By Scott Mac Lean
Major League Baseball’s World Series starts tomorrow and the best of seven series should be a cracker.
On one side are the National League Champion Los Angeles Dodgers; while on the other is the American League Champion Houston Astros, with this the first meeting of teams that both won over 100 games in the regular season since the Baltimore Orioles beat the Cincinnati Reds in 1970.
Both clubs were the class acts of their respective leagues all season. The Dodgers won the NL West by 11 games over the Arizona Diamondbacks (who they then swept 3-0 in the Divisional round, even after a bizarre slump where they won just once in 17 outings after being on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In the League series they beat the defending champion Cubs 4-1.
The Astros won the AL West by a massive 21 games over the Los Angeles Angels and were only pipped for the best record in the AL by the Cleveland Indians who were fueled by their record 22-game winning streak. In the playoffs so far they’ve taken out two powerhouses in the Boston Red Sox (3-1) and the New York Yankees in seven games.
Adding to the pressure is that like last year championship glory has been elusive. The Dodgers have won six titles in their history, but haven’t even been to the World Series since their last title in 1988; the Astros are in only their second World Series since beginning play in 1962, having been swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.
How does it look this year?
The New Zealand connection: Keep an eye on the guy in the third base coaches box for the Dodgers – that’s Chris Woodward who moonlights as the Diamondblacks head coach – while Dodger outfielder Curtis Granderson was out here a few years ago spreading the gospel of the game.
The lineups: There’s a lot both clubs have in common as each have a core of talented young stars complemented by grizzled veterans. The Dodgers are paced by this year’s likely Rookie of the Year winner in Cody Bellinger, last year’s winner of that award in shortstop Corey Seager – though his health going in is a concern (he missed the League Series) – and the enigmatic talent that is outfielder Yasiel Puig; with Chase Utley (a World Series winner with Philadelphia in 2008) and Granderson providing the veteran presence.
The Astros stable of youngsters is headed by outfielder George Springer and infielders Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman, while their whole offense is paced by the shortest guy in baseball and MVP contender Jose Altuve. Former Yankees Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are their veteran heads, along with Josh Reddick who played in last year’s playoffs with the Dodgers.
Houston were MLB’s offensive leaders, pacing the field in batting average and runs scored and second to the Yankees in home runs with 238, while Los Angeles were mid-pack. That in part is due to their home parks; the Astros Minute Maid Park noted for boosting offence while Dodger Stadium is more a pitchers park. Both sides are also excellent defensively.
Those unsung utility guys: The Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez was almost out of the league but reinvented himself and this year the switch-hitter led the Astros in run batted in while playing five different positions. The Dodgers Chris Taylor has overcome injuries to excel as their leadoff man playing both infield and outfield, while Kiki Hernandez smacked three home runs in the clincher over the Cubs.
The pitching staffs: Both sides have a bone fide ace on their staff. The Dodgers’ is left-hander Clayton Kershaw and his killer curveball, and who looks to have shaken off some postseason issues of his own. He’ll start Game 1 and be followed by fellow lefty Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, and Alex Wood.
The Astros actually boast two. Dallas Keuchel emerged from almost nowhere a few years ago to anchor their staff and while he doesn’t boast Kershaw’s reputation he is very good and will face him in Game 1. Justin Verlander pitched two gems in the League series and will go in Game 2 while Games 3 & 4 are likely to be Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton.
Where it may be won and lost however is in the respective bullpens and where and who the managers place their trust. Notably Houston has regular starters Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers (who closed out the series against New York) with Los Angeles having a more traditional approach. Ken Giles (Astros) and Kenley Jansen (Dodgers) will be the men called upon to close out tight games.
Veterans looking for a ring: Granderson has been to three World Series without winning one, while his former Detroit Tigers teammate Verlander is hoping its third time lucky (but is of course the bloke engaged to Kate Upton).
The managers: The two clubs are managed by men who actually had fairly journeyman playing careers, but have excelled since moving into the dugout. The Dodgers are skippered by Dave Roberts who played for six teams (including the Dodgers) as a speedy outfielder and is best known for “The Steal” in the Red Sox’s curse-busting 2004 title. He’s not afraid to mix-and-match and to play the hot hand and bench strugglers without any detriment to the team.
The Astros are managed by A.J. Hinch, a former catcher in his second stint as a manager. He’s regarded as one of the games brighter thinkers and amongst the wave of analytically focused managers. He’ll lean more on what the numbers say than gut instinct, but his trust in members of his bullpen has to be questionable at best right now.
My pick: Dodgers in five
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