The sport of baseball has often been criticized for a lack of juice. And by juice, I mean a tangible excitement for which the casual fan can get behind.
When compared to the other major sports within the United States, Major League Baseball simply hasn’t been marketed well enough. Mike Trout — already arguably an All-Time great at only 25 years of age — is a virtual unknown for those outside of the baseball world.
The sport is begging for a star it can build around. While slugger Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees has assumed that role, there are two big-time teams with the potential to be good for a long time: The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros.
The dominance demonstrated by these two squads thus far is the biggest and most significant narrative within the sport. Additionally, both LA and Houston could be the galvanizing forces behind a potential MLB renaissance.
Let’s take a look at the facts. Houston (62-30) currently holds a 16.5 game lead in the A.L. West. The Astros have the league’s best road record (33-11) and also have scored the most runs of any ball club (544).
The Dodgers have the league’s best record (64-29) — largely based upon the fact that they’ve won nine-straight and 29 of their last 33 games. This staggering mark is one of the best stretches in MLB history. LA’s lead over second-place Arizona is 10.5 games.
Simply put, these have been the two-best teams in baseball, and it hasn’t really been close. Los Angeles and Houston are one-two in run differential (+172 and +167, respectively).
Houston is equipped with the American League’s most prolific offense — leading the league in team batting average, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, total bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. From a pitching standpoint, Houston registers a respectable fourth. The team does lead the A.L. in holding the opponent to a .233 batting average.
Not to be outdone, the Dodgers boast the National League’s best pitching staff statistically, as well as the league’s No. 2 offense.
In this potential match-up, we’ve got star power all over the field.
Houston may boast the league’s best collection of young players — led by the middle-infield pairing of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Outfielder George Springer is an absolute stud, as are infielders Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman. The Astros aren’t bereft of pitching talent, either — as they’ve got 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and up-and-coming power pitcher Lance McCullers patrolling the mound.
The Dodgers have the game’s best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. We don’t need to list his accomplishments — as they’d take up half of this piece. While Kershaw is a frontrunner alongside Max Scherzer for his fourth Cy Young Award, closer Kenley Jansen is making a strong case himself. This season, Jansen has accrued a 0.90 ERA, 23 saves, a 4-0 record, and an eye-popping two walks in 40 innings pitched. For those keeping track at home, Jansen has a 61-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Offensively, the Dodgers are an incredibly versatile group. One would be hard-pressed to find a deeper team in terms of quality off of the bench. Justin Turner is the table-setter in the heart of the lineup. Currently batting .374, he’s on pace to win the batting title by a sizable margin. 21-year-old masher Cody Bellinger inexplicably is tied for the league lead in home runs (26), and shortstop Corey Seager has already established himself as a star at only 23 years of age.
This sort of greatness is exactly what the league needs. We’ve got two large media markets, a bevy of established veterans, a plethora of young starlets, and the cachet needed to usher in a new era in the sport.
With the respective youth and resources that each franchise possesses, this could end up being the start of a long rivalry between both squads. It would begin this October — assuming both teams reach the pinnacle of the playoffs.
Image Sources: Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports, Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports, Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports