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Rays gamble on rare, risky strategy in World Series, but Dodgers don’t blink

The Dodgers' Mookie Betts bats during the 2020 World Series.
The Dodgers’ Mookie Betts singles in Game 1 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

There are shifts, there are extreme shifts, and then there are the defensive alignments of the Tampa Bay Rays, who have deployed a slow-pitch softball-like four-man outfield against five Dodgers hitters — Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Will Smith, Mookie Betts and Justin Turner — in the World Series.

The method to their madness, according to Rays manager Kevin Cash, is to find the right combination of a pitcher’s stuff and ability to hit spots and a hitter’s tendencies to produce a fly ball.

“There’s enough information that we trust that more times than not, this guy is gonna hit the ball in the air against a certain pitcher,” Cash said. “It’s not strictly hitter-based or pitcher-based. It’s the mix and the match of how those two come together.”

The effectiveness of the four-man outfield, which Cash described as a “no-doubles defense,” in the first four games was negligible. The Dodgers had five hits in 11 plate appearances against four-man outfields, with Smith hitting a homer in the sixth inning of Game 2.

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The Dodgers lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7 in Game 4 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The series is tied 2-2.

“They’re going to put four men out there because they think they’re going to get a fly to the outfield,” Smith said. “They’re trying to cover the gaps, so my approach doesn’t really change when that happens. I’m still trying to get a pitch I can drive.

“In certain situations, I might try to get more of a groundball, but the other night, when I hit the homer, I was really looking to get on base and drive something.”

Muncy lined a single off the foot of pitcher Charlie Morton in the first inning of Game 3 on Friday night against a four-man outfield. Betts grounded a single up the middle against a four-man outfield in the sixth inning. On Saturday, Turner grounded a single through the shortstop spot in the eighth inning.

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“If you adjust your approach, that’s giving them the win,” Muncy said. “You’ve got to keep your same swing. You can’t change things based on what they’re doing. That’s what they want you to do.”

Four-man outfields are more of a recent phenomenon but not a novel one. Opponents of the Boston Red Sox often employed four-man outfields against Hall of Fame slugger Ted Williams from 1939 to 1960, and the Angels considered using the alignment against Barry Bonds in the 2002 World Series.

Asked if he knew the success rate of the four-man outfield, Cash said, “No.”

Walk this way

Muncy has drawn 19 walks in 16 postseason games, the third-highest total for any player in one postseason, but the Dodgers first baseman still is well short of the record.

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Bonds, at the height of his slugging prowess, drew 27 walks in 17 games for the Giants in 2002, a postseason in which he hit .356 with a 1.559 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, eight homers and 16 RBIs.

The Angels walked Bonds 13 times — seven of them intentional — in their seven-game World Series. Of Bonds’ 27 total walks, 13 were intentional. Gary Sheffield ranks second on the list with 20 walks in 16 games for the Florida Marlins in 1997.

A series-by-series look at each of the 21 World Series the Dodgers franchise has played in over their long history.

Pitch recognition and plate discipline always have been strengths for Muncy, the cleanup batter who has a .245 average (13 for 53), two homers, four doubles and 13 RBIs in the postseason.

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“It’s something I’ve always had,” Muncy said. “People ask me about it all the time. I don’t do any drills, I don’t do any of that type of stuff. It’s just something that I’ve had. I would just say you got to stick to your approach.”

Arozarena, rookie record-holder

Randy Arozarena’s homer Friday night was his eighth of the postseason, tying Bonds (2002), Carlos Beltran (2004) and Nelson Cruz (2011) for the most in a single postseason. Arozarena smashed that record Saturday with a fourth-inning shot off Julio Urías.

Arozarena tied the record of 26 hits in one postseason by Pablo Sandoval in 2014. Arozarena broke Derek Jeter’s rookie record of 22 hits, set in 1996, and the record for total bases in a single postseason, his 58 passing David Freese’s mark of 50 set in 2011.

“It’s good to be up in that group of big hitters like Barry Bonds,” Arozarena said through an interpreter.

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Corey Seager continued his postseason tear, hitting his eighth home run in the second inning Saturday.

Cool kicks

Brusdar Graterol, the Dodgers’ affable rookie reliever, paid homage to Kobe and Gianna Bryant by wearing custom yellow and purple cleats for Game 4.

The cleats featured
Kobe’s No. 24 and Gianna’s No. 2, images of a black mamba and Kobe’s face, and two messages.

On the left cleat: “Mamba Mentality.” On the right cleat: “Job’s not finished. Job finished ...? I don’t think so.”

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Staff writer Jorge Castillo contributed to this report.


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