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Everything you need to know about Dodgers-Rays World Series

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I’m ready. Ready for Mookie Betts to play right field. Ready for Tyler Glasnow‘s fastball. Ready for Corey Seager‘s swing and Willy Adames‘ glove and Dustin May‘s hair and Ji-Man Choi‘s smile. Yes, ready for another trip with Clayton Kershaw in the World Series pressure cooker. We made it through the shortened season, through the controversial 16-team playoff bracket, through a losing — and controversial — team nearly making it here.

It’s going to be the strangest of World Series in one way: the first neutral site World Series, to be played at the Texas Rangers‘ new Globe Life Field. It is still the World Series, however, and we will have fans in stands. And after everything that has happened since March, we ended up with the two best teams in baseball playing for October glory. In fact, for only fourth time in the wild-card era (since 1995), the teams with the best record in each league will meet in the World Series.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are back for the third time in four seasons, the first team to do that since the New York Yankees in 2000, 2001 and 2003. It’s the 63rd instance in major league history that a team has reached three World Series in a four-year span — most of those overlapping Yankees teams — and only two teams among the group did not a win a World Series, the 1907-09 Tigers and 1911-13 Giants. The Dodgers will be the heavy favorite, but a few days ago, they were all but dead before rallying from a 3-1 National League Championship Series deficit to beat a tough Atlanta Braves team. Maybe that will ease the burden of expectations. It’s almost like free baseball.

The Tampa Bay Rays are back for the second time in franchise history and the first time since 2008. They opened the season ranking 28th in the majors in payroll. The only team to reach the World Series since 1998 with a lower ranking? The 2008 Rays. They are a team seemingly without stars playing a team full of them. The Dodgers traded for Betts in the offseason; the Rays traded for an obscure rookie outfielder from the St. Louis Cardinals named Randy Arozarena. The Dodgers’ NLCS roster included 12 players who have been All-Stars in their careers, for a total of 26 appearances. The Rays’ roster features four All-Stars with five appearances.

First to four wins takes home the trophy. Here’s a guide to the 2020 World Series:

What the Rays have on the line: The first World Series victory in franchise history and proof that a small-market team with a small payroll can overcome not only the mighty and rich Yankees and Boston Red Sox in their division (not to mention New York in the playoffs), but the best of the National League as well. It is the ultimate reward for the franchise that kicked off the modern analytics movement — Tampa Bay was an early adopter of the shift, for example — and it has baseball’s fifth-best overall record since 2008.

What the Dodgers have on the line: They have won eight straight division titles. They won 104 games in 2017, 106 games in 2019 and more than 70% of their games this regular season, with the shortened schedule perhaps denying them the opportunity to chase down the 2001 Seattle Mariners‘ and 1906 Chicago Cubs‘ record of 116 victories. They remain without a title, however, and this great era of Dodgers baseball will leave fans with an empty feeling unless L.A. wins a World Series.

And given everything about this season, getting here was not easy. “2017 happened, 2018 happened, we fell short. Now we are back,” Dodgers infielder Enrique Hernandez said. “The past is in the past. This one feels super special because it is in front of us and it is happening. I am not going to take anything away from the other two, but this one is extremely special; we were able to stay COVID-free throughout the whole season.

“We took care of business in the regular season, we took care of business against the Brewers, we took care of business against the Padres, we took care of business against the Braves. It was a little harder than we thought it was going to be, but I am glad we pulled it off. Being down 3-1 then coming back and winning in seven games, it’s something that I will never forget. It is special for sure.”

Player with the most on the line: We all know Kershaw’s story. He is one of the best pitchers of all time, 175-76 in the regular season, with a 2.43 ERA, three Cy Young Awards and five ERA titles. He is going to be in the Hall of Fame. In the postseason, however, he is 11-12 with a 4.31 ERA. In two World Series, he is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA. He has had too many crushing moments along the way. At this point in his career, greatness is no longer expected or even required for the Dodgers to win. Just pitch well enough and win that ring.

Who is Randy Arozarena? The 25-year-old rookie outfielder for the Rays is the hottest hitter on the planet. Acquired from the Cardinals in the offseason, he missed the start of the season after a positive COVID-19 test, debuted on Aug. 30 and hit seven home runs in September, and he is now having a breakout postseason. In 14 games, he is hitting .382/.433/.855 with seven home runs and 14 runs scored. He is just the fourth player with at least seven homers in the postseason before the World Series, matching Daniel Murphy of the 2015 New York Mets and B.J. Upton of the 2008 Rays, and one short of Carlos Beltran’s eight for the 2004 Houston Astros. True, Arozarena had an extra round, but he didn’t hit any home runs in the Wild Card Series against the Blue Jays. He homered three times against the Yankees in the American League Division Series and four times against the Astros in the AL Championship Series. His 47 total bases are already tied for second most in a single postseason, behind the 50 David Freese had for the 2011 Cardinals, the year he won MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series.

“I think what Randy did was pretty miraculous,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said after the ALCS.

That almost feels like an understatement, especially when considering the rest of the Rays hit .183 in the series. Born in Cuba, Arozarena left the country five years ago on a small boat, landing in Mexico after an eight-hour ride across choppy waters. He found his way to the developmental academy of the Toros de Tijuana club, where he had to share cleats and batting gloves with another prospect. The Cardinals spotted him playing for the Toros’ version of a minor league team and signed him in 2016. He made his major league debut with the Cards in 2019.

“Everybody is just in awe every time he steps into the box,” Rays catcher Mike Zunino said.

Arozarena has hardly been a one-trick pony. For a young player, he has done a pretty good job of controlling the strike zone (although he doesn’t walk much). Five of his seven postseason home runs have come on fastballs, a testament to his bat speed, but he also has hit one off a slider and one off a curveball. Three came with two strikes. Four have gone to right-center and one to right, so he has displayed power to all fields. For what it’s worth, both Murphy and Upton went homerless in the World Series. (Beltran’s Astros failed to get there.)

Arozarena is the surprise, but here are five others who will play key roles:

Mookie Betts: With spectacular catches in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the NLCS, he cemented his legacy as one of the greatest defensive right fielders of all time. In fact, as good as the Dodgers are on offense, and as deep as the pitching staff is, their defense raises them to another level. They ranked second in the majors in defensive runs saved at plus-29 — and the Rays were fifth at plus-24. We should see plenty of great defense in this series.

Cody Bellinger: The 2019 NL MVP has struggled in the postseason in his career, but maybe his game-winning home run in Game 7 will spur him on to a big series. He is hitting .196 in 48 career playoff games but .250/.365/.545 this postseason.

Kenley Jansen: The longtime Dodgers closer was pretty solid in the regular season, but after a shaky appearance against the Padres in which his velocity was way down, manager Dave Roberts said Jansen was no longer an automatic call for the ninth inning. Indeed, he got demoted to mop-up duty in the 15-3 drubbing of Atlanta in Game 3 of the NLCS. But he was much sharper in Games 5 and 6, with two straight 1-2-3 appearances — although Roberts stuck with Julio Urias for the final three innings of Game 7. At some point, Jansen will likely have to close out a closer Dodgers lead.

Tyler Glasnow: He is going to get the ball in Game 1 for the Rays and is capable of dominating with his upper 90s heater and wipeout curveball. He does give up some home runs (six in 19⅓ innings in the postseason) and, oh, the Dodgers led the majors in home runs in the regular season and just tied a single-series playoff record with 16 homers.

Peter Fairbanks: Nick Anderson is the Rays’ most dominant reliever, but Cash has used him at any point in the game when a critical situation develops (and usually against the meat of the opponent’s order). So while Anderson has one save in the postseason and Diego Castillo has two, Fairbanks leads with three — after the rookie didn’t have one in the regular season. Fairbanks throws 100 mph with a funky over-the-top delivery, and the Rays picked him up last year from the Rangers after he had two Tommy John surgeries. Now he is closing out playoff games. Baseball is ridiculous.

