as third to have fallen more than 15-20 spots thus far. If it was possible, the Gators would have done it.

Most damning weakness: Spectacular inefficiency. Florida was seventh in defensive SP+ in 2019, and while the Gators did lose pass-rusher Jonathan Greenard and corner CJ Henderson, most of the two-deep returned, as did defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Maybe you could predict passing downs issues if the Gators couldn’t sufficiently replace Greenard, but three games into 2020, they have suffered a comprehensive collapse. They are 75th out of 76 teams in success rate allowed — 74th against the run, 70th against the pass. Big plays are random and volatile, but efficiency is predictive, and Florida’s defensive inefficiency has been startling. Texas A&M scored 41 combined points against Vanderbilt and Alabama, then posted 41 on the Gators. The Aggies scored on all but two drives.

Florida just seems a step slow across the board. The Gators are dealing with their fair share of “absent for unspecified reasons” issues on the depth chart, but not more than anyone else. Their biggest issue seems to be that a bunch of players are playing worse than they did last year. That’s semi-encouraging in that we know what they’re capable of, and they could revert to form at some point. But they haven’t yet.

Ray of sunshine: At least they’re not getting gashed deep, too. In 2019, the Gators ranked 21st in my marginal explosiveness measure — my field position-adjusted measure of the magnitude of one’s successful plays — and they’re currently 21st this year, too. For all of A&M’s intermediate success, the Aggies had only two gains of 25-plus yards. None of this matters if you’re giving up constant 15-yard passes, as Florida did in College Station, but it’s at least a sign that the problems could be worse.

LSU Tigers

Week 6 result: Lost to Missouri 45-41

Raw statistics: 51st in scoring defense (32 points per game), 71st in total defense (495 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): 25th in defensive SP+ in the preseason, 37th after six weeks

Most damning weakness: Passing downs. In Saturday’s loss, LSU gave up a 69-yard pass on second-and-12, a 26-yarder on third-and-6, a 21-yarder on second-and-8 and a 17-yarder on second-and-10. The Tigers also gave up big plays on regular downs, to be sure, but LSU’s symptoms have been two-fold: They can’t knock teams off-schedule, and when they do, they get obliterated. Even by Missouri’s second-string receivers.

On blitz downs (second-and-super-long, third-and-5 or more), the Tigers have given up gains of 20-plus yards 23% of the time (74th), and even worse, these are pretty dang easy big plays. While Mizzou’s first touchdown of the game came on a well-executed flea-flicker, Connor Bazelak also completed a 69-yard pass to uncovered freshman Chance Luper and a 41-yard touchdown to an impossibly wide-open Micah Wilson.

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Missouri QB Connor Bazelak throws for 406 yards and four touchdowns while Myles Brennan passes for 430 yards and four TDs in LSU’s 45-41 loss.

Mizzou coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s offense is based on misdirection and creating confusion, so give a little due credit to those Tigers. But communication for new LSU coordinator Bo Pelini’s defense is nonexistent. Despite the return of corner Derek Stingley Jr., the breakdowns in their third game were as bad as the breakdowns in their first. LSU has managed to slow down only Vanderbilt so far, which doesn’t really count.

Ray of sunshine: The pass rush is solid. Though he hasn’t blitzed much, Pelini has found a way to generate some pressure — the Tigers are 16th in pressure rate and 30th in sack rate. If the secondary irons out the “I thought you had him,” “No, I thought you had him” issues, then they can at least get off the field better on passing downs.

Ole Miss Rebels

Week 6 result: Lost to Alabama 63-48

Raw statistics: 76th in scoring defense (51.7 points per game), 76th in total defense (641 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): 41st in defensive SP+ in the preseason, 65th after six weeks

Most damning weakness: Everything. In terms of success rate, Ole Miss is the worst FBS defense against the run, second worst against the pass, worst on standard downs and second worst on passing downs. Florida’s Kyle Trask and Alabama’s Mac Jones combined to complete 58 of 74 passes for 833 yards, eight touchdowns, no interceptions and only two sacks. Defensive co-coordinators DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge are sending the house often (12th in blitzes per dropback) and getting almost nothing from it (59th in sack rate, 67th in pressure rate). They can’t force teams off-schedule and can’t get off the field when they do.

