Breaking Down the 2017 Fall Classic
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros will meet this Tuesday in one of the greatest American traditions, stretching back well over a century– the World Series.
At first glance, it is hard to beat last year’s matchup. The Chicago Cubs ending their 108 year Championship drought, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit against another title starved franchise, the Cleveland Indians. Game 7 of the 2016 Series was the highest rated MLB game in 15 years.
This year’s Series brings together two franchises also hungry for a Championship. The National League Champion Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the most storied franchises in MLB, but have not reached the World Series in 29 years. The glory years for the Dodgers franchise (Brooklyn and Los Angeles) took place in the 1950s and 60s, winning eight NL Pennants (1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1966) and four World Series titles (1955, 1959, 1963, 1965) in those two decades. From Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, to Duke Snider, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, the mid-century Dodgers dominated the National League. Then again in the 1980s, the Dodgers racked up two more World Championships in 1981 and 1988.
This Dodgers team, led by three time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, has produced five consecutive NL West titles, but have fallen short of the World Series year after year. They have been left frustrated, watching their rival San Francisco Giants win three World Championships in the last decade. But, these Dodgers are different. Dominating the regular season with a 104-58 record and marching through the playoffs with a three game sweep of the Diamondbacks and defeating the defending World Champion Cubs in five games. The 2017 Dodgers are a complete team; offense, starting pitching, bullpen, defense.
Here’s a few reasons to root for the Dodgers:
- Clayton Kershaw has simply been the most dominant Pitcher of the last decade. He is already a Hall of Fame worthy candidate, regardless of whether or not his team wins it all. He could be on his way to a fourth Cy Young award this season, despite missing the month of August, Kershaw lead the NL in Wins (18), ERA (2.31), second lowest WHIP (0.95) and threw over 200 Strikeouts for his seventh season.
- Justin Turner is a tremendous competitor and a late bloomer in his MLB career. Grinding through his early career with the Orioles and Mets, Turner came into his own at the age of 30, earning the starting Third Baseman role with the Dodgers. Turner tied for 2nd in the NL Batting Average (.322), posting 21 HRs and 71 RBIs this season. His Postseason numbers, however, have been historic. The NLCS Co-MVP has posted the highest Postseason OBP of all-time (.495), surpassing Lou Gerhig and Babe Ruth. Joined by rookie phenom Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor and a returning Corey Seager, the Dodgers have a dangerous lineup.
- Curtis Granderson has fallen short of a World Series victory with both the 2006 Tigers and the 2015 Mets. Despite his recent slump, Granderson brings additional veteran leadership to the clubhouse, and has been known for clutch hitting throughout his career. One of the most likable and charitable guys in the game, it is hard not to want to see him finally get that victory.
The Houston Astros have reached the World Series for only the second time in franchise history. An expansion team in 1962, as the Colt .45s, the Astros do not have the same kind of “glory years” experienced by the Dodgers franchise. In fact, the only appearance in the World Series was 2005 (as a National League team), when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox. The first player to wear an Astros cap in the Hall of Fame was Craig Biggio in 2015. Teammate Jeff Bagwell joined him just this year. The “Killer Bs” lead Houston to four NL Central Division titles (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001). Nolan Ryan pitched for the Astros from 1980-1988 and is currently serving as a special assistant to the club. He helped assemble the Texas Rangers two AL Pennant winning teams in 2010 and 2011, both falling short of a World Series victory.
This Astros team has been years in the making. Several articles have recently circulated about the 2014 Sports Illustrated issue that predicted the Astros as 2017 World Series Champions. After several 100 loss seasons, the young Astros returned to the playoffs in 2015, defeating the Yankees in the Wild Card Game and losing to the Royals in the ALDS. After taking the 2017 ALDS victory over the Red Sox, the Astros outlasted the Yankees in classic seven game ALCS to earn their place in the World Series.
Here’s a few reasons to root for the Astros:
- Justin Verlander has been an unstoppable force since being traded from Detroit to Houston at the end of August. He went 5-0 in September with a 1.06 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and 43 Strikeouts. His Postseason performances earned him the ALCS MVP, pitching a complete game shutout with 13 Ks in Game 2. He’s 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and 24 Strikeouts. Outside of Kershaw, Verlander has the most dominant Pitcher of the past decade. As a product of the Detroit Tigers, JV remains a favorite among the Tigers faithful, who are cheering on their former Rookie of the Year, Cy Young winner and AL MVP to finally gain his ring.
