The World Series is where baseball’s two best teams square off and play anywhere from four to seven games to determine who baseball’s best team really is, right?
Right. At least, that’s the way it’s been the past two years. From 3rd grade until my junior year of high school, there was always one team in the World Series that the casual, locally interested baseball fan would have to do a double take on. “Wait, the Phillies made the World Series? The Royals? Huh?”
In 2016, it was the Cubs and Indians who played in the World Series, two, for the most part, sorry franchises that had been nothing but disgraces for years.
But those two teams playing in the World Series was expected. The Cubs were expected to contend for the NL Pennant; same with Cleveland in the AL. No one was really surprised.
That happens to be the case again in 2017. I had Los Angeles and Houston winning their respective divisions before the season. The Dodgers were on-pace to be the best team ever before a disastrous run in late August. Before the AL Wild Card Game, I picked Houston to represent the AL in Fall Classic.
This series isn’t anything we didn’t prepare for. No one got hot in October. I’m not digging up stats on a team that I didn’t pay as much attention to during the regular season. We’ve been ready for this. Does that limit the excitement? Not at all.
Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Before we start dissecting the matchup, lets recap each team’s October. The Dodgers steamrolled the Diamondbacks, whose pitching expectedly collapsed while also finding out that their bullpen was actually a complete mess. LA then faced the Cubs, who had the same exact issues as Arizona but put a little bit more of a fight up due to a simple talent advantage. Yeah, pretty easy going.
The Astros faced Boston in the ALDS, capitalizing on a weak bullpen and clutch hitting and won in six games. They then faced the young Yankees, who were this year’s best bet for a “Wait, what?” World Series team. That went as expected, though some flukey pitching outings by New York stretched the series to seven games.
Houston’s played more, had shorter rest, and had the harder path. If they’re gonna burn out, it’s gonna be here. The same thing happened to the Indians in Game 7 last season.
The Dodgers already their collapse. The insane, 43-7 stretch had to have an ugly side, and it came in late August when LA dropped 16 in a row. LA’s seen both lights, and as this postseason has displayed, they’re back on track.
They’re getting stronger too. After missing the NLCS, Corey Seager will start at shortstop in Game 1. A huge reason for me taking Chicago last series, Seager left a massive hole in the Dodgers lineup. I didn’t agree with how LA handled it, but it ended up working out. That alone makes them hard to pick against.
After crushing most of the Cubs’ pitching staff, this Dodgers lineup can hit anyone. They’re too good, and any batter, from Seager to Kyle Farmer, can get a hit when they need one.
Houston’s rotation has a deadly 1-2 punch with Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. Verlander’s been outstanding this postseason, throwing a high amount of breaking balls that no one can hit. Keuchel’s been less impressive, but I still think you can count on 5+ innings an outing from him.
The Astros have to get big innings out of their starters. Their bullpen is collapsing, forcing AJ Hinch to freak out and force back-of-the-rotation starters to make appearances late in games. It’s pretty much a mess. It could cost Houston the series.
If I were Hinch, I use Lance McCullers Jr. and Colin McHugh out of the bullpen still, and maybe ask Ken Giles to make long saves every night. That’s probably their only option, as Chris Dewinski and Will Harris haven’t even been competent in October.
That is, in games that Verlander and Keuchel don’t pitch. Assuming they fire away, Giles can come in for one or two innings and get the save.
Charlie Morton’s the x-factor here. His postseason has been… interesting. Coming out of nowhere, Morton’s thrown the ball better this month than he has in his whole career, and his best start came in Game 7 against New York, where Yankees hitters simply couldn’t make contact. He’s gonna start Game 3 or 4, which gives Houston some time to consider ALL the scenarios with Morton.
As well as he’s pitched, I don’t trust him. Not against this lineup. His fastball has some really nice movement to it, but you can’t tell me guys like Justin Turner don’t know how to hit that.
To beat the Dodgers, the Astros have to get three good outings out of Verlander/Keuchel, which includes Games 1 and 2. Starting the series tied 1-1 isn’t great, considering LA is gonna save Darvish for Game 3 and then can throw Kershaw again Game 4. Tied 2-2 after four is a much more pleasant situation than being down 3-1.
From there, you bank on Morton continuing his run and McCullers working overtime in Games 3 and 4. Starters are gonna have to come out of the bullpen for Houston, cause Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock and Will Harris are not gonna get it done.
For LA, they can rely on their offense in case some of their pitchers likely implode (Kershaw and Hill). The bullpen has been lights out, though this is a lineup they haven’t experienced before. The amount of depth LA has should be able to get them out of tough situations. Any pitcher can come in and get a random out.
There’s risks to consider on both sides. Can Houston starters get deep into games? How is the bullpen managed? What if Yu Darvish is the only good starter for LA? Can the bullpen save them?
In the end, it comes down to trust vs. momentum. The postseason’s ever-longing question is “Who do you trust?”
My poll results: Check marks next to “Dodgers bullpen” and “Dodgers hitters”.
If we’ve learned anything in the postseason, it’s that you need pitching. Usually that accounts for both rotation and bullpen, but since this series is a little wonky, you only need one. The Dodgers have it.
I think Houston can get three great outings out of Verlander and Keuchel, but four is too much to ask when you account for rest and randomness, that is: A guy could have a bad day any day, especially when they are pitching every three games.
I struggled with this pick. Houston’s been my team all postseason, but their bullpen issues and LA’s bullpen dominance is too hard to pick against.
Prediction: Dodgers in 7