Ray of sunshine: Florida and Alabama are now off the schedule. Arkansas, Auburn and Vanderbilt, three of the least effective offenses in the league thus far, are next. There’s nothing saying Ole Miss can generate much success against them, but the degree of difficulty at least goes down a bit.

Overachieving defenses

It felt as if almost no one actually had a good week on defense in Week 6, but let’s talk about a couple of Big 12 defenses that had a rest week and have, in a role reversal with the SEC, showed up big-time thus far. We’ll also look at Conference USA’s most intriguing team.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Week 6 result: Bye week

Raw statistics: Third in scoring defense (9 points per game), ninth in total defense (274 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): 37th in defensive SP+ in the preseason, 24th after six weeks

Most encouraging strength: Successful aggression. OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has for a while subscribed to an ethos dear to my heart: efficiency over everything. Attack, play physically and risk big plays, penalties and more big plays in the name of taking the fight to your opponent.

For much of his OSU tenure, this has resulted in, well, big plays, penalties and more big plays. But against teams ranked 61st, 69th and 119th in offensive SP+, this year’s seasoned Pokes defense has dominated. It is fourth in success rate allowed, and 45% of opponents’ possessions have been three-and-outs thus far (third in FBS). The Pokes are 12th in marginal explosiveness as well.

Red flag: The good offenses are on the way. Admittedly, the Big 12 is not the offensive juggernaut it has been for most of the past 15 years. Oklahoma (fourth) and Texas (eighth) have the only top-25 offenses, per SP+, and OSU’s is the only other one ranked higher than 38th. Still, as basically the only remaining College Football Playoff candidate in the Big 12, the Pokes have to maneuver past the Sooners, Longhorns and a quickly rising Iowa State team. Oh yeah, and while OSU is 12th in overall marginal explosiveness, it’s 60th on passing downs. Good offenses might make the Pokes look like LSU.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Week 6 result: Bye week

Raw statistics: 13th in scoring defense (19.3 points per game), eighth in total defense (268 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): 65th in defensive SP+ in the preseason, 51st after six weeks

Most encouraging strength: A blitz-free pass rush. Little was expected of a WVU defense that ranked 73rd in defensive SP+ last year and fired defensive coordinator Vic Koenning in June. But like OSU, the Mountaineers have combined efficiency and big-play prevention in an encouraging way, even if the competition (Eastern Kentucky, Baylor and an OSU team with a freshman QB) wasn’t amazing.

The biggest standout trait to date is the combination of these three rankings: WVU is 69th in blitzes per dropback, 13th in sack rate and fourth in pressure rate. With tackles such as Darius Stills and Dante Stills, and edge rushers VanDarius Cowan, Jared Bartlett and Jalen Thornton, the Mountaineers don’t have to send more than four pass-rushers to successfully harass the QB. From a coverage standpoint, that offers a wonderful luxury.

Red flag: Potential issues in run defense. This defense is quite undersized, and though the run-defense numbers have been solid, they’re not quite as good as the pass defense: 19th in rushing success rate allowed, 42nd in rushing marginal explosiveness. The Mountaineers finish the year against Texas, TCU, Oklahoma and Iowa State, maybe the four teams most likely to take advantage of that.

Marshall Thundering Herd

Week 6 result: Beat Western Kentucky 38-14

Raw statistics: First in scoring defense (7 points per game), 10th in total defense (275 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): 60th in defensive SP+ in the preseason, 31st after six weeks

Most encouraging strength: Doc Holliday’s Thundering Herd have twice finished in the defensive SP+ top 25 in the past five years but fell to 59th last season. Despite attempting minimal disruption overall — 65th in run stuff rate, 73rd in blitzes per dropback — the Herd are swarming like a top-25 D once again. Linebacker Tavante Beckett is everywhere, West Virginia transfer Derrek Pitts is a presence in the secondary, and Marshall ranks both 17th in success rate and second in marginal explosiveness allowed.

