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The Dodgers Went From A Stunning Loss To The Brink Of A Championship

The Los Angeles Dodgers could have imploded after a historic series of miscues allowed the opposing Tampa Bay Rays to tie the World Series at two games apiece Saturday night. Game 5 starter Clayton Kershaw could have lived down to his less-than-perfect postseason reputation, and the Dodgers could have let yet another title shot slip away. Instead, though, they got back to work and produced a businesslike 4-2 victory Sunday night, showcasing all of the myriad reasons why Los Angeles is just one win away from its first championship in 32 years.

Tampa Bay’s win in Game 4 was an all-timer — and an all-time gut-punch of a loss for the Dodgers, who had fought hard to stake themselves to a 7-6 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth before all hell broke loose. According to win probability added (WPA), the single by backup Rays outfielder Brett Phillips (and the two Dodger errors that followed) swung the odds of Game 4 by 81 percentage points, making it one of the most game-changing plays ever in a World Series. And if we take into account the leverage of the game itself, that play lowered Los Angeles’s championship odds by 29.7 percentage points, making it probably the costliest set of errors in baseball history.

The Dodgers’ Game 4 blunders made history

Costliest World Series plays that contained at least one error, according to championship win probability added (cWPA)

Teams
Year Game No. Inning Outs Batting Pitching Error(s) Walk-Off cWPA
2020 4 Bot 9 2 TBR LAD CF, C -29.7
1912 8 Top 10 1 NYG BOS CF -29.2
1923 6 Top 8 2 NYY NYG CF -26.9
1912 8 Bot 10 0 BOS NYG CF -24.4
1986 6 Bot 10 2 NYM BOS 1B -21.5
1997 7 Bot 11 1 FLA CLE 2B -19.0
2001 7 Bot 9 0 ARI NYY P -18.2
1952 7 Bot 5 1 BRO NYY LF -15.7
1909 6 Top 9 0 PIT DET 1B -14.7
2002 6 Bot 8 0 ANA SFG LF -14.7
1912 2 Bot 10 1 BOS NYG C -14.6
1982 7 Top 6 0 MIL STL P -14.4
1907 1 Top 8 1 DET CHC C -13.4
1924 7 Top 6 1 NYG WSH SS -13.0
1940 7 Top 3 2 DET CIN 3B -12.3

Championship WPA measures the change in each team’s odds of winning the World Series between the start and end of each play.

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Again, you might have thought the way that game went down would weigh heavily on the Dodgers going forward. But all L.A. had to do was glance at the stat sheet to realize the balance of the series was still tipped in its favor. Entering Sunday’s game, the Dodgers had a 158-point advantage in OPS during the World Series, a 1.20-run advantage in fielding independent pitching and a 6.2-point advantage in defensive efficiency ratio.1 That it took a historic sequence of events for Tampa Bay to even tie things up also spoke to how well Los Angeles had played for the vast majority of the series.

And the Dodgers got back to that formula in Game 5. Though they were held to just six hits — after banging out 25 in Games 3 and 4 combined — three went for extra bases (including two home runs), and they managed five walks. L.A. jumped out to an early lead, scoring first for the fourth time in five games, further adding to Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow’s postseason frustrations. After allowing four earned runs in five innings Sunday, Glasnow has a 6.28 postseason ERA (including a 9.64 mark in this World Series). As is customary at this point, L.A.’s deep lineup also delivered RBIs from the Nos. 2 (Corey Seager), 4 (Max Muncy), 6 (Cody Bellinger) and 8 (Joc Pederson) slots in the batting order.

But the biggest factor to turn the tide of the series back toward the Dodgers was their pitching. Kershaw shrugged off his past failures to give the team a solid 5⅔ innings in Game 5, allowing just two runs and setting up the Dodger bullpen to close the door late. On a night he set the new all-time postseason strikeout record, L.A.’s ace outdueled Glasnow for the second time in the series. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ relievers found redemption 24 hours after a disastrous performance in which they allowed six runs in four innings (including one unearned during the comedy of errors at the end).

Tampa Bay had its chances, particularly with runners on the corners and no outs against Kershaw in the fourth (which ultimately yielded no runs after Manuel Margot was tagged out when trying to steal home), and when Randy Arozarena, the new single-postseason home run king, came up as the potential go-ahead run against lefty Victor González in the eighth (he harmlessly flied out to center). But the Rays were unable to muster any runs from the fourth inning onward.

And so, the Dodgers now have a chance to clinch their long-awaited championship in Game 6 on Tuesday. Our prediction model gives them a 59 percent chance of wrapping things up then and an 83 percent chance overall. L.A. is up 3-2 and, statistically, it has done a thorough job of outclassing the Rays across pretty much every key metric during the series so far:

The Dodgers have dominated statistically

Head-to-head comparison in key metrics for the 2020 World Series

Los Angeles Category Tampa Bay
.264 Batting average .228
.354 On-base % .288
.506 Slugging % .420
.859 On-base plus slugging .708
4.03 Earned run average 5.93
4.06 Fielding-independent pitching 5.83
71.3 Defensive efficiency % 69.3
75.4 Left-on-base %* 75.1

*Measures the rate at which a team’s pitchers have stranded opposing base-runners.

Source: ESPN STATS & INFORMATION GROUP

Of course, lest we coronate the Dodgers too early, Game 4 reminded us that baseball fortunes can turn in an instant, on the wildest of plays. But at the same time, it also proved that those are the kinds of improbable plays it will take to beat a team as deep and talented as the one Los Angeles has assembled this season.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

 

Footnotes

  1. Ironic, given those defensive blunders at the end of Game 4.

Neil Paine is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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