The last time we had a match-up of two 100 game winners in the World Series – 1970, Orioles (108-54) Vs. The Reds (102-60) – Richard Nixon was President, Viet Nam (but not Watergate) was in the Headlines, gas cost 36 Cents a gallon and MASH was a top box office movie that no one expected to become one of the longest running and most successful TV shows ever. It was the first World Series to have an African-American Umpire, the first to have a game on Artificial Turf, and all the games were played in the daytime. So, it’s been a while. And it should be worth the wait. The only team in the A.L. with a better record than the Astros this year was the Indians, and considering their collapse last year in the World Series and similar choke against the Yankees in this year’s ALDS, it could be argued that Houston has proved to be the true second best team in Baseball this year behind the Dodgers, who were on pace to break the single season win total until a poor September that featured an 11 game losing streak (!), something that has never happened before to a team that eventually went on to win a World Series. But L.A. righted themselves by season’s end and has looked fully back on track while cruising through the Post-Season so far while the Astros have been more up and down, looking great when they win but a bit overwhelmed when they don’t. Having gone 6-1 in my Playoff Predictions so far, losing only when the Yankees came back from two down to beat Cleveland in the A.L.’S first round, I think I can suss this one out as well, and since there’s only one match up left, I’ll break things down a little more in depth.
Houston led the Majors in runs scored this season, and they were only the seventh team in MLB history to lead in both Slugging Percentage AND fewest strikeouts, but have been less effective so far in the Playoffs, continuing their offensive success against the Red Sox but struggling in the ALCS where they averaged less than 3 runs a game. Jose Altuve, who will be this year’s A.L. MVP, is the best hitter in Baseball right now not named Mike Trout and he heads a line-up that (Carlos Beltran excluded) includes mostly lesser known names like Yuli Gurriel , Marwin Gonzalez and Carlos Correa. But even if they aren’t well known outside of Texas, they are all patient, dangerous hitters. Only Altuve and Correa hit well against the Yankees, and Josh Reddick is in an especially bad slump. Their bench is OK; Cameron Maybin, along with whoever isn’t catching that day, is a good P.H. option and losing DH Beltran for the games in L.A. adds one more for those days. Maybin and Altuve provide most of Houston’s speed, though base stealing is a lost art these days.
The Dodger’s hitting, like most every other team in the Majors, was decidedly less spectacular than the Astros was, but it was still solid. Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger, along with the (almost) equally unknown and unheralded Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Chris Taylor were supplemented by a big bounce back year from Yasiel Puig. The holes in the offense came from their better known players, like Chase Utley, Logan Forsythe and flop late season addition Curtis Granderson, who has been used way too much by Manager Dave Roberts. The bench is tough to call: Ex-star Andre Ethier, and #2 catcher Austin Barnes are the best chances for contact but lack real power, while Joc Pederson and Kiké Hernandez have power but barely hit .200 this year. There is also very little speed on the team.
Advantage: Houston. Though L.A. has continued to be the steady and solid hitters like they were most all season, and the Astros are in a mini-slump, Houston still has more depth and a more freighting starting line-up overall.
Clayton Kershaw has been the best pitcher of his generation, and the Dodgers rotation is so deep since the August acquisition of Yu Darvish that they are looking to use a four man rotation here, though don’t be surprised to see Kershaw – especially if he continues to rapidly distance himself from his habit of radically underperforming in the post season –make an appearance, starting or otherwise, should there be a game seven. Everyone’s looked good so far in the playoffs, and they are rested and in the right order.
Houston is led by the huge one-two punch of ex-Cy Young winners Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, both who have shown they can still pitch as well as ever but who are also going in slightly different directions. Keuchel had a great season but hasn’t been as sharp in the playoffs, while Verlander resurrected his career after being sent to Houston late in the season, going 9-0 so far with an ERA just over 1.00 Houston has a decent option in Charlie Morton for game three, and will be TBA for game four but it’s a big drop off after their top two.
Advantage: Los Angeles. Verlander can equal even a rejuvenated Kershaw, but depth and rest give L.A. the edge overall.
L.A. had the lowest ERA in the National League this year, and the bullpen was a huge reason why. And if possible, they’ve gotten even better in the playoffs, with closer Kenley Jansen looking as lethal, and more importantly, as steady, as he’s ever looked.
Houston did not have the lowest ERA in their league, and the relievers were also a big reason why. And things have only gotten worse for the middle relief and set up men in the post season. Closer Ken Giles had a strong year but is having a terrible playoffs.
Advantage: Los Angeles (bigly). Middle relief was Houston’s only Achilles’ heel this year, and it has now spread to their closer, while everything opposite of that sentence is true for L.A.
Houston Manager A.J. Hinch is in his third year with the Astros and has been a big part of their turnaround from perennial 100 game losers to World Series participants. A career .219 hitter, but one with a degree in Psychology, he’s well liked by his players and has a strong handle on Sabermetrics. Dave Roberts has had some tactical issues managing the Dodgers, especially in his over use of Granderson. But he’s found a way to both succeed with many of his higher paid players (Chase Utley, Adrian Gonzalez) not contributing and more importantly, to motivate Yasiel Puig to (mostly) stay focused and productive, and that’s been a big reason why L.A. has played better this year. On defense, The Dodgers committed 10 fewer errors than the Astros in the regular season, and have a better fielding percentage in the playoffs as well. The Dodgers also have the home field, but Houston was great on the road this year.
Advantage: Even There are series where things like this make all the difference. This isn’t one of them.
Dodgers in six. This battle of ex-National League West Division foes should be a really good, competitive series and quite possibly memorable as well as both teams look great both this year and into the foreseeable future as well. But the Dodger’s middle relief and closer provide the big difference here and L.A. wins it all for the first time since 1988.