The Herd force you to dink and dunk, wait for you to make a mistake, and pounce. And they’re 3-0 having already beaten the two most highly-ranked teams on the schedule in Appalachian State and a WKU team that has admittedly disappointed. Hurdles remain, but the defense has turned Marshall into the Conference USA front-runner.

Red flag: The lack of disruption could eventually backfire. The C-USA East is not loaded with efficient offenses at the moment, but if an opponent is patient and mistake-free enough to take a few yards at a time and control the ball, it might put the Herd offense under more pressure than it can handle to keep up on the scoreboard.

Underachieving offenses

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Week 6 result: Lost to Kentucky 24-2

Raw statistics: 66th in scoring offense (20 points per game), 25th in total offense (442 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): 26th in offensive SP+ in the preseason, 41st after six weeks

Most damning weakness: The big-play spigot has been shut off. It was only two weeks ago that K.J. Costello was throwing for approximately 1,700 yards (OK, 623) against LSU’s dysfunctional defense. That output included seven completions of at least 30 yards and eight more of at least 20.

Since then: a 34-yard completion against Arkansas, a 23-yarder against Kentucky … and that’s it. Costello has averaged a paltry 6.9 yards per completion since then, which, combined with seven interceptions, has ground the Mike Leach Air Raid to a total halt. Both Arkansas and Kentucky played the type of bend-don’t-break defense Leach offenses often see, but Leach’s new charges have not even slightly learned how to handle it.

Ray of sunshine: This is nothing Leach hasn’t faced before. Ignoring Leach’s gross quotes about needing a “purge” of “malcontents,” the bottom line is that, like a seasoned old triple-option coach, Leach has seen every defense known to man by this point. If or when his passers and receivers get closer to the same page, the offense should at least work its way back to average. “Average” isn’t what we were expecting two weeks ago, but it’s the most realistic ambition at the moment.

Auburn Tigers

Week 6 result: Beat Arkansas 30-28

Raw statistics: 62nd in scoring offense (21.7 points per game), 67th in total offense (329 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): Seventh in offensive SP+ in the preseason, 33rd after six weeks

Most damning weakness: They still can’t pass. Granted, the Tigers get bonus points for having faced Georgia already — they have averaged a far more tolerable 29.5 points and 385 yards against mortal defenses. Still, those aren’t great numbers, and without freshman running back Tank Bigsby producing a career-high 146 yards against Arkansas, they would be 1-2 because the passing game once again stunk.

I named quarterback Bo Nix the second-most important player of the 2020 season because of the impact he could have if he were to enjoy a second-year leap behind center. Thus far, he has not. He has completed 57% of his passes at just 11.1 yards per completion, his passer rating is a mere 121, and he’s taking far too many sacks in obvious pass situations. Even with a resilient run game, Auburn ranks just 49th in success rate and 66th in marginal explosiveness.

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The Tigers pull out a close 30-28 win over Arkansas after junior kicker Anders Carlson hits the game-winning field goal.

Ray of sunshine: The less organized defenses are on the way. Georgia is Georgia, and both Kentucky and Arkansas have proven organized and well-coached this year. But the next three opponents on the schedule are South Carolina, Ole Miss and LSU. South Carolina is 70th in success rate allowed (despite having played Vanderbilt!), and you already read about Ole Miss and LSU above. There might be playmaking opportunities on the horizon.

Overachieving offenses

Ole Miss

Raw statistics: 11th in scoring offense (41.7 points per game), second in total offense (573 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): 38th in offensive SP+ in the preseason, 26th after six weeks

Most encouraging strength: Matt Corral is perfect for Lane Kiffin (and vice versa). As horrifying as Ole Miss’ defense has been, the Rebels’ opponent in a given week has been nearly as unsuccessful. Despite having already played Florida and Alabama, Ole Miss is producing UCF-level stats, which makes at least a little sense considering offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby indeed came to Oxford from UCF. Combining the Knights’ tempo and spacing with some of Kiffin’s well-honed passing concepts and bold playcalling has produced otherworldly results so far.

