2017 World Series Preview: How the Astros and Dodgers match up

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The Dodgers are seeking their first World Series championship in 29 years. The Astros are seeking their first in the franchise’s 56-season history. Clayton Kershaw is making his first appearance on baseball’s biggest stage. Justin Verlander is making his third, but looking for his first ring. The Astros two aces are facing the Dodgers’ deep lineup. The Dodgers power throwing bullpen will face off against the Astros powerful lineup. For the first time in 47 years each team in the World Series won 100 games in the regular season.

Stars taking on stars. Power facing power. History, of one kind or another, somewhere between five and nine days from being made. It’s the Fall Classic, and it gets underway tonight. Here’s how it all breaks down:

 

THE ROTATIONS

It’s a bit of a shame that the rotations didn’t line up in order to give us a Verlander-Kershaw battle in Game 1, as it’s not every day you see two pitchers who each won an MVP Award face off. We’re still going to get some great matchups of staters here, however, as Kershaw — who still has something to prove as a big-game pitcher, his pennant-clinching Game 5 NLCS victory notwithstanding — meets 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel in tonight’s Game 1. Game 2 gives us Rich Hill, who has remade himself into one of baseball’s best in the latter stages of his career, against Verlander, who many though his best days were behind him. That was before his trade to Houston and his 9-0 run for the Astros that culminated in a couple of the most dominant postseason starts in recent memory.

The back end of the rotations, featuring Yu Darvish and Alex Wood for L.A. and Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers for Houston, are pretty evenly matched. At their best the Dodgers back two are probably better, but they have each been touched at times late in the season while both Morton and McCullers found a new gear in the ALCS. Whether driving at that gear has them low on gas at the moment is an open question. ADVANTAGE DODGERS.

 

THE LINEUPS

The Dodgers’ lineup has been top heavy in the postseason, but the top has been really, really heavy, so it’s been just fine. Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig have been nearly impossible to pitch to. Fill-in shortstop Charlie Culberson was a revelation in Corey Seager‘s injury absence, but Seager’s back is better and he will be back for the World Series. The bottom half of the lineup has not come through too often — Kiké Hernandez’s big NLCS Game 5 notwithstanding — with left field (Andre Ethier/Hernandez/Curtis Granderson) second base (Logan Forsythe/Chase Utley) and catcher (Austin Barnes, who has pushed Yasmani Grandal to the bench) struggling. The Dodgers can win it all if the top half of the lineup continues doing what it’s doing, but given how slumps can hit at any time, Dave Roberts would like to see a new postseason star emerge.

The Astros bats need no introduction, but they could use a bit more consistency in the postseason. Houston led the majors in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, were second in homers and struck out less than any team in baseball. The Yankees kept them quiet in the first five games of the ALCS but they roared back to life in Games 6 and 7. The attack will be keyed, as always, by possible AL MVP Jose Altuve, leadoff power source George Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa. As Houston showed all season, however, almost everyone in this lineup is dangerous.  ADVANTAGE ASTROS.

 

THE BULLPENS

This is probably the biggest separator between the clubs, with the Dodgers sporting a big advantage. Unlike in postseasons past, Dave Roberts has not had to use Clayton Kershaw or his other starters as relievers. This is due in part to the Dodgers taking care of their business quickly, sweeping the Dbacks in the NLDS and beating the Cubs in five in the NLCS. It’s mostly, though, due to the uncharacteristic depth and power of L.A’s relief corps. A group which didn’t allow a run against the Cubs in 17 innings of work in the NLCS.

Kenley Jansen needs no introduction. He retired 24 of the 28 batters he has faced in the playoffs and continues to be one of the best if not the best closer in the game. Roberts will not hesitate to use him for multiple innings if need be.  He’s yet to be challenged. Hard throwing Brandon Morrow looks like an ace closer this postseason. Kenta Maeda has been a revelation as a setup man who can go multiple innings. Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson and Josh Fields have not been used heavily, but each provides Roberts with an embarrassment of matchup possibilities.

Houston has talent in their pen, but it’s been somewhat shaky in the postseason. Chris Devenski, Will Harris and Joe Musgrove were all gotten to by Yankees hitters in the ALCS. Ken Giles has been OK, but not dominant, and A.J. Hinch has leaned a bit heavier than usual on him at times. More tellingly, Hinch has leaned on starters in relief, using Justin Verlander in that role in the ALDS against the Red Sox and using McCullers for four innings of relief in Game 7 of the ALCS. Hinch’s best hope is that he gets a lot of innings from Keuchel and Verlander in Games 1 and 2 and then has everyone in the pen well-rested for he middle games of the Series. If not, he’s going to be doing a lot of shuffling and, yes, we may see a lot of short rest work from starters in relief roles. ADVANTAGE DODGERS.

 

THE MANAGERS

Dave Roberts is the reigning NL Manager of the Year and both he and A.J. Hinch have a good shot of winning the award this year. Neither man has been second guessed very often in this postseason, as Roberts has not had to gamble at all and Hinch’s gambles have largely paid off. Unlike in some years, there are few dramatic storylines and little philosophical tension at play here. Both of these guys played the game, both work well with analytically-minded front offices yet both have shown that they have a free hand to use their instincts to make changes on the fly and manage the game on the field rather than simply carry out a game plan. If either of these two guys make themselves into a big story in this series it’ll be pretty surprising. EVEN.

