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World Series Preview: Two power teams face off in marquee matchup

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The suits at MLB headquarters and Fox Sports have to be happy to see the Dodgers and Red Sox facing off in the World Series. Both are marquee teams from major markets, giving the Fall Classic its biggest potential national exposure in many, many years. That’s money in the bank, folks.

But let’s not be cynical here: we should be happy about this matchup too because it really does pit the AL’s best and the NL’s best against each other.

The Red Sox, as we’ve already discussed, were the best team in baseball all year and, Vegas lines notwithstanding, are not anyone’s underdogs. Meanwhile in the National League, yes, I know the Brewers had home field advantage and a better overall record than the Dodgers, but after getting over their horrible start, it’s fair to say Los Angeles was the class of the Senior Circuit for most of the year. They certainly were as measured by run differential and, of course, dispatched the Brewers, primarily due to their depth.

Stars taking on stars. History facing history. A whole lot of celebrities in the stands in both parks and — if we’re truly lucky — Red Sox/Dodgers star Manny Ramirez will throw out the first pitch.

Wait, that’s NEVER going to happen. But some good baseball is over the next week or so. Here’s how it all breaks down:

 

THE ROTATIONS

In the regular season, based on ERA anyway, the Dodgers rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler were better than the Sox’ rotation of Chris SaleDavid PriceNathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello. In the postseason, though, the Dodgers’ starters have all mixed in some clunkers with their fine performances while Boston’s quartet has been pretty consistent, leading to each team’s starters doing about as well as the other’s. Of course Boston has faced far tougher offensive competition than L.A. has — they had to go through the Yankees and the Astros — so adjust your analysis accordingly.

David Price will probably be the difference maker here. If his excellent ALCS Game 5 performance, the product of going heavy with his changeup, was harbinger as opposed to fluke, it’s a huge boost to Boston. Same goes for Chris Sale’s durability. He didn’t pitch much late in the season and we don’t know if his ALCS illness is going to play a factor. If there are any issues with Price or Sale, I give the Dodgers’ rotation an edge. If not, well, the Dodgers are still going to have a tall order in facing the Sox’ relentless offense, so it’s not like the edge is massive. At he moment I’ll lean in their direction, but it’s not a heavy lean. ADVANTAGE: DODGERS

 

THE LINEUPS

The Dodgers are no offensive slouches — they led the National League in runs and homers this year — but top to bottom I don’t think they’re anywhere near as scary as the Red Sox’ balanced lineup is. Indeed, Boston led all of baseball in runs, average, on-base percentage, slugging, total bases and OPS+. Oh, and they also scored 29 runs in five games after an excellent Astros pitching staff. There are no weak links here.

Once you take pitchers batting stats out of it, the Dodgers actually look pretty darn similar to the Red Sox, statistically speaking, and their superior bench — see below — is a big plus, but it’s very hard to make a case that they have a better offense than the Red Sox. Indeed, it’s hard to make a case that any team has a better offense than the Red Sox in all of 2018. ADVANTAGE: RED SOX

 

THE BULLPENS

The bullpen was the part of the team Red Sox fans worried about most heading into the postseason, but Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Joe Kelly have allowed only two runs in 18 and two-thirds innings in October and Alex Cora’s use of starters Rick Porcello, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi in relief has actually made it a strength. Indeed, Craig Kimbrel has been the shakiest part of the reliever corps so far, but perhaps that was because of tipping pitches? Hard to say as that is a go-to excuse for a lot of struggling pitchers, but it’s also hard to say that Red Sox bullpen is as serious a weakness as some feared a few weeks ago.

Heading into the NLCS all of the talk was about the Brewers’ bullpen, but Dodgers relievers were better, combining for a 1.45 ERA over 31 innings in those seven games. The signature game for them was, in hindsight, the series turning point: Game 4, with the Dodgers down two games to one and starter Rich Hill knocked out after five innings. Dave Roberts called on eight — eight! — relievers to shut Milwaukee out after that, and L.A. won it on a Cody Bellinger walkoff single. Can he do that every day? Nah, but it certainly was the case that Roberts has had confidence in every single member of his pitching staff this postseason and that confidence has been rewarded. That kind of depth will allow him to be aggressive in the World Series. ADVANTAGE: DODGERS

 