Former blue-chipper Corral has produced a passer rating over 200 in each game and is combining a 76% completion rate with an average of over 16 yards per completion. And even with a short, 10-game season, he has two receivers on pace for more than 1,000 yards: veteran receiver Elijah Moore and tight end/matchup nightmare Kenny Yeboah.

Red flag: The run game isn’t great. The Rebels’ run rates are high, but they’re only 45th in rushing success rate and 20th in standard downs success rate. They’re relying on the pass to bail them out, and it has, but if opponents start to get a read on that, or if the hits on Corral start adding up (they’re 56th in sack rate), that could be a problem.

On the other hand, Ole Miss ran the ball better than it had all year against Alabama — Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy combined for 40 carries and 248 yards. Maybe that progress will continue.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

Week 6 result: Bye week

Raw statistics: Fourth in scoring offense (44.3 points per game), 26th in total offense (441 yards per game)

SP+ (preseason and present): 86th in offensive SP+ in the preseason, 54th after six weeks

Most encouraging strength: An option(ish) team that can pass. A shoutout to Chanticleers. Jamey Chadwell’s squad has patented a funky, run-heavy offense in recent years, and they’ve supplemented it with some serious passing chops in 2020. Freshman quarterback Grayson McCall has completed 67% of his passes at 17.3 yards per completion, and he has thrown only one interception in his first 63 passes of the season. The run game keeps the Chants on schedule, then McCall passes over the top of the defense. Coastal boasts maybe the slowest tempo in FBS but is averaging 3.9 points per drive, third in FBS. The defense (31st in points per drive allowed) might know what it’s doing, too.

Red flag: What happens when the deep balls don’t connect? The run game has produced next to no explosiveness, and when the conference’s better defenses — Appalachian State, Louisiana, Georgia Southern, Troy — pop up on the schedule, Coastal might not be able to rely on the deep shots as much. That might make McCall look a lot more like a freshman. The real tests begin Wednesday, when the Chants travel to face Louisiana. Can’t wait for that one.

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Report: USC bans WR amid possible fraud probe

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A USC Trojans football player was suspended last month by the school in connection to a possible federal investigation into fraud related to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

Sophomore wide receiver Munir McClain has been suspended since mid-September, his mother, Shan McClain told the Times. But she said the school has not given her or her son a clear reason for the suspension. Michael Blanton, USC’s vice president of ethics and professionalism, told Shan that Munir’s name surfaced in relation to a complaint that had been filed involving USC students and a plan to apply for Employment Development Department benefits, the Times reported.

Munir acknowledged he applied for financial relief from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program but was under the impression he qualified because his source of income — reselling high-end shoes — had dried up during the pandemic, the Times reported. A lawyer representing the McClain family told the Times they planned to challenge the suspension.

“We are cooperating with the authorities,” USC said in a statement. “We understand there may be many questions and concerns, but we are unable to discuss this matter because of our obligation to protect students’ privacy.”

Earlier this week, federal agents visited Munir’s dorm looking for his older brother and roommate, redshirt sophomore linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain, the Times reported. He wasn’t home, so an agent left behind a card that identified her as a special agent with the U.S. Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General and Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

The Times reported that other USC football players have recently received similar visits from federal agents inquiring about Munir McClain.

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Trojans WR to appeal suspension, lawyer says

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A USC Trojans football player was suspended last month by the school in connection to a possible federal investigation into fraud related to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

Sophomore receiver Munir McClain has been suspended since mid-September, his mother, Shan McClain told the Times. But she said the school has not given her nor her son a clear reason for the suspension. Michael Blanton, USC’s vice president of ethics and professionalism, told Shan that Munir’s name surfaced in relation to a complaint that had been filed involving USC students and a plan to apply for Employment Development Department benefits, the Times reported.

Munir acknowledged he applied for financial relief from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program but was under the impression he qualified because his source of income — reselling high-end shoes — had dried up during the pandemic, the Times reported. A lawyer representing the McClain family told the Times they planned to challenge the suspension.

“We are cooperating with the authorities,” USC said in a statement. “We understand there may be many questions and concerns, but we are unable to discuss this matter because of our obligation to protect students’ privacy.”

