Columnists, Sports

Fair or Foul: Four pitchers’ arduous journeys to their first World Series

The 2020 World Series starts this week. Unlike many past seasons, this series will feature the two best teams in Major League Baseball from this season: the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Every World Series-bound team features players with unconventional and difficult journeys. Here are four such pitchers who have the opportunity to pitch in a World Series for the first time.

Adam Kolarek, Los Angeles Dodgers

The sidearm southpaw first entered professional baseball a decade ago after the New York Mets selected him in the 2010 draft. His minor league journey would turn into a roller coaster ride. 

After reaching the AAA level of the minor leagues by 2013, at just 24 years old, Kolarek posted an earned run average of more than 5.00 for the next two seasons. This led him to be released from the Mets organization. 

The Rays then took him on in 2016. By this point, Kolarek began rebounding nicely and pitching well through 2017. 

At age 28, the lefty finally debuted in the majors on June 29, 2017. After posting a 4.43 ERA over two seasons in Tampa Bay, he was traded to the Dodgers, where he has gone on to post a 0.95 ERA in 20 games this season.

After a decade of bouncing up and down from the minors and on his team’s depth chart, Kolarek is now a key cog on the National League Champion Dodgers.

Aaron Loup, Tampa Bay Rays

Loup’s journey to his first Fall Classic technically began more than a decade ago after he was drafted in 2009 by the Toronto Blue Jays. Unlike Kolarek, this southpaw spent very little time in the minor leagues before reaching the big show. Without even stopping at the AAA level of the minors, Loup arrived in the majors on July 14, 2012 at the age of 24. 

As the 2010s pressed on, the Jays increasingly saw that their haste with his promotion was an ill-advised move.

Loup’s ERA from season to season went up every year from 2012 to 2016, during which he got optioned back down to the minors multiple times. His tumultuous Blue Jays career ended on July 31, 2018 when he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

After a quick stop there and a 2019 season spent with the San Diego Padres where he only appeared in four games, Loup signed a minor league deal with Tampa Bay. He then made the big-league team in July and pitched to a 2.52 ERA in 2020. 

Now 32 years old, the veteran lefty gets his first crack at pitching in a World Series.

Blake Treinen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Treinen’s path to the 2020 World Series embodies some aspects of both Loup and Kolarek’s journeys up to this point. 

Treinen endured a relatively short minor league career before traveling down a roller coaster ride of a big-league career filled with very high peaks and very low troughs. 

The righty began his career with the Oakland Athletics, but he didn’t remain there very long. Treinen got traded to the Washington Nationals before the start of the 2013 season. He would reach the pros just one year later, debuting in 2014 at age 25.

He didn’t start for very long, moving to the bullpen later in that 2014 season. Some newfound velocity in the pen treated Treinen well as he went on to post a 3.38 ERA in more than 200 appearances from 2015–2017. Midway through 2017, he returned to Oakland in a deal for All-Star closer Sean Doolittle. 

Little did Oakland know they’d gain an All-Star of their own.

In 2018, Treinen gave up just seven earned runs while striking out 100 batters in 80 innings as Oakland’s closer. He then finished sixth in the American League Cy Young Award voting. However, he fully lost his touch in 2019 as everything about his game went awry. 

The Dodgers took a chance on the veteran and signed him to a one-year deal where he is now a late-inning reliever on the stout Dodgers pitching staff.

Oliver Drake, Tampa Bay Rays

These first three pitchers have endured nothing compared to the career timeline of Oliver Drake. He got drafted first out of any of them back in 2008 by the Baltimore Orioles, but became the third of the whole group to reach the pros in 2015. He also ended up being the second-oldest of the group to debut at 28 years old. 

He spent about eight years in the minors, but Drake continually pitched well during that time, with his ERA never reaching higher than 3.32 over his final five minor league campaigns.

After all that, the arduousness was just getting started. Drake pitched for six different teams from 2017 to 2018. He started in Baltimore in 2017, got traded to Milwaukee, then got traded to Cleveland in 2018 before getting claimed by the Los Angeles Angels, Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins and Rays in that same season. He then rejoined Tampa Bay in 2019 and pitched well for them that season. 

In 2020, Drake struggled for Tampa Bay, but he remained on the team through the playoffs and may now get to pitch in his first Fall Classic at age 33 after all of the trades, travel and difficulties he has overcome in his 13-year career.

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