- Jose Altuve is the leader of this young core of Astros and brings incredible energy and excitement to the game. He’s the likely AL MVP and winner of his third AL Batting title, along with speed and great glove at Second Base. His Postseason work has also been nothing short of brilliant; posting 5 HRs, 8 RBIs, a .400 BA and .500 OBP. Along with Carlos Correa, George Springer, Alex Bergman, Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick, the Astros were the best hitting regular season team in baseball.
- The City of Houston has looked to the Astros as a rallying point after Hurricane Harvey devastated the city back in late August. Certainly an Astros World Series win can’t replace the homes lost and lives unraveled as a result of the storm, but rooting for the Astros to bring home their first World Series title would be uplifting for the city itself.
As Game 1 begins on Tuesday, this Series offers some incredible pitching matchups. The Dodgers acquiring Yu Darvish from the Rangers in July and Astros bringing in Verlander from the Tigers have given both teams two legitimate Aces. Here’s a look at the pitching matchups we can expect:
Game 1 (Tuesday): Clayton Kershaw vs Dallas Keuchel
- Kershaw is 2-0 (in 3 starts) in the Postseason with a 3.63 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 16 Strikeouts in 17.1 innings.
- Keuchel is 2-1 (in 3 starts) in the Postseason with a 2.60 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 25 Strikeouts in 17.1 innings – including a brilliant performance in Game 1 of the ALCS.
- While under normal circumstances Dallas Keuchel would have the edge in nearly any matchup, but this time he faces Clayton Kershaw in LA. Advantage Dodgers.
Game 2 (Wednesday): Rich Hill vs Justin Verlander
- Rich Hill is 0-0 (in 2 starts) in the Postseason with a 3.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 12 Strikeouts in 9 innings.
- Justin Verlander is 4-0 (in 3 starts, 1 relief appearance) in the Postseason with a 1.46 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 24 Strikeouts in 24.2 innings.
- Even with the Dodgers at home, JV has been perhaps better than we have ever seen him. Rich Hill is a solid Pitcher, but he’s not Justin Verlander. Advantage Astros.
Game 3 (Friday): Yu Darvish vs (Likely Charlie Morton)
- Yu Darvish is 2-0 (in 2 starts) in the Postseason with a 1.59 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 14 Strikeouts in 11.1 innings.
- Charlie Morton is 1-1 (in 3 starts) in the Postseason with a 6.23 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and 14 Strikeouts in 14 innings.
- Darvish will have to compete against the Houston home crowd, but he’s still an Ace, who we can expect to perform at a high level. Advantage Dodgers.
Game 4 (Saturday): (Possibly Alex Wood) vs (Possibly Lance McCullers)
- Alex Wood is 0-1 (only 1 start) in the Postseason with a 5.79 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 7 Strikeouts in only 4.2 innings.
- Lance McCullers is 0-0 (in 3 starts) with a 2.08 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 1 Save and 13 Strikeouts in 13 innings.
- This matchup is not finalized, but just speculative, as Game 4 Starters have yet to be announced. Wood had a solid regular season, but has seen little action in the playoffs. McCullers pitched an excellent 4 innings of relief for Morton in Game 7 of the ALCS, giving up no runs, one hit and striking out six. It is hard to handicap until the matchup is actually set. Advantage Uncertain.
Overall, the Dodgers probably have a slight edge with their Starting Pitching, but their top two duos of Kershaw/Darvish vs Keuchel/Verlander are as even as it gets. The main advantage the Dodgers enjoy is being able to Rich Hill in Game 2, matching up Darvish against a weaker Morton in Game 3. Despite some of the big hitting games both the Dodgers and Astros produced in the ALCS, one can see these World Series games producing low scores, which may call for late inning heroics.
And finally, who wins? Home field advantage was critical in the ALCS, proving a big boost leading to victories for both the Yankees and Astros. The Astros are 1-4 on the road this Postseason, to the Dodgers 3-1 road record. This is a major advantage for the Dodgers and they will most likely be the team chosen by most pundits and writers to win.
For the Astros to win, they will need Keuchel or Verlander to steal a game on the road in Game 1 or Game 2, and that’s very possible. If the Astros go back to Houston 1-1, they are in a good position. Let’s assume the Dodgers take one in Houston (Game 3 or Game 5) and Houston heads back to LA up 3-2 heading into Game 6. My prediction, Justin Verlander throws two more masterpieces in Game 2 and Game 6 in LA, along with clutch hitting from Jose Altuve to lift the Astros to their first ever World Championship. The city of Houston gets something to celebrate and Justin Verlander is named World Series MVP.
Houston Astros in 6.