Earlier this week, federal agents visited Munir’s dorm looking for his older brother and roommate, redshirt sophomore linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain, the Times reported. He wasn’t home, so an agent left behind a card that identified her as a special agent with the U.S. Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General and Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

The Times reported other USC football players have recently received similar visits from federal agents inquiring about Munir McClain.

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World Series roundtable: Everything we learned in Games 1 and 2

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It’s a travel day in the 2020 World Series … just without any travel.

The Series — tied at 1 — is staying in Arlington, Texas, but the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays have 24 hours to catch their breath before Game 3 on Friday.

While they do, ESPN baseball writers Sam Miller and David Schoenfield answer some key questions so far in this Fall Classic.


What has stood out to you most over the first two games of this World Series?

Sam Miller: How much deeper the Rays’ lineup looks when Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle aren’t helpless. Tampa Bay got through three playoff rounds behind good pitching and Randy Arozarena, but every inning seemed to start with slumping Rays hitters making two quick outs. Lowe, their best regular-season hitter/worst postseason hitter, broke out with two homers in Game 2. Wendle, in a similar slide, hit one oppo-rocket for a sac fly and pulled a double so hard that Mookie Betts took a bad route to it. Austin Meadows and Yandy Diaz each hit his hardest ball this postseason in Game 2, and Manuel Margot is showing that he might have actually turned into a star sometime in mid-August. The Kershaws and Buehlers of the world might still shut this lineup down, but the Rays should scare the rest of the Dodgers’ staff.

David Schoenfield: That maybe this isn’t going to be the low-scoring, grind-it-out, home-runs-or-die series that we expected. With scores of 8-3 and 6-4, we’ve seen a little more offense than perhaps anticipated given the two pitching staffs. Also, that second-guessing in the World Series will forever remain a fun parlor game. Did Kevin Cash leave Tyler Glasnow in too long in Game 1? Did the Dodgers outthink themselves with a bullpen game in Game 2? Why does Dustin May not strike out more batters given his fastball? What is with all these “contact” plays by the runner on third base this postseason? OK, it worked for Mookie Betts on Tuesday, but it has failed several other times. Are 28-man rosters too many players? (Yes.) Are you tired of bullpen games? (Yes.) Is Corey Seager locked in right now? (Yes.) Do Dodgers fans want to see Joe Kelly in a close game? (No.)

What do the Dodgers need to do to win the series from here?

Miller: It sounds like the worst kind of cliché, but they just need to do what they do. The Dodgers are (no offense, Tampa Bay!) the better team here, and even in two split games it has showed: The Dodgers have 50 points of OBP on Tampa Bay so far in this series and 80 points of slugging. The regular-season Dodgers were only the 11th team in modern history with a winning percentage over .700, and so far in the postseason, against other postseason teams, they have the run differential of a .700 team. If they don’t make any gaffes and they just (serious cliché voice) play like they’re capable of playing, they’re going to win every seven-game series that isn’t beset by weirdness.

Schoenfield: Picking up where Sam left off, keep working those counts. They made Tyler Glasnow throw 112 pitches in just 4⅓ innings. Blake Snell was great in Game 2 through four innings, but in the end they drew four walks off him and knocked him out after 4⅔ innings. They’ve seen Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks now, and the more they see of them, the better they will adjust. As good as the Tampa Bay pen is, Cash doesn’t really want to go too deep, and with three games in three days, reliever fatigue becomes a potential issue.

What do the Rays need to do to win the series from here?

Miller: Get Nick Anderson right. Anderson was the best reliever in baseball for the year prior to this month, and the Rays use him so aggressively that it’d be easy to see him being named MVP of this series. But arguably his four worst outings of the year — OK, probably four of his worst five — have come in his past four appearances. His rightness obviously carries extra importance, because he comes into the biggest moment of every close game. He doesn’t have the freedom to fail just a little bit. But beyond the direct impact his pitches have, the Rays’ trust in him sets the rest of the pitching plan. If you’re counting to 27 outs and you don’t have Anderson for four to seven of them, that has ramifications for Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, for Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo, for the whole story the Rays are trying to tell.

