If the Tampa Bay Rays are going to capture their first World Series championship in franchise history, they need their middle infielders, Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames, to answer the bell at the plate.
Game 2 of the World Series was a step in the right direction for Lowe.
Lowe was the driving force of the Rays evening the World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers at a game apiece, bashing a pair of home runs en route to a 6-4 victory. Prior to the second baseman’s Game 2 slaying, he was one of the black holes of manager Kevin Cash‘s offense.
Across the team’s first 15 postseason games Lowe hit just .107 while having a .341 OPS and just two RBIs to his name. This was a continuation of the way he ended the regular season.
Yes, he began the year on fire, performing like a would-be American League Most Valuable Player Award finalist. On the other hand, Lowe severely faded in the second half of the sport’s 60-game sprint, hitting just .215 across his last 32 games.
Across the last two years he has either shown scattered signs of stardom or missed extensive time due to injury. At full force, Lowe is an All-Star infielder. He has a smooth line-drive swing that produces a lot of slug and runs, which is impressive for someone who hits in the top third of the order.
Lowe hit .269, posted a .916 OPS and a 152 OPS+, and totaled 14 home runs and 37 RBIs across 56 regular season games. He was also in the top two percent of Major League Baseball in barrel percentage (17.5 percent). Last season Lowe hit .270, posted an .850 OPS and a 125 OPS+, and totaled 17 home runs and 51 RBIs across just 82 games. Meanwhile, he fields his position well, corralling balls in the hole and turning double plays with ease.
Lowe puts the barrel on the ball at a high clip which helps set the table for those hitting behind him. This postseason the individual hitting behind Lowe is Randy Arozarena, who’s hitting like .600 or something; the relentless right-handed hitter has been the most formidable hitter of the 2020 postseason. With Lowe making considerable contact at a rate that falls in line with his career tendencies, it gives Arozarena the chance to drive in more runs.
The Rays made it to the fall classic, so their offensive shortcomings haven’t snakebite them. At some point, it could catch up to them if they don’t put up more than four runs a game this series (they’ve scored five or more runs in just five of their 16 postseason games).
Lowe’s Tuesday night power display was a comforting sign for the Tampa Bay faithful.
Simultaneously, Adames has been a minimal threat in the batter’s box.
The Rays shortstop is hitting just .136 with a .549 OPS and three RBIs to his name this postseason. He has a 20:6 strikeout-to-hit ratio, has looked outmatched, and is unrecognizable.
Adames hit .259, posted an .813 OPS and a 124 OPS+, and totaled eight home runs and 23 RBIs across 54 regular season games. He never looked better. He was roping line drives, producing runs at a career-high clip, and appeared to be coming into his own as an offensive mainstay.
Adames getting into a groove adds a new dimension to a mediocre offensive attack, as of late. Him getting on base and/or driving in runs adds a threat to the bottom third of the order, therefore giving the top of the order another crack at the Dodgers pitching staff.
The shortstop has done most of his damage in the field, making spectacular throws off his back hand and keeping balls in the infield.
The bulk of Cash’s lineup card is task-oriented. Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, Mike Brosseau, Kevin Kiermaier, and Hunter Renfroe have been primarily power hitters; Joey Wendle and Manuel Margot are scrappy, contract hitters; Austin Meadows could’ve been the headman of their offensive attack, but he has been banged up and is struggling to get back to his 2019 ways, where he hit 33 home runs and posted a .922 OPS.
Lowe and Adames are exceptional talents. They field their positions well, make highlight reel plays all over the field, and have infectious swings. These aspects of their respective arsenals is why Cash has started both of them in all 16 playoff games despite their struggles.
The infielders’ defensive prowess, a Tampa Bay identity, is a vital reason for their continued presence in the order, too. Their regular season success at the plate helped offset Meadows’ struggles, which haven’t turned a corner this postseason.
Lowe and Adames are the X factors of Tampa Bay’s offense. This unit got to the World Series by heavily relying on Arozarena and occasional home runs from their power sluggers. If they take it to the next level over the next week that takes them over the top as long as the pillars, specifically their pitching staff, stay upright.
The World Series has become a best-of-five set, and nothing is a given against a deep and balanced Dodgers pitching staff. The double-play duo performing up to its career tendencies would be an enormous enhancement for the Rays.