Why Brandon Lowe’s breakout gives the Rays a chance to win the World Series

Before Oct. 21, 2020, before the left-handed hitting Brandon Lowe belted two baseballs beyond the left-field fence at Globe Life Field, no hitter had ever hit two opposite-field home runs in the same World Series game.

Lowe didn’t seem a likely candidate to do that, not entering Game 2 with an average closer to .100 than .200. Sure, he’d been Tampa Bay’s best hitter in the regular season, but that seemed like eons ago after Lowe’s immense postseason struggles. The troubles are gone now, though. Lowe did hit those two HRs for the Rays in a Game 2 win to even the series with the Dodgers at one game apiece, and now Tampa Bay has a chance.

Besides Randy Arozarena, the Rays couldn’t hit anything for most of the playoffs. They needed someone to wake up. Conveniently, the player that woke up was their best hitter, Lowe, one of baseball’s most underrated sluggers for a couple years now. He picked a good time to show back up. 

The Rays knew what they had in Brandon Lowe, the prospect

On March 19, 2019, the Rays and Lowe joined a relatively new trend in baseball: the pre-arbitration extension. They signed Lowe to a six-year, $24-million deal that included two club options. Lowe had been called up the previous September and showed power, so Tampa Bay decided to lock him up. 

Lowe had been regarded as a good, not great hitter coming out of the University of Maryland, making him a third-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2015. He hit his stride as a hitter-for-average in 2017 in the hitter-friendly Florida State League, batting .311. Then he found power in Triple-A Durham in 2018, blasting 14 balls out of the park in less than a full season.

An additionally useful calling card for Lowe was his defensive versatility. He played mostly second base, but could play third and the outfield, as well. That made him a Rays type of player, capable of hitting for average and power while playing all over the diamond. Signing him to an extension after six home runs to close out his MLB debut season in 2018 was a no-brainer.

Brandon Lowe’s opposite-field power stems from mechanics

Lowe’s Game 2 opposite-field home runs weren’t flukes, although neither made it too, too far beyond the wall. The reason the left-handed hitting Lowe hits the ball so well the other way is how his hands remain through the baseball instead of pulling off it. Watch his second homer from Game 2, off an 86-mph slider from Dustin May, then we’ll break down why it happened.

Against a pitcher that throws 100 like May, it’s easy to get amped up for the heater. If a hitter isn’t ready to react immediately to a fastball on the inner half, he’ll get beat and look silly or break his bat. Lowe’s hands are fast, though, and he knows it — that’s the first reason he can hit that slider away for an opposite-field home run rather than bouncing the ball into a shift.

The second reason is Lowe’s bat path. MLB hitters can all get the barrel to a breaking ball on the outer half, but it’s what comes next that makes the different. En route to his follow-through, Lowe continues to almost throw his hands (which the bat just follows) toward the left-field fence. It’s hard to pick up in fast motion, because the bat soon whips over Lowe’s shoulder. But for a split second, he stays through the baseball.

Lowe obviously has uncanny natural power for a 5-10 second baseman because of his core, wrists and legs. But he wouldn’t be able to hit opposite-field home runs without the willingness to stay on his swing a tick longer than most hitters would. That’s how he took May deep.

The Rays can win the World Series if Brandon Lowe is MVP

Lowe was awesome in the shortened 2020 regular season. He batted .269 with 14 home runs, nine doubles and two triples, leading the Rays in most offensive categories. After making the All-Star Game in 2019, Lowe would’ve been an All-Star again if there’d been such a game this season.

Before Game 2, Lowe was 6-for-56 in the playoffs (a .107 average). He’d homered just once, and he didn’t have another extra-base hit among those. His strikeout rate increased dramatically (19 times in 56 at bats). Lowe wasn’t laying off any breaking stuff, especially from lefties, where he got away from staying behind the baseball and instead flailed at pitches in the dirt. 

“To say my mind wasn’t going different places during that kind of struggle would be lying to you,” Lowe told media after Game 2. “There were times when I wasn’t feeling too good, but that’s what so great about this team. As soon as I started dragging my feet, somebody was right there to pick me up.”

Lowe kept regarding to regain his best swing, though, and in Game 2, it showed up for the first time all postseason. The Dodgers are the big-market team, and the Rays the team that needs the occasional third-round selection like Lowe to massively exceed expectations. Because Lowe did that during the regular season, Tampa Bay had the American League’s best record. If Lowe keeps doing it in the World Series en route to an MVP award, the Rays just might head home with a major upset and a trophy.

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