THE BENCHES

If each team follows form, they will utilize platoons, so expect to see Rafael Devers and Mitch Moreland to come off the bench later in games with lefty starters. Same for Joc Pederson and Max Muncy when the Sox go with their southpaws. The Red Sox lineup is superior, but the Dodgers have more depth and flexibility, utilizing every player on its roster during the postseason in ways no team has come close to matching. Indeed, they basically used 12 everyday players despite having only eight positions in which to put them and got the most out of everyone. It’s a nice luxury for Dave Roberts to have. ADVANTAGE: DODGERS

 

THE MANAGERS

The “Alex Cora played for Los Angeles and Dave Roberts played for Boston” thing is going to be the “Jerome Bettis is from Detroit” storyline of this World Series, I imagine. And I suppose that’s fine, as storylines like that have never killed anyone. Still, there are more fun ones:

  • How about “Dave Roberts: drought-ender?” As you may have heard, he was a hero for the Red Sox in 2004, helping to end an 86-year title drought for Boston. While the Dodgers’ drought has been nowhere near that long — 30 years — it has been long for that historically successful franchise.
  • How about “Terry Francona managerial tree” as both Roberts and Cora played for Tito in Boston, with Cora arriving the year Roberts left in 2005? If you go with that one, forgot momentarily that they both played much longer for Jim Tracy in Los Angeles, where they were teammates. The “Jim Tracy managerial tree” is nowhere near as fun a storyline.
  • How about “For the first in in baseball history, two minority managers will face off in the Fall Classic.” Take that, baseball’s hopefully-dead-and-buried history of not giving minorities a fair shot at such jobs due to the racist belief that they couldn’t handle it. Famously advanced, unfortunately, by a Dodgers figure once upon a time

In the end, though, storylines won’t matter. Both Cora and Roberts have proven themselves to be outstanding managers and neither of them has ever stood accused of screwing things up which, given the nature of managerial evaluation, is often the first thing anyone notices.

Each will have their challenges here, as the Red Sox’ superior lineup will make Roberts’ decisions about who to call on from the pen and when far more difficult than those he faced in Milwaukee. Cora, like most AL managers, has to decide what to do in the three games in the NL park when he does not have a DH. It’s a much bigger problem for Cora than a lot of teams, however, as his DH — J.D. Martinez — will have to displace the likely AL MVP in Mookie Betts on defense. As we’ve discussed, that will likely send Betts to second base, which takes away a big advantage the Sox have in terms of outfield defense. A tough call, the alternative for which is strategically using Martinez to pinch hit. Better that Cora have to make it than any of us.

A manager’s specific call could very well decide this World Series, but heading into it, there is little reason to doubt the ability of either skipper to make the right call when necessary. I suppose one could give Roberts a nod here simply because he’s more experienced, but that ignores the fact that Cora has already been to the Series as a bench coach and that managing one year in Boston is probably like managing four years anyplace else thanks to the scrutiny and stress. He’s not gonna be a deer in the headlights, folks.  ADVANTAGE: PUSH

 

PREDICTION

As my friend Joe Sheehan likes to say in his previews, the last three words of any preview — “[Team] in [Number of Games]” are the least important of them all. That’s thanks to randomness and the overall difficulty in predicting baseball outcomes of an insufficiently large sample size of games and all of that. Still, y’all expect a prediction and I, obviously, have never been afraid of looking wrong or dumb, so I’ll offer one in a second. First, I’ll talk my way through it.

The Dodgers have more areas of advantage as broken down above, but in most areas those advantages are slight. I think Boston’s offense, meanwhile, is significantly better and will prove to be far more exhausting for the Dodgers pitchers to face than anything they’ve seen so far.

This series is no mismatch, though, and one can easily imagine a scenario in which Clayton Kershaw reminds everyone why he was the best pitcher in baseball for several years running, L.A’s big playmakers Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig and come up big and the L.A. bullpen continues doing what it did in the N.L. playoffs and neutralizes the big Boston bats.

Ultimately, however, the Sox need less to go right than the Dodgers do. They simply need their lineup to continue doing what it has done, Chris Sale to be Chris Sale and David Price to simply not be a liability, which he was not the last time we saw him. Simply from an imagination standpoint, it’s easier to imagine the Sox running through the Dodgers than vice-versa. So I’ll call it this way:

BOSTON IN SEVEN

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Diamondbacks 4, Braves 1: 🎶Stop me, oh-oh-oh, stop me . . .stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before . . .🎶

Sorry. Just waylaid by this Braves bullpen. Nothing’s changed. It’s enough to make a shy, bald, Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder. Me watching the game: 🎶 I drank one. It became four. And when I fell on the floor I drank more.🎶

Christian Walker hit a two-run homer in the seventh off of Chad Sobotka, who, didn’t get an out and who has given up five runs in his last two outings. The Diamondbacks have won four straight.

