This is the series we've been waiting for.
In this year's installment of the World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers will host the Houston Astros in a best-of-seven. When dissecting the duration of the regular season, these two teams have consistently been the best in baseball. Many (including New Arena) have been pining for this match-up.
It's a fascinating collection of players and storylines across the board. Clayton Kershaw and Jose Altuve are two of the top players in the entire sport -- regardless of position. Each team also showcases some of the best young talent (Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Carlos Correa, George Springer) across the league. Simply put, it's a series Major League Baseball should be excited about.
This piece will break down each individual position on the field, as well as bigger categories such as managerial ability and pitching. At first glance, it doesn't appear as if either team is separated by much.
1st Base: Cody Bellinger vs. Yuli Gurriel
Gurriel has been one of Houston's most consistent hitters during postseason play. The 33-year-old Cuban is second on the team in both hits (15) and batting average (.366). Gurriel is the galvanizing force for the second half of the Houston lineup.
As for Los Angeles, the 22-year-old Bellinger hasn't looked overwhelmed in his first taste of postseason baseball. Sure, Bellinger has struck out a third of the time, and has only four RBIs thus far through the first two series. However, he's belted two home runs -- and truly is the biggest home run threat remaining between both teams.
Duly, his defense at first base has been simply superb. He's flashing Gold Glove ability -- something that will be gladly welcomed against a team possessing Houston's collective ability at the plate.
Gurriel is the hotter hitter at the moment, though Bellinger possesses game-changing power. Coupled with his defensive ability, he narrowly edges out Gurriel.
2nd Base: Logan Forsythe vs. Jose Altuve
This one isn't close.
Forsythe quietly has had a very good postseason. Known as a very patient hitter, Forsythe has accrued five walks in only 19 at-bats. Duly, he's currently sitting with a .316 batting average and a .458 on-base percentage.
While he won't be a threat to hit the ball out of the park, his ability to work the count makes Forsythe a very significant member of the lineup. He's intentionally slotted at the No. 5 spot as a means to get on base for Yasiel Puig. In essence, he functions as the second lead-off hitter for the lower-half of the order.
That's all well and good for the Dodgers...because Houston's diminutive second baseman is an absolute stud.
Altuve has destroyed opposing pitching in the postseason -- as he leads Houston in batting average (.400), home runs (5), total bases (31), walks (8), runs (10), and hits (16). His ability to handle pitching on all parts of the plate is simply special. Additionally, Altuve feasts on pitchers routinely sitting in the 95-100 miles-per-hour range.
He has the talent to take a series over. For Houston's sake, they're surely hoping Altuve can continue on his torrid pace.
Shortstop: Corey Seager vs. Carlos Correa
There are a considerable amount of similarities between both Seager and Correa.
For one, both are 23 years of age. Each are bigger shortstops with rangy capabilities. Seager and Correa are known for being high-contact hitters. Lastly and most importantly, the duo is considered two of the top shortstops in all of baseball.
Seager was forced to sit out the entire NLCS with a back injury. He sustained the knock whilst sliding into a base during the NLDS versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. Seager also has been dealing with an elbow problem, which likely will be addressed in the offseason.
Correa -- as expected -- has been very solid throughout the postseason. He's third on the team with a .295 batting average, and leads the club in RBIs (9). Correa has been seeing the ball very well as of late. He's consistently been getting the barrel of the bat on the ball -- something that should concern the Dodgers.
Seager is a huge wildcard in this series. It appears as if he will play -- though questions persist as to how the motion of swinging could irritate his back. If all things were equal, it'd be a splitting-hairs scenario as to how one would separate Correa and Seager from one another. As it currently stands, Correa gets the nod.
3rd Base: Justin Turner vs. Alex Bregman
Bregman is a very promising player. An integral part of the young core, the 23-year-old broke out in 2017 -- slamming 19 home runs to go along with a .284 batting average. He certainly figures to be in the running for multiple All-Star appearances down the line.
As easy as it was to denote Altuve as a massive advantage for the 'Stros, the same can be said with Turner and the boys in blue.
The Long Beach native epitomizes the terms "clutch" and "productive" during postseason play. In 26 playoff games, Turner has a .368 career average, a 1.113 OPS and 24 RBIs. Both Arizona and Chicago had virtually no answer for his brilliance at the plate. A .387 batting average is further punctuated by 12 RBIs, six walks, three home runs, and an eye-popping .500 OBP.
Without question, he's the straw that stirs the proverbial drink for the Los Angeles offense.
Catcher: Austin Barnes/Yasmani Grandal vs. Brian McCann
This is a rather fascinating battle.
