Now that the dust has settled on the 2020 World Series and the off-season is under way, let’s take a look at what the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles can learn from the Dodgers and Rays on how to win a championship.
The Baltimore Orioles proved that they have good players who an compete, but winning means they have to take it to the next level.
The post-season teams followed these rules, and the Orioles could, too.
1. Every roster spot counts
The main reason the Dodgers and Rays got as far as the World Series is because they made the most of the 28-man rosters for this season. Coupled with protocol discipline (until the celebration), the two teams stayed healthy and squeezed the most out of there bench players and relief pitchers.
The Rays platooned in every playoff game, and it payed off with key performances from Manuel Margot and Kevin Kiermaier. Their pinch hitters famously came up clutch with Mike Brosseau winning the ALDS and Brett Phillips walking off with his only hit of the postseason.
For the Dodgers, Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor had strong seasons splitting time, and Joc Pederson made up for a lost year with a 1.200 OPS in the World Series. The Orioles had a much improved lineup this year, but they will need more support off the bench going forward.
2. Save money where you can, but pay for players worth spending on
Coming from one of the smallest markets in baseball, the Tampa Bay front office finds the most value out of players who aren’t worth that much because they cannot afford to go after every big free agent. This has kept them competitive for years, but spending more got them to the World Series.
Even though the Rays just declined his team option, they gave Charlie Morton $30 million dollars before the 2019 season, and he was a Cy Young candidate that year and their best pitcher in the playoffs this year.
After moving from Tampa to LA, team president Andrew Friedman has adopted a similar strategy of financial prudence, but with a much larger budget.
Because he has been savvy and picked up Justin Turner and Max Muncy from the scrap heap, the Dodgers could afford to give Mookie Betts a huge twelve-year extension. Betts is an MVP candidate this year and will be for the next decade. The Orioles will need a superstar to win, and look for them to target a shortstop in next year’s loaded free agent class.
3. The fundamentals still matter
Mookie Betts did not win World Series MVP because he wasn’t the best hitter, but he came close to winning the series by himself because of his base running and defense. He made web gems in Games 5, 6, and 7 of the NLCS that shifted the series against the Braves, and he scored multiple runs in the World Series from stolen bases and aggressive base running on ground balls.
This is where the Orioles have the most ground to make up. They are an eye sore on the base paths, and they are still close to the bottom of the league in fielding percentage. Maybe with a new infield instructor they will play sharper in 2021.
4. Know when to take starters out, and when to leave them in
Every playoff team nowadays has a quick hook on starting pitchers, which make the games take an hour longer than normal.
The Rays live by the philosophy of not letting starters go more than two times through the order, and it mostly works because of their strong bullpen. They frustratingly pulled Morton in the sixth inning of the ALCS clincher, but the relievers shut down the Astro lineup.
The Dodgers also used this method effectively when they pulled Tony Gonsolin in Game 6 of the World Series and no other pitcher gave up a run.
The numbers say this practice works, but nothing in baseball is certain 100% of the time. Kevin Cash infamously hooked a cruising Blake Snell with the lead only to give it up a couple batters later, and they lost the series because of his decision.
Brandon Hyde is pretty good at managing his bullpen, but I hope he learned something from this move.
5. Seriously, leave in a starter who’s cruising
I can’t stress enough how bad this decision was. Kevin Cash is a great manager, but he has to have a feel for the game he is watching. Snell had completely shut down the Dodgers lineup, and he still had a low pitch count so he could have continued.
The move really made no sense because Cash brought in Nick Anderson, who was terrible in the playoffs, and this year Betts hit 100 points better against righties than lefties. If he just looked at different numbers, Cash could have managed a Game 7.
The Orioles will likely not make a run at the 2021 World Series, but they should keep this year’s Fall Classic in mind when figuring out how to get there and win.