Who will take home the World Series trophy? It will depend on two key position battles and the performances of a couple key star players.
Although their paths to the World Series were very different, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros were two of the best teams in 2017. The Dodgers had the best record in baseball at 104-58, and the Houston Astros were not far behind with a 101-61 record.
The Astros scored a league-high 896 runs in 2017, thanks to a star-studded young core composed of MVP candidate Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have used their depth to withstand injuries to veterans Adrian Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw, and Andre Ethier by receiving contributions from star young players Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager as well as a MVP-like performance from Justin Turner.
Both teams are starved for a championship. The Dodgers have not won a World Series since 1988. The Astros, meanwhile, are still helping their local community heal after the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Winning in 2017 would not only be uplifting for the Houston community but would also deliver Houstonians their first World Series title in franchise history.
How They Got There
The postseason records thus far show two different paths to the World Series. The Houston Astros are 7-4 this Postseason. They were pushed to a Game 7 by a young Yankees squad that shocked the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. The Dodgers, meanwhile, had an easier path, only losing one game en route to the World Series. Despite being pushed to the brink of elimination, Houston got major lifts from stellar starting pitching, especially from Justin Verlander, while the Dodgers have clobbered opposing pitching staffs.
With the World Series due to start on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, there are a few things that viewers should keep an eye on throughout the series.
Jose Altuve’s Performance
Jose Altuve has shown this postseason why he should win the AL MVP Award. I already stated months ago that Altuve deserves it over Aaron Judge, and his performance continues to validate my opinion. His numbers against the Red Sox and Yankees in the postseason have been MVP-like:
As is the case with the two postseason series against the Red Sox and Yankees, expect Altuve to continue to bat third in the lineup. He not only gets on base well (.410 OBP in 2017) but also has power (24 homers in 2017) to generate offense. His performance as the third batter in Houston’s balanced offensive attack will determine how well the Houston offense fares against the Dodgers pitching.
Position Battles To Watch
There are two position battles here that will be interesting to watch throughout this series. The first one is behind the plate. Brian McCann and Evan Gattis are both accomplished players, but the duo of Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes have proven to be more effective both offensively and defensively.
Offensively, Dodgers catchers have batted .261/.343/.468 with a 116 wRC+, while the Astros catcher duo batted .251/.318/.445 with a 104 wRC+. The divide is even clearer defensively. When it comes to pitch framing, the Dodgers have +34 framing runs while Houston has -6 framing runs. Houston catchers are also worst in the MLB in throwing runners out (12%).
In a series that has numerous aces on both sides, runs may come at a premium if both offenses struggle. While the Dodgers were only 18th in stolen bases this season, it will be intriguing to see whether McCann and Gattis will be tested early. Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig are the two main stolen base producers in the Dodgers lineup. Expect to see Chris Taylor try and steal second base a few times over the course of this series especially if the Astros aces are pitching their best.
Los Angeles’ left fielders versus Houston’s starting pitchers will be another interesting position battle to watch. Unlike the Astros, the Dodgers do not have an established left fielder. Instead, they have numerous outfielders that may be called upon to play the position. Will it be Andre Ethier? Will it be Enrique Hernandez? Will it be Curtis Granderson or Joc Pederson?
Manager Dave Roberts has numerous options at his disposal. Expect Roberts to make this decision based on Houston’s opposing pitcher. Since it will be Dallas Keuchel is Game 1, do not be surprised to see Enrique Hernandez get the nod due to his ability to smash left-handed pitching, which he has done in his career, batting .270/.364/.518. However, expect another player to face off against Justin Verlander in Game 2.
Key To The Astros Winning It All
The key to Houston winning all starts with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. As the anchors of Houston’s lineup, they must be aggressive against the Dodgers pitching early and often.
But the strength of their lineup extends far beyond these two All-Stars. Looking at their projected lineup, it is incredibly difficult to find a weak spot. George Springer has an excellent on-base percentage (.367) along with clubbing 34 homers in 2017. Marwin Gonzalez had a breakout year and can play multiple positions. There is a reason this team led the entire MLB in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
Key To The Dodgers Winning It All
Manager Dave Roberts is a strategic genius. With many players at his disposal, Roberts has the luxury of putting them in favorable positions to succeed. However, the key for the Dodgers remains their pitching, particularly with Kershaw and their relievers.
Despite his two effective outings against the Cubs, Kershaw still remains susceptible to giving up homers. Dave Roberts, however, should not be too quick to pull him unless his command begins to waver and starts to give up more runs. The bullpen, while outstanding, cannot be overworked early on. When utilized appropriately, Dodgers relievers give them a huge advantage over the Astros. The Cubs found out in the NLCS that the Dodgers relievers can stop an offense in a heartbeat. Over the course of the 17 innings where the Cubs faced the Dodgers bullpen, they were not able to generate a single run.
Dave Roberts has two dependable relievers against left-hand hitting, (Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani), and two who are lights out against right-handed pitching, (Brandon Morrow and Kenta Maeda), not to mention Kenley Jansen, who has been one of the best relievers in the game this season. As long as Roberts does not overextend them too much, the Dodgers bullpen could pose problems for Houston.
My prediction in my previous article about the Dodgers losing to the Diamondbacks ended up being wildly inaccurate. The Dodgers’ September slump was overstated and its impact proved to conclude once the regular season ended. The Dodgers offense is locked and loaded and coupled with a deep roster and pitching staff; this is a team that has no holes even if Corey Seager may not play. The Houston Astros match the Dodgers in their offensive firepower and pitching. Expect a highly-competitive, star-studded series. However, I will not go against the Dodgers twice.
Dodgers in 7.
(All statistics and information came from ESPN.com, FanGraphs.com, or Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.)
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