Los Angeles vs. Boston, with a championship on the line. It’s a World Series that pretty much has everything, though it would be nice to have Magic Johnson and Larry Bird throwing the traditional ceremonial first pitch.
Let’s look at the 2018 World Series storylines and a few pertinent questions, shall we?
1. It’s hard to believe, but the Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988. Twenty-nine seasons have passed; 2018 makes 30. And the Dodgers have had plenty of opportunities since 1988, having made it to the postseason 11 times coming into 2018. And the 2018 Dodgers extended the franchise’s current consecutive-postseasons streak to six.
2. Will the Red Sox prevail and be recognized as baseball’s dominant franchise of the last 15 years? If that distinction is based solely on World Series wins, the answer would be “Yes.” The Red Sox and San Francisco Giants are the only MLB teams to have three World Series titles since 2004. A triumph over the Dodgers would make it four World Series parades in the last 15 seasons.
3. Will Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw get his World Series ring? Will Boston’s David Price get a World Series ring? This is a chance to conquer the predictable narrative that’s dogged them for years. You know: They Can’t Win the Big One.
4. What up with Red Sox lefty starter Chris Sale? He was hospitalized (mysteriously!) after making a start in the AL Championship Series opener. Sale has a history of wearing down late in the season, so there’s no telling what shape he’ll be in when it’s time to go. Sale pitched only 17 innings over the final two months because of shoulder inflammation and experienced a drop in velocity. But Sale did pitch well in the AL Division Series … so again, who knows?
5. Can David Freese produce a blast from the past, specifically 2011, and help the 2018 Dodgers hoist the World Series trophy?
6. May the best offense win. Both teams are deep and flexible with many offensive pieces. The Red Sox averaged 5.41 runs per game this season to lead the AL, and the Dodgers topped the NL with an average of 4.93 per game. The Dodgers and Red Sox finished No. 1 and No. 2 (respectively) in MLB for slugging percentage.
7. Now that MLB has evolved into a daily bullpen duel, especially in the postseason, who has the edge in this matchup? If we pinpoint only the closers, Jansen has yet to be dinged for an earned run in the 2018 postseason, allowing two hits and striking out 10 in 6.2 scoreless innings. Kimbrel has been scored upon in four of his first appearances this postseason with a 7.11 ERA and six walks and two hit batters in his 6.1 innings.
7a. But we have to look at the whole set of relievers. For the season, Boston’s bullpen ranked 6th in the majors in Win Probability Added. The Dodgers were a respectable 14th in WPA. But after the All Star break the Boston bullpen had its share of wildness and overall struggles, ranking 22nd in WPA compared to LA’s No. 12 ranking. Or to put it another way: If we use Win Probability Added as a measure here, the Cardinals had a better bullpen that the Red Sox over the season’s second half. And finally the Red Sox relievers’ walk rate has soared to a terrible 15.2% percent this postseason. During the regular season the Dodgers hacked at fewer out-of-the-strike-zone pitches than any team in the majors (27%.) And LA hitters also had the highest walk rate in the bigs.
8. There’s no DH in the three games (3,4,5) set for Dodgers Stadium in this series, so how will the Red Sox keep J.D. Martinez in the lineup? He’s played right field (not well) but was often used as the designated hitter this season by manager Alex Cora. First of all, Cora has already said Martinez will start Games 3-4-5 played under NL rules. There are options. Against a LH starter, right fielder Mookie Betts would likely move to center field, and either Jackie Bradley Jr. or left fielder Andrew Benintendi would sit. Both are left-handed hitters that had a tough against lefty pitchers during the regular season — though Benintendi was much better against LHP than Bradley in 2018. Against a right-handed pitcher (like Walker Buehler) the Red Sox would want Bradley and Benintendi in the lineup. And that’s when Betts can play second base with Martinez plugged in right field. Betts played around 2,000 innings at second base during the minors and has started at 2B in the majors on rare occasion. Betts can probably do an adequate job at second.
8a. Speaking of left-handed pitching, the Dodgers could have an advantage here. The Red Sox ranked in MLB in OPS vs. LHP this season (.719) and were the best against RHP. The only Sox hitters that have consistently done well against lefties this season are Martinez, Betts, platoon bat Steve Pearce and Xander Bogaerts. The Dodgers not only have three lefties to deploy as starters (Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu.) But LA has a good supply of left-handed relievers to send after Boston. During the regular season the Dodgers’ left-handed relievers were the sixth-best in the majors at shutting down LH batters.
9. Manny Machado will be the dastardly No. 1 villain in Boston, so expect a lot of booing, shrieking and insulting signage. This goes back to early in the 2017 when the Dodgers’ current shortstop, then with Baltimore, got into it with the Red Sox after taking out second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a borderline-dirty slide. The Red Sox were furious, and retaliated with reliever Matt Barnes throwing knockdown pitches at Machado, who turned and shouted into the Red Sox dugout. After the game Machado said this of the Red Sox: “I’ve lost my respect for that organization, that coaching staff and everyone over there.”
10. This World Series is loaded with starpower, award-winners, league leaders. Two massive payrolls have funded an exceptional collection of talent. (Boston had the highest payroll in the majors this season at $228 million; the were fourth at $187.3 million.)
Looking at the active rosters of both teams, this is what we came up with; please note that all totals are combined.
〉 The Dodgers and Red Sox have 22 players that have combined to make 62 All-Star teams.
〉The teams have combined for five Cy Young awards: LA’s Kershaw with three, and Boston’s Price and Rick Porcello with one apiece.
〉There’s one league MVP winner, Kershaw.
〉Six players that have won a total of nine gold gloves including Boston’s Betts (two) and the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp (two) and Machado (two.)
〉There are two Rookies of the Year: Boston closer Kimbrel and Dodger outfielder Cody Bellinger. Another Dodger who won league ROY honors, Corey Seager is out with a knee injury.
〉Five players in this World Series have won 10 Silver Slugger awards, led by Dodger second baseman Chase Utley with four.
〉There’s a Manager of the Year; the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts won it in the National League 2016. There’s a chance that Boston’s Cora will will it this year; the 2018 voting results will be announced early next month.
〉There are five players in this series who who have won the NL Championship Series MVP award. Bellinger and Bradley Jr. (both this year), the Dodgers’ Justin Turner and Chris Taylor (shared it in 2017); and a fellow named Freese who won it as a Cardinal in 2011. Freese is the only player in this series to win a World Series MVP award. It was a very good year, 2011.
〉Kimbrel and Jansen have combined to win five Reliever of the Year awards; Kimbrel has three and Jansen two. And the two outstanding closers have combined to lead their respective leagues in saves six times. (Kimbrell 4-2.)
〉Three starting pitchers in this World Series have led the league in wins a total of five times: Kershaw three, Price one, Porcello one.
〉There’s a former home-run champion, Matt Kemp. And Kemp and Boston’s J.D. Martinez each have led the league in RBIs; Martinez did it this year with 130.
Prediction Time: I’m bad at these things.
OK, Dodgers in 7.
Thanks for reading.