McCann has the upper-hand in overall experience. He's been a productive player for a long time, and has accrued considerable playoff seasoning. During this postseason, the veteran catcher has a line of .156/.270/.219. He's struggled to handle fastballs during the playoffs, and instead attempts to tee-off on (often wicked) off-speed junk.
After having a very nice regular season for the Dodgers, Grandal has been effectively benched in favor of the younger Barnes. The two had platooned in righty-lefty situations -- though Barnes has been the more productive hitter, and offers extra in the way of athleticism/speed.
Manager Dave Roberts could opt to use Grandal versus right-handed pitching, and Barnes versus southpaws. Both are above-average when it comes to framing pitches, and thus the team should't see much in the way of a drop-off.
Right Field: Yasiel Puig vs. Josh Reddick
Reddick will enter this series with a heightened sense of motivation. He came over to Los Angeles last season in the Rich Hill trade. The Dodgers elected to not re-sign him after a poor run of play. He landed with the Astros in free agency -- where he proceeded to have a very good year (.314 batting average, 13 home runs, 82 RBIs). During this postseason, Reddick has struggled immensely -- hitting only .171 with two RBIs and no extra-base hits.
Reddick had this to say about the upcoming series:
"Personally, I wouldn't rather do it against any other team. I wasn't a fan favorite there. I got booed a lot as a home player. I didn't really fit in, it seemed like they thought. But I think it's gonna be fun to go back, especially to beat them. It's gonna be a really good feeling for me personally."
On the other end of the spectrum, Puig has been a lightning rod for both the team and the fan base. There's not another player on this roster with the ability to get the crowd in a frenzy.
A much more patient hitter than he displayed early in his career, Puig has only three strikeouts in 29 at-bats. He also currently enters the World Series with a blistering line of .414/.5114/1.169. Much to the Dodgers' delight, Puig is flashing the elite ability he once did upon his call-up in 2013.
Center Field: Chris Taylor vs. George Springer
This is a toss-up.
If we're going by a player's ceiling and upside, Springer gets the call. He's got all the athleticism one would want for a rangy center fielder. When you throw in middle-of-the-order power and top-of-the-order speed, you've got a special player on your hands.
During the regular season, Springer belted 34 home runs. He's the galvanizing force at the top of the Houston order, and most certainly puts pressure on the opposition. Though he fared very well in the ALDS, he struggled big-time in the ALCS. Springer's postseason average currently sits at .233. He's also striking out about a fourth of the time -- something that's less-than-ideal for a lead-off hitter.
Taylor has come out of nowhere to be a very vital cog in the Dodgers' hitting machine. Like Springer, he's an unconventional lead-off hitter. He slugged 21 home runs and batted .288 during the regular season. Taylor also swiped 17 bags in 21 attempts.
In the postseason, Taylor has a line of .281/.594/1.004. His efforts versus the Cubs were spectacular to the point he was named as the Co-MVP of the series (along with Turner).
Though Taylor has been the superior player during the postseason, Springer is too talented to be discounted. We'll call this one a toss-up -- especially because Springer can break out of his slump at any time.
Left Field: Curtis Granderson/Kike Hernandez vs. Marwin Gonzalez
If we're strictly going by regular season metrics, there's no contest...Houston would have the big-time edge. Gonzalez hit .303 -- along with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs. He is unquestionably the most dangerous No. 8 hitter any team will field. In the playoffs, Gonzalez has been utterly abysmal. He's hitting only .162, and has struck out 10 times in only 37 at-bats.
The Dodgers have a rotation in left field based upon the pitching match-up. We truly don't know who'll be manning the position -- as it could be a number of guys. Curtis Granderson could get playing time there. Though as many Dodgers fan can attest to, this wouldn't be the best idea. Granderson has an .067 batting average in postseason play. He's also struck out eight times in 15 plate appearances. We've seen Joc Peterson and Andre Ethier there as well. Of the three, Ethier may be the best bet -- though he played sparingly during the regular season.
The Dodgers will get an edge here -- particularly against lefties -- with Hernandez in at left. He's a plus fielder across the board, and truly has the ability to play seven positions on the field. Hernandez has one of the best outfield arms on the roster. From a hitting standpoint, he's got five hits in only 12 at-bats -- including three home runs and seven RBIs.
He's truly a difference-maker with his ability to mash left-handed pitching. You'll most certainly see him feature against Dallas Keuchel in Game 1.
Houston is not an exceptionally deep team. It relies heavily upon its loaded lineup, and often doesn't change. Los Angeles is strictly a situational team. Save for Puig, Turner, Taylor, Bellinger and Seager, you'll see the entire lineup change based upon the opposing starting pitcher.
The Dodgers are a deep ballclub. Credit the braintrust of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi for assembling such a dynamic roster. Each reserve has their specific role on the club. We've spoken about the platoon situation involving Barnes and Grandal. Either catcher would start for over 50-percent of MLB clubs. Ethier is a veteran presence off the bench -- as is Chase Utley. Both are excellent in wearing out opposing pitchers when working counts.
