Columnists, Sports

Fair or Foul: The last time the Dodgers and Rays each played in a World Series

The 2020 World Series is well under way, but before examining the highlights of the games themselves, it’s important to look at the teams playing in the series and their paths to this Fall Classic. The Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers are two franchises that came into existence far apart from each other, and thus have vastly different playoff histories. 

The Rays are playing in only their second World Series as a franchise, but that number of appearances must be taken with a grain of salt. The team came into existence 22 years ago in 1998, and were a perennial last-place team for nearly half that time. 

Through 2007, Tampa Bay reached 70 wins just once, and only finished above last place in the American League East a single time. Everything changed in 2008 when the Rays surprised the whole league by winning 97 games, climbing to the top of their division and making the World Series, finally reaping the rewards of a decade of awfulness.

By that season, Tampa Bay saw countless young, homegrown talents take the next step in their development and lead the team to the World Series. This crop of talent included Carl Crawford, David Price, James Shields, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Melvin Upton Jr. 

What made the 2008 Rays even more amazing was the fact that they performed this well and soared this high while still possessing a pint-sized payroll. 

Tampa Bay is famous for never having gobs of money to spend. That lack of money means the organization always needs to focus heavily on drafting well, making smart trades and winning while those young players are still there.

That all happened in 2008, much as it is currently happening in 2020 for the team, but there is no doubt Tampa Bay eyes a different end to this Fall Classic than back in 2008. The Rays lost in the 2008 World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies, who were led by their own homegrown talents such as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels. 

That was the last time Tampa Bay reached the final showdown of the World Series, despite the many great teams they put together in the 2010s.

The Rays trail the Dodgers three games to two in the 2020 World Series as of Monday, and they will look to turn things around, win the final two contests and take home the first championship for the franchise — and the second title for a Tampa Bay sports team in 2020.

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Dodgers, an organization with a very different payroll and much better financial flexibility, waited even less time between World Series appearances. It was just two years ago in 2018 that the Dodgers played in their last Fall Classic. 

That 2018 team epitomized what Andrew Friedman, Dodgers president of Baseball Operations, has done in his time on the West Coast. The former Rays executive helped bring in young talents — including Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Joc Pederson via the draft — to become faces of the franchise by 2018.

At the same time, Friedman used the Dodgers’ enormous wealth to extend their star players such as Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner. On top of all these excellent moves, Friedman executed trades for key cogs such as Manny Machado, Rich Hill, Alex Wood and more. 

This core of elite veterans and young studs all came together in the second half of the 2010s as the Dodgers played their second-straight World Series in 2018. 

Just like the Rays in 2008, the Dodgers lost in their last World Series appearance, losing 4-1 to the juggernaut 2018 Boston Red Sox. After losing early in the 2019 playoffs, the Dodgers put up the best record in the league in this truncated 2020 campaign. And they have breezed through their competition to return to the Fall Classic for the third time in four years. 

They once again eye their first title of the 21st century, which would be their first title since 1988.

That tells the story of what these two 2020 World Series adversaries looked like the last time they played in the Fall Classic. Even though neither team waited too long to make it back, both teams are the best in their respective leagues and continue to play in an epic World Series. 

The only sad fact about this matchup is only one of these teams will win the Series. One will end the drought, while the other will keep chugging along.

Comments are closed.