The Red Sox won 108 games, their appearance in the playoffs was never in doubt and they have cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Dodgers, meanwhile, stumbled to a terrible start to the season, found themselves in third place in the NL West as late as September, had to play a Game 163 to win the division and then were taken to seven games by the Brewers in the NLCS.
Yet, as our comprehensive World Series preview from yesterday revealed, these two teams are a lot more evenly matched than the previous paragraph might suggest.
While anything can happen in the World Series, I expect this one to be a drawn-out battle. The battle begins with a two old school aces taking the hill.
World Series Game 1
In an age of bullpenning, Game 1 of the 2018 World Series will give us one of the best ace vs. ace matchups we’ve had in some time when Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers takes on Chris Sale of the Red Sox.
Their resumes are pretty well known at this point. Kershaw has three Cy Young Awards and, if he hadn’t had a couple of midseason injuries in the past few years, might’ve had five. Oh, and he has an MVP Award too. Sale has yet to pull in that kind of hardware but he was on pace for the 2018 Cy Young before being sidelined late in the season. He’ll likely fall just short of Blake Snell for that honor, but his 2.11 ERA and 1.98 FIP show what he has been when healthy. Both Kershaw and Sale are seven-time All-Stars. Between them they have led their respective leagues in one pitching category or another 80 times.
But for all of that career dominance, each is a bit diminished coming in to Game 1.
Kershaw’s 2018 season was not bad by any stretch — he posted an ERA+ of 142 — but it was his worst season since he began his run of dominance in 2011. His velocity and strikeout rate took a significant dip this year too. While he’s certainly capable of looking like the Kershaw of old — He shut the Braves out for eight innings in Game 2 of the NLDS and held the Brewers to one run in seven innings in Game 5 of the NLCS — he’s a bit more capable of a clunker these days, like the one he turned in for NLCS Game 1. Greatness still surrounds Kershaw, but one cannot expect it every single time out lately.
Meanwhile Sale hasn’t pitched in ten days due to a stomach ailment that put him in the hospital during the ALCS, ruling him out for any potential bullpen work Alex Cora had devised for him. He and Cora say he’s fine now and, if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be getting the ball in the World Series, but it’l be worth watching to see if he’s rusty.
One of the better parts of this matchup: in an age of interleague play, Kershaw and Sale are basically strangers to the opposition and the opposing fan base. Kershaw has never once faced the Red Sox and Sale has not faced the Dodgers for several years. Between that, the venerable ballparks in which they’ll pitch and their status as old school starting pitchers, Game 1 will have something of a throwback atmosphere.