After winning 108 games in the regular season and blowing past the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, the Boston Red Sox enter the World Series as the betting favorite. The Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a 16-26 start to the season and nine-game deficit in the NL West to reach the playoffs. A 5-1 victory over the Brewers in Game 7 gave LA their second National League pennant in as many years.
In Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale, both the Dodgers and Red Sox have one of the best pitchers of the past decade. The Red Sox also carry two Cy Young winners (David Price and Rick Porcello), while LA has a budding ace in Walker Buehler.
The Dodgers’ ability to trust Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu could be a vital factor in this series. While it is hard to go against a rotation which features two Cy Young winners — and potentially three should Sale win this year — the Dodgers hold a slight edge. Sale’s health is a concern, as is Price’s track record in the postseason. Kershaw and Hill’s experience last year should also work to their benefit.
Heading into the playoffs it would have been difficult to envision both Christian Vazquez (BOS) and Austin Barnes (LA) starting behind the plate. Sandy Leon, Boston’s best defensive catcher, has only two hits in his last 59 at-bats. Yasmani Grandal has been demoted to the bench due to poor hitting and atrocious play behind the plate. Not only is Grandal 3-for-24 at the dish, but the former starter has committed multiple errors and allowed a few passed balls in the postseason.
Vazquez and Barnes are a near wash. Vazquez has five hits through two series, including a home run against the Yankees. Barnes collected only two hits in the NLCS but provided steady defense for the Dodgers. That being said, the combination of Grandal and Barnes is slightly better than Vazquez and Leon.
The Dodgers’ Max Muncy has had a frustrating postseason. Though he has hit two big homers, Muncy hasn’t reached base as often as he was able to in the regular season. There is a chance Muncy comes off the bench in Games 1 and 2, opening the door for the right-handed David Freese. Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP, has been dangerous at the plate since joining the Dodgers.
Boston will rely on a combination of Steve Pearce and Mitch Moreland. Moreland has been limited thus far due to a balky hamstring, but he hit .500 in the ALCS. Pearce, a career journeyman, could be a difference-maker against the Dodgers’ lefty-heavy rotation.
Second base will be a position to watch throughout this series. The Dodgers have numerous options — Chris Taylor, Kiké Hernández, Brian Dozier, and possibly Muncy — but will likely rely on Hernández to shoulder the load.
The Red Sox are faced with an interesting dilemma. At home, Boston will choose between Ian Kinsler and Brock Holt. However, when the series shifts to Los Angeles, the Red Sox may be enticed to start Mookie Betts at second. Without the DH in play, J.D. Martinez will start in the outfield. Instead of taking Jackie Bradley Jr. out of the lineup, Boston can move Betts to the infield. Even if Betts only plays two or three games at second, the addition of an MVP to the position results in an advantage.
Advantage: Red Sox
Just like in the NLCS, Manny Machado overshadows his counterpart. Xander Bogaerts is a good player. Very good, perhaps. Bogaerts has 10 hits this postseason and is one of the top players at his position. However, Machado is simply a better player. The controversial superstar went 8-for-27 against Milwaukee. An added boon, Machado has been better defensively with the Dodgers than he was in Baltimore.
While Bogaerts oozes star potential, Machado’s star power currently shines brighter.
For the Red Sox, whom occupies the hot corner will come down to two things: 1) The health of Eduardo Núñez and 2) Offense vs. Defense. Núñez twisted an ankle against the Astros and subsequently missed the final three games of the ALCS. If Núñez is healthy enough to start, Boston must choose between a superior defender (Núñez) or a better hitter (Rafael Devers). Devers capitalized on his opportunity, going 5-for-13 with one HR and six RBI against Houston, but his limitations defensively are noticeable.
There is no such trouble at third base for the Dodgers. Justin Turner’s .425 career postseason on-base percentage is one of the best all-time. In addition to being a weapon offensively, Turner’s defense at third is amongst the best.
Before the playoffs began, this position grouping would have been a clear advantage for the Red Sox. And while things are closer than expected, don’t be mistaken — the Red Sox outfield is still superior. The Dodgers will most likely start Chris Taylor in left, Cody Bellinger in center and Yasiel Puig in right. After a rather disappointing regular season, Taylor has been on fire the past two weeks, batting 9-for-25 heading into the Fall Classic. Bellinger’s two game-winning hits against the Brewers should have the 2017 Rookie of the Year brimming with confidence. His speed in the field and powerful bat make him a valued player. The Wild Horse himself, Puig, is hitting .321 in the postseason. His dramatic three-run homer clinched the NL pennant for LA.
With all that said, Boston has the likely AL MVP on their side. Mookie Betts has been kept in check thus far — hitting .205 entering the WS — but his talent is undeniable. Fresh off winning the ALCS MVP, Jackie Bradley Jr. supplies the Red Sox with incredible defense in center. Likewise, Andrew Benintendi has proved to be a game-changer both offensively and defensively. Oh, and there is also a guy named J.D. Martinez. When the series shifts to LA, Martinez will likely play in left. With Martinez and Betts (both top-5 MVP candidates) in the outfield, Boston is feeling pretty good.
Advantage: Red Sox
See: J.D. Martinez.
Advantage: Red Sox
There is no deeper team in baseball than the Los Angeles Dodgers. At any point in the series, the Dodgers will have a possible platoon including the likes of Joc Pederson, Matt Kemp, Muncy, Taylor, Hernández, Freese, and Dozier.
Boston’s bench unit is no joke, either. Between Devers/Núñez, Holt, Kinsler, Moreland and Pearce, the Sox have plenty of pop to call on. While this is a close call, LA’s depth is simply unmatched.
While it may sound ridiculous, the Dodgers’ bullpen just out-pitched Milwaukee’s vaunted stable. Boston’s pen has also performed well thus far — even relying on Porcello, Price and Sale at various points this postseason. Since the beginning of September, the Dodgers’ pen has been sterling. After posting the second-best ERA over the final month, LA’s relievers have posted a 1.30 ERA in the postseason.
For Boston, Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes have done well handing the game to Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel’s outings have been nervy throughout the postseason, although his alleged pitch-tipping has apparently been rectified. Conversely, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has rediscovered his A-game. Thus far in the postseason Jansen has looked like his dominant self for the first time all year. Both bullpens have been good, but Jansen may be the difference.
Friends and former teammates, Alex Cora and Dave Roberts have done a tremendous job with their respective teams. Cora led the Sox to an MLB-best 108 wins in his first season as a manager. Roberts has now won back-to-back NL pennants with the Dodgers after reaching the NLCS in his first year managing the team. Both managers appear destined for long, successful careers.
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