Nationals 4, Giants 2: Patrick Corbin took a one-hitter into the eighth inning and ended having allowed only one run on two hits while punching out nine. Not literally, though. If he punched out nine guys he’d probably be arrested.

Tigers 9, White Sox 7: Detroit ends a five-game skid. Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera led the way, with the former going 3-for-4, the latter 2-for-4 and both driving in two runs. Dustin Peterson and Grayson Greiner also each drove in two, but they don’t get to be characterized as “leading the way” because baseball has a pretty strict seniority system and if you get too loosey-goosey with it you got a big hassle with the union and I’ve already had too many fires to put out this week, OK?

Blue Jays 7, Twins 4: Randal Grichuk, who got all “play the game the right way” on Tim Anderson on Wednesday, hit a homer. After which he gently laid his bat down parallel to the base line, assumed an expression which suggested mild pleasure but copious humility and then stoically ran the bases at a speed which reflected his obvious reverence for players past, present and future. I’m assuming at least.

Here’s what he actually said:

“I’ve never been one to flip a bat or do anything like that. I run out of the box always. I’ve hit some pretty far homers and I’ve sprinted out of the box like it was a wall-scraper. It’s just who I am. (Other) guys are different.”

Someone give that guy the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Justin Smoak and Teoscar Hernández hit home runs too. No word on whether Grichuk silently judged them afterwards. The Jays took three of four from the Twinkies.

Royals 6, Yankees 1: Homer Bailey — Homer Bailey? — yes, Homer Bailey held the Bombers to one run over six. Jorge Soler and Ryan O'Hearn hit dingers. New York got four singles in the game. That’s it. I guess with the Red Sox and Cubs being off someone had to step up and satisfy the “big money teams stinkin’ up the joint” quota for the evening.

Dodgers 3, Brewers 1: Before the game Dave Roberts announced that Julio Urías would head to the bullpen after this start since the Dodgers will soon be getting a couple of veteran pitchers back. Then Urías goes out and tosses six one-hit shutout innings while striking out nine. There are teams that would kill to have the sort of depth that would allow this kid to be shuffled off to long relief after a start like this. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy homered in a winning cause. Christian Yelich homered in a losing cause.

Orioles 6, Rays 5: Joey Rickard drove in the winning run in the 11th inning with an RBI double. To even get him up to bat required Chris Davis to hit a two-out RBI single, and I wonder what the odds of that happening were. RIckard himself was no sure bet to play the hero here after coming into the game on an 0-for-15 skid, but he reached base five times and drove in two on the night. Dude used to be a Ray, too. Or at least in their system. Baltimore swiped him from Tampa Bay in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. Here’s another killer for the Rays: Tommy Pham, who was 4-for-5 with two driven in, was on second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth and the score tied but . . . got picked off while trying to steal third base. Ouch.

Rockies 6, Phillies 2: Ryan McMahon homered twice and had five RBI. Kyle Freeland pitched six scoreless innings but had to leave with a blister, so that’s worth watching. Colorado was won four in a row.

Mariners 11, Angels 10: The M’s had a 10-2 lead heading into the seventh and totally blew it when the Angels scored seven runs on seven hits in the seventh and got a David Fletcher homer in the eighth to tie things up. Seattle rallied in the ninth, though, with pinch hitter Jay Bruce singing in Mitch Haniger for the winning margin. Before all of that messiness the M’s bottom of the order, in the form of Omar Narváez and Ryon Healy, combined to drive in nine. Healy homered twice. Narváez hit a three-run shot. Speaking of shot, all the pitchers in this one probably should’ve been.

Reds 4, Padres 1: Joey Votto led off in this came, which was odd, and he hit a homer to start the game. Padres starter Chris Paddack said after the game that he “thought I could blow a heater by him.” Bless his heart. Fernando Tatís Jr. led off too, which is also new, and went 2-for-4. Tucker Barnhart and Jesse Winker also homered, helping Cincy snap a four-game losing skid.