The matchup we have all been waiting for has finally arrived. The Fall Classic is upon us, pitting the two best teams in baseball against each other. The Dodgers and Astros took two very different routes to get here, but here they both are.
The Dodgers trounced their way to the World Series, posting a 7-1 record so far. Needless to say, the Astros 7-4 record isn’t bad, but they are coming off an emotional seven game series where they struggled to put away a young Yankees squad. So who do you trust in this clash of sabermetric savants? The rested Dodgers or the battle-hardened Astros?
Both of these teams put up spectacular numbers in the regular season. The Astros paced all of baseball in team average (.282), were second in team home runs (238), and lead the major leagues in runs scored (896). They also had a decided lead over the Dodgers in those three major categories. The Dodgers were only 19th best in team average during the regular season (.249), 11th in home runs (221), and 12th in runs scored (770).
Even with this decided advantage in the regular season belonging to the Astros, the Dodgers have shined brightest on the biggest of stages. The Dodgers have average six runs per game this postseason, compared to the Astros four runs per game. But in a seven game series like this, one player can carry an offense.
And the best suited for that behemoth task is the diminutive Jose Altuve. The presumed American League MVP has hit a scorching .400 in the postseason and launched five home runs. The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig may have Altuve bested in postseason average at .414, but he has done so in only 14 at bats, a far cry from Altuve’s 40. With the amount of firepower in Houston’s lineup, they should be more than able to keep pace with the Dodgers.
The biggest deciding factor in Los Angeles has also been the biggest presence on the mound. Clayton Kershaw has been one of the best pitchers of his generation, with a 2.36 career ERA and three Cy Young awards to his name. But what you won’t find on the burly left hander’s possession is a World Series ring. There are some players that blossom under the playoff spotlight, but Kershaw hasn’t been one of them. In fact, he’s wilted to the tune of a 4.40 postseason career ERA. Even so, Kershaw does have a steady stable of starters to rely on to help carry the slack.
Fellow lefty Rich Hill and former Rangers ace Yu Darvish are slated to start Games Two and Three respectively, and have pitched well for the Dodgers in this postseason. Hill has pitched to a 3.00 ERA while Darvish has sparkled with a 1.59 ERA. Those types of numbers will give the Dodgers plenty of chances to win. That is, if they can score.
Justin Verlander has been, bar none, the best pitcher in baseball since the Astros acquired him in August. He cruised through the finish of the regular season, going undefeated in an Astros uniform. And he hasn’t let up yet. In 24.2 IP this postseason, he has a 1.46 ERA, a perfect 4-0 record and has struck out 24 batters. Given that he will be preceded by co-ace Dallas Keuchel (2.60 postseason ERA) in Game One, The Astros have the definite advantage at the top of the rotation. But depth will play a key role in this series. With Cy Young caliber pitchers in the form of Kershaw and Darvish, and the depth of Rich Hill, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda all able to start for Dave Roberts, the Dodgers have the advantage.
If you’re going to make a run like the Dodgers and Astros have, you must be able to shut teams down in the late innings. The Dodgers have paced baseball in team ERA this postseason with a 2.28 ERA. That is good enough to lead the next best team (Nationals) by almost a half run per game. The Astros have been markedly worse at preventing runs from scoring, with a 3.79 team ERA.
Even with the team advantage, the Dodgers have the individual advantage as well. Kenley Jansen has pitched eight innings of shutout ball this postseason, as fellow reliever Brandon Morrow has posted a 1.08 ERA in 8.1 innings of work. The Astros flagship ace hasn’t fared nearly as well. Ken Giles has allowed three runs over the past three innings pitched. That does not bode well for an Astros team that may have to rely heavily on him late in critical games.
The wildcard from the mound will be Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. McCullers will start Game Four of the World Series, and could come in as a relief pitcher in Game Seven if needed. He has shown lights-out stuff as of late, and A.J. Hinch could opt to use him in relief after his start. Even so, the Dodgers have the clear advantage in the pen.
This World Series is shaping up to be one for the ages. As the historically dominant Dodgers look to make a return to glory, the Astros are on the hunt for that elusive first title. But the Astros may have to wait just a little bit longer. The Dodgers are on a postseason run unlike any seen in a long time. And that may just be the deciding factor in this series.
Verdict: Dodgers in six
Feature image by Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
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