The final matchup felt inevitable as the season chugged along. Tonight, Oct. 24, a pair of 100-game winners will face off in the World Series for the first time since 1970 as two of the best teams in baseball take centre stage—the National League champions Los Angeles Dodgers against the American League champions Houston Astros.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Strengths: Depth, depth, and more depth
Weaknesses: Regular season inconsistency
At one point this season, the Dodgers looked unstoppable. In the best 50 game stretch since 1912, spanning from June until August, the Dodgers won 43 games and lost just seven times. At another point, they looked quite the opposite, during a stretch in which they lost 11 in a row and 16 out of 17. The good news for L.A. baseball fans is that right now the 7-1 postseason juggernaut looks a lot more like the former stretch than the latter.
On the surface, the team’s success might be attributed to its massive payroll. However, this notion is false. Many of the team’s stars are homegrown talents or prospects acquired in trades for former Dodgers stars like Dee Gordon. The team is spending over one third of its payroll on players who no longer wear the Dodgers uniform.
Only a team with immense depth could overcome such a financial burden. Luckily, depth is the Dodgers’ calling card, especially in the starting rotation. Led by Clayton Kershaw, the rotation goes four deep, while its fifth option, Kenta Maeda, has joined forces with a dynamite bullpen to lock things down in the postseason.
The offence hopes to get star shortstop Corey Seager back from injury, but in his absence they’ve more than managed. The Dodgers scored 28 runs over the five NLCS games, thanks to key contributions from outfielders Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig, and third baseman Justin Turner. The man at the hot corner is near the greatest all-time in postseason history among players with at least 100 plate appearances. His career playoff on-base percentage of 0.481 places him second in MLB history—between Hall-of-Famers Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Now, that’s good company.
Strengths: Explosive offense, middle infield, Justin Verlander
Weaknesses: Middle relief
The Astros were Sports Illustrated’s pick to win the 2017 World Series—three years ago. Houston is finally in the Fall Classic after a methodical tank and rebuild that saw the team lose 416 games over four seasons from 2011 to 2014.
Second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa lead the way for the deep Astros offence: The former is a leading American League MVP candidate after a fantastic all-around campaign, while the latter hit 0.315 on his way to solidifying his place among the game’s best shortstops.
On the pitching side, Justin Verlander carried Houston on his back through two dominant ALCS starts. Meanwhile, lefty Dallas Keuchel co-stars to give the Astros a dominant one-two punch. Beyond those two, it’s going to be a matter of mix-and-match for manager A.J. Hinch.
The Astros will take an all-hands-on-deck approach with its bullpen, much like in the decisive ALCS Game 7, where every pitcher on the roster was ready to be called upon. Lance McCullers, Jr.—typically a starting pitcher—threw his devastating curveball 24 times in a row to close out Game 7 against the Yankees. The middle relief has struggled for the Astros of late, but if McCullers, Brad Peacock, and Ken Giles can step it up and lead the way behind the starting corps, the Astros will be in great shape to compete with the National League’s best team. The Astros were tremendous all year, and they’ve earned their spotlight in the Fall Classic.
Prediction: Dodgers in 7
The Dodgers look positioned to keep on rolling through to the end of October, as their depth will finally overpower Houston in a fantastic series. When all is said and done, Clayton Kershaw and company will raise the World Series trophy for the Los Angeles crew.