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Mark Texeira and Tim Kurkjian weigh in on the 2020 World Series matchup between the Rays and Dodgers.

Don’t expect any pitchers’ duels: We might see some low-scoring games, but don’t look for games in which both starting pitchers go deep into the game. Of the 47 postseason games played before the World Series, only four times did both starters pitch at least six innings. Only twice did a starter go more than seven innings — Kershaw and Trevor Bauer, both in the wild-card round when they were spinning shutouts.

The Rays, in particular, have a short leash with their starters. In their 14 games, Glasnow’s two six-inning outings were the longest. Only Blake Snell, with a 105-pitch, five-inning effort in the ALCS, topped 100 pitches. Given the quality and depth of both bullpens, expect quick hooks, even if the starter has pitched five strong innings. In other words, it will be a different style of play than last year’s World Series, when seven of the 14 starters went at least six innings and half went 100-plus pitches, as well.

Mr. Clutch: Charlie Morton — the rare free-agent signing for the Rays when he agreed to a two-year, $30 million contract before the 2019 season (with a 2021 option) — was the winning pitcher in Tampa Bay’s Game 7 of the ALCS, making him the first pitcher with three Game 7 wins in major league history. Morton also was the winning pitcher in the 2017 ALCS with the Astros (five scoreless innings) and the 2017 World Series (one run in four innings of relief). Toss in the 5⅔ scoreless innings against the Astros and that’s a 0.46 ERA in his Game 7 appearances. Guess how the Tampa Bay rotation likely lines up:

Game 1: Glasnow
Game 2: Snell
Game 3: Morton
Game 4: Ryan Yarbrough
Game 5: Glasnow
Game 6: Snell
Game 7: Morton

Morton finished third in the 2019 AL Cy Young voting, but Zunino said his Game 7 performance against the Astros was particularly noteworthy.

“This is the best I’ve seen Charlie in the time I’ve been able to catch him the past two years,” he said. “Had everything working, had a great mix. It was the game plan to keep a four-pitch mix. … The knowledge he brings with what he wants to accomplish. Seeing him do that on the biggest stage is a lot of fun.”

The Rays know if the series goes the distance they will have the right guy on the mound in Game 7.

Who do the Dodgers start? The Dodgers have five starting pitching options, with Kershaw lined up for Game 1. After that, it gets a little murky. Urias threw 39 pitches in Game 7 of the NLCS (on three days’ rest). Tony Gonsolin pitched two innings and 41 pitches. May actually started Games 5 and 7, throwing 55 and then 18 pitches. Walker Buehler started Game 6 on Saturday, so if he started Game 2 on Wednesday, it would be on short rest. It’s an intriguing decision. If the Dodgers start Buehler on short rest, they can then get him and Urias two starts apiece in the series, with a rotation like this:

Game 1: Kershaw
Game 2: Buehler (short rest)
Game 3: Urias
Game 4: May/Gonsolin
Game 5: Kershaw
Game 6: Buehler
Game 7: Urias

Roberts also could turn Game 2 into a May/Gonsolin bullpen game, start Buehler in Game 3 with five days’ rest, push Kershaw back to Game 6 for an extra two days’ rest and have Urias available in relief in Game 7 like he was in the NLCS, with a rotation like this:

Game 1: Kershaw
Game 2: May/Gonsolin/bullpen game
Game 3: Buehler
Game 4: Urias
Game 5: May/Gonsolin/bullpen game
Game 6: Kershaw
Game 7: Buehler

The ballpark: So, it’s hard to call Globe Life Field a pitchers’ park after the Dodgers and Braves just combined for 25 home runs in seven games, but it is a big park, especially to the power alley in right-center. It certainly played as a tough home run park in the regular season, so that could be a key element.

This is especially true for the Rays, who don’t have the offensive depth of the Dodgers and have relied so much on the home run so far in the playoffs — 71.9% of their runs have come via the long ball (compared to just 41% in the regular season). The Rays just don’t have a long-sequence offense, and they led the majors in strikeouts, so they need to win low-scoring games in which they hit home runs. If the park takes some of that power away, it could be a short series.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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