 

THE BENCHES

The Dodgers lineup is a bit more fluid than Houston’s, with Roberts subbing in different guys at left field and second base in various postseason games. As such, if they’re not starting they may be a bit more game-ready than your usual benchwarmer. Houston tends to roll with the same lineup most nights, but Hinch has some flexibility at catcher where Evan Gattis and Brian McCann are both options and at DH in the home games, where either of them or Carlos Beltran can see action. ADVANTAGE DODGERS.

 

X-FACTOR

We don’t put much stock in intangibles, history or dramatic storylines when it comes to the World Series. We’ll leave that to the producers at Fox. Buy we will throw one wild card into the mix: home field advantage.

It’s not often the most important thing going in baseball, but it’s been an usually big boost in the 2017 postseason. Home teams are 23-8 (.742) this October, which is the best mark since the playoffs expanded to include Wild Card teams. So far the Astros are 6-0 in Houston and the Dodgers are 4-0 in Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers, likewise, had the best home record in all of baseball in the regular season. L.A. hasn’t yet had to bring a playoff series back home after it began, but the chance to host four home games in a best of seven may loom a bit larger this year than most. Oh, and keep an eye on guys’ stamina levels in Games 1 and 2. It’s gonna be close to 100 degrees at Dodger Stadium at game time for each of those tiltsADVANTAGE DODGERS.

 

PREDICTION

This is the matchup many of us were hoping for as early as late July. The Dodgers swooned in late August and early September, but the fact that they still won 104 games tells you just how dominant a club they were in 2017. While the Indians had the AL’s best record thanks to their late season winning streak, the Astros were, in our view, the best team in the American League all season long. This is the first matchup of 100-win teams in the Fall Classic in 47 years. It is, quite simply, the best on-paper World Series matchup we’ve had in a long, long time. It’s sad someone has to lose this thing, but that’s how it goes.

Los Angeles hasn’t had to come back to Dodger Stadium to finish off a series yet. We don’t think they’ll be that lucky this time around, but we do think that their bullpen gives them a clear advantage and will work to neutralize those dangerous Astros bats in the final 3-4 innings of every game. That’s enough daylight for us to say that, in our view it’ll be . . .

DODGERS IN SIX

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Diamondbacks 5, Pirates 0: Zack Greinke tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits, and hit a triple and scored. Greinke has won four straight decisions and has a 15-inning scoreless streak. The Snakes sweep the four-game set in Pittsburgh.

Indians 2, Astros 1: Trevor Bauer matched up with his old college teammate and longtime personal nemesis Gerrit Cole. Like, real nemesis, not just baseball nemesis. They don’t like each other. It’s so weird to have that happen in baseball where everyone at least acts like they like one another but, nah, the two of ’em don’t get along and haven’t since they were back at UCLA. Kinda fun in an “I enjoy chaos” kind of way. Anyway, Bauer got the best of it here, allowing only one run in eight innings while Cole gave up two and struck out ten. Homers accounted for all of the scoring: Leonys Martin and Jake Bauers for Cleveland, George Springer for the Astros.

Dodgers 2, Cubs 1: All the Dodgers did was score on a sac fly and an error, but ’twas enough. ‘Twil serve. Jon Lester came back off the injured list for the Cubs and looked good but Ross Stripling and a bunch of relievers held the Chicago offense in check.

Reds 4, Braves 2: Luis Castillo continues to be outstanding for Cincinnati, scattering eight hits over six shutout innings and lowering his ERA to 1.23 over six starts on the year. He got into trouble in the seventh, however, loading the bases without retiring a batter. Reliever David Hernandez came in, though, and struck out Dansby SwansonEnder Inciarte and Ozzie Albies to end the threat. Per my mailbag question on that the other day: THAT is definitely striking out the side. Eugenio Suárez drove in three of the Reds’ four runs.

Marlins 3, Phillies 1: A pitchers duel that was 1-1 at the end of regulation, but Starlin Castro hit a two-run homer with two outs in the 10th inning to hand the Phillies their sixth loss in their last eight.

Red Sox 7, Tigers 3: I’ve been asked a few times lately if I think the Sox will turn it around. Yeah, I think the Sox will turn it around. There’s just too much offense on this team and they’ll put together a lot of days like this one. Michael Chavis hit a two-run homer and Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts each hit two doubles apiece. Suddenly Boston has won five of seven. They’re like last year’s Dodgers. We’ll all wonder what’s wrong with them until there’s, suddenly, nothing wrong with them.

Angels 11, Yankees 5: The Yankees had a 4-0 lead by the fifth inning and it looked like a four-game sweep was in the offing, but then Tommy La Stella and Kole Calhoun hit two-run home runs and David Fletcher drove in five runs the rest of the way and the Angels won in a laugher.

Mariners 14, Rangers 2: Marco Gonzales struck out nine, scattered six hits and didn’t walk a batter in seven scoreless innings while picking up his big league leading fifth win of the year. And, uh, he had a good deal of run support while doing it. Ryon Healy was 3-for-5 with three RBI. Tim Beckham hit his sixth homer and drove in three himself as the M’s scored 14 runs on 14 hits.

I’m out the rest of the day as I’m off to Kentucky to watch horses jump over things. Well, actually, I’ll be manning the grill at the tailgate while everyone else watches horses jump over things. When you marry a horse person (i.e. a person who is into horse stuff, not a half-person, half-horse) this is the kind of stuff you do.

Have a nice weekend, everyone.