Schoenfield: Sam took my suggestion. Indeed, the dirty little secret for the Rays is that Anderson hasn’t actually been that good in the postseason. He has now been scored on in five straight appearances and in six of his eight games in the playoffs. After averaging 14.3 K’s per nine innings in his limited action in the regular season, he has only eight in 13 postseason innings. Anyway, let’s go with this: Ride Charlie Morton. Given Anderson’s struggles, it’s important that Morton shuts down the Dodgers in Game 3 … and then again in Game 7 if the series goes the distance. Morton is riding a streak of five straight postseason starts dating to 2019 where he has given up one earned run or fewer (including his past two). His longest outing in this stretch has been just 5⅔ innings, but if he gives up one run in five innings, the Rays will be in a great position.

Who is the MVP of the series through two games?

Miller: Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw took control of this series for the Dodgers on the fourth batter of the first game, when — with two on and one out — he got Hunter Renfroe on a checked swing for a huge strikeout. He then retired 16 of the next 17 batters as the Dodgers’ offense chewed through three Tampa Bay pitchers to first take a small lead and then build a big one. No, they couldn’t keep control of the series after Kershaw left, and we go into the first “travel” day tied. But nobody looms over the rest of this series quite so much as Kershaw, the pitcher Tampa Bay couldn’t hit, lined up for a Game 5 start and a probable Game 7 (if necessary) relief appearance.

Schoenfield: Kershaw is in the best shape to win it for the entire series since he’s now guaranteed a start in Game 5 with the Rays avoiding the sweep. It’s hard for a pitcher to win MVP honors, though. If it’s close — like Steve Pearce and David Price in 2018 — it seems as if the hitter usually wins. We’ve had 21 MVPs since 2000 (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling shared it in 2001), but pitchers have won only six.

What have you noticed the most about the neutral-site, limited-fans World Series so far?

Miller: I haven’t noticed their presence very much, to be honest. I certainly haven’t noticed fans affecting the game the way 40,000 delirious partisans can. Maybe it’s different for the players in the middle of it, but if there’s a spectrum that ranges from “empty” to “full and Octobery,” it has felt closer to empty.

Schoenfield: Now, this wouldn’t have been a problem with a regular Tampa Bay-Los Angeles World Series since both are warm-weather cities and the Rays play indoors, but it has been nice that the entire postseason has been played in warm-weather locations — the way baseball is supposed to be played. No winter jackets. No heaters in the dugouts. No turtlenecks or ski masks. Am I advocating for a permanent warm-weather World Series? Well, it’s supposed to snow in Minneapolis on Thursday with a high of 35.

How will a travel day off — without travel — impact the rest of this series?

Miller: Probably a lot less than we would have guessed 36 hours ago! The break (and the break between Games 5 and 6) will let the Dodgers use Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin in relief during the games “in” Tampa Bay, which seemed important except that neither of them has looked very good lately. None of either team’s high-leverage relievers are gassed, thanks to the blowout Tuesday. I guess the day gives Tampa Bay a chance to reset its bullpen after Anderson’s and Fairbanks’ extended outings Wednesday, but neither threw that many pitches. Uh … it gives Kevin Kiermaier‘s wrist another day to get healthy, if that’s still a factor? Dave? Got something better?

Schoenfield: More time for the Dodgers to outthink themselves? I kid! I kid! The Dodgers will definitely make all the right choices in their pitching decisions, just like in the 2017 World Series and 2018 World Series and … OK, here’s the deal. They can play the next three games straight with Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and then Kershaw going. I think Dave Roberts has finally decided on who his top relievers are: Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen from the right side and then maybe Victor Gonzalez and Jake McGee from the left side. Trouble is, he had all those righties available in Game 2 (only Baez pitched in Game 1), yet he used the struggling May and then Joe Kelly, and those two combined to give up four runs (he got away with using Alex Wood, the worst pitcher on the staff). This is the World Series. It’s not time to save your best relievers for only when you’re ahead. It’s important to hold down the fort at all times and … oh, wait, you were asking about the “travel” day, not the Dodgers’ bullpen. My bad.

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