Pederson is a slick fielder, and one cannot forget the fact he's got some serious pop. Charlie Culberson was a surprise starter for Seager in the NLCS. Known primarily for his glove, he went 5-for-11 against the Cubs -- including two doubles and a triple. Lastly, Hernandez may be the best bench player not playing every day in the Majors.
As for Houston, Maybin was a nice addition from A.L. West rivals the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim. He's a plus-runner, and can be used in a myriad of ways. Carlos Beltran is the epitome of a lockeroom presence. Loaded with playoff experience, he certainly can provide a quality at-bat in any given situation. Evan Gattis looks more like a football player than a baseball player -- though he also can be a power option off the bench or in a designated hitter situation.
Simply put, Los Angeles offers far more versatility and quality from their group of reserves. This category has one of the largest divides when analyzing each club.
Here's where things get very interesting.
The Dodgers have philosophically elected to operate with a different way of utilizing their starting pitching when compared to the Astros. With a lights-out bullpen, Los Angeles is really only asking for five-to-six innings out of their starters.
In this scenario, it's enabled all four of the projected starters in this series (Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood) to get plenty of rest. None of the aforementioned quartet have pitched on short rest, and none have been taxed physically whatsoever.
Due to a longer series, the Astros have had to use their top-two starters (Keuchel, Justin Verlander) on short rest. Lance McCullers has been forced to pitch extended innings out of the bullpen, and Charlie Morton has been highly volatile.
Verlander, Keuchel, and McCullers have all been very good during the postseason. However, the rest of the staff has struggled immensely. Morton has a 6.23 ERA, and Brad Peacock has an ERA of 9.00.
While the duo of Keuchel and Verlander are potentially on par with the duo of Kershaw and Darvish, the combination of depth and rest favors Los Angeles.
This category is fairly straightforward.
In 17 innings versus Chicago, the Dodgers' bullpen did not allow a run. Kenta Maeda transitioned into the bullpen for the postseason. Though there were some questions as to how he'd pitch, his stuff has played up in a big way. He's been flawless in five appearances -- absolutely crushing it as a nightmare for right-handed batters.
The same can be said for Tony Cingrani -- as he's been perfect in stymieing left-handers. Hard-throwing option Josh Fields has a 0.00 ERA in three appearances. Flamethrower Brandon Morrow has dominated with a fastball touching 100 miles-per-hour, and a wipe-out slider.
Lastly, Kenley Jansen has been simply superb. In seven appearances, he's allowed two hits and zero runs in 8.0 innings.
Houston hasn't had the same level of potency. As a result, it will likely lead to Hinch relying much more on his starting rotation. McCullers has been outstanding as a reliever -- though he'll be a starter in this series. Will Harris and Francisco Liriano haven't been sharp. Reliable reliever Chris Devenski has been anything but -- registering a 9.00 ERA in five appearances.
The most disappointing aspect of the Houston staff has been closer Ken Giles. He's been tagged throughout the playoffs. Giles will enter with a 7.50 ERA in five appearances. He's given up eight hits and five earned runs in only 6.0 innings of work. This can't be a good sign for the Astros going forward against what will be the best team they've seen all year long.
Manager: Dave Roberts vs. A.J. Hinch
There's really not much one can say to negatively portray either manager. Both Roberts and Hinch have done a fantastic job in leading their respective teams to the World Series.
Hinch has done well to work with a bullpen limited on effectiveness. He's had to manage his starting pitching accordingly. Roberts has been fantastic in pushing all the right buttons -- whether that means inserting Culberson or Ethier into the starting lineup, or employing a highly situational gameplan with his relievers.
This should be one hell of a series.
Houston is loaded with talent all throughout its lineup. There won't be an easy out for what's been a dominating Dodgers' pitching staff.
The storylines are aplenty -- with Kershaw and Verlander each searching for their first World Series ring. They've arguably been the top-two pitchers in the league for the last seven years.
Forsythe and Keuchel were college teammates. Barnes and Houston outfielder Jake Marisnick grew up together in Riverside, California. Gurriel and Puig knew each other from their native Cuba. One has to bet Reddick will get booed unmercifully -- especially since his comments on the Los Angeles fan base were made public. We'll also get to see elite young talents square-off in what could develop into a very good rivalry.
This series will come down to pitching. The Dodgers are rested -- whereas the Astros enter a bit on the tired side. Los Angeles possesses a better bullpen, more depth talent-wise, and the benefit of playing at home.
When factoring in the chemistry surrounding this team, it's simply time for the Dodgers to win their first World Series since 1988.
Verdict: Dodgers in 6