After months of ups and downs, highs and lows, cheers and boos for your favorite (or not-so-favorite) teams, the 2018 Major League Baseball season winds to a close with the World Series. This year’s edition is the 114th Fall Classic, with the American League champion Boston Red Sox squaring off against the National League representative Los Angeles Dodgers.
One of the most wonderful things about baseball is its unpredictability and how just one bounce, one strong throw, one great pitch, can turn around an at-bat, an inning, a game, and even a World Series.
There’s no doubt we will see some magic on display over the next few games.
The 2018 World Series represents the 13th American League pennant for the Red Sox and gives the team a chance to pick up its ninth World Championship. The team’s most recent World Series win came in 2013 when Boston defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, four games to two. Boston’s first World Series appearance came in the inaugural “modern” version of the event, a best-of-nine showdown between the Boston Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1903.
For Los Angeles, this is the team’s 23rd pennant in the National League and a World Series win would net the team its seventh title. Despite a great deal of recent success, the Dodgers’ last World Championship win came 30 years ago in 1988 with a win in five games over the Oakland Athletics. For the Dodgers, their first World Series was in 1916, when the team was known as the Brooklyn Robins, where they lost four games to one, to…of course, the Boston Red Sox!
This is the first Fall Classic meeting between the two franchises since that 1916 matchup.
How They Got Here:
The Red Sox won the American League East by eight games over the New York Yankees, with Boston posting the best record in baseball at 108-54. In the American League Division Series, Boston toppled the Yankees three games to one. They went beat the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series four games to one.
The Dodgers triumphed in a Game 163 playoff against the Colorado Rockies to win the National League West with a 92-71 record. In the subsequent National League Division Series, LA defeated the Atlanta Braves three games to one before toppling the Milwaukee Brewers in a fantastic seven-game National League Championship Series.
Boston dominated on offense, leading the majors with 5.41 runs scored per game (876 runs scored; 829 runs batted in). The team also led MLB in hits (1,509), doubles (355), average (.268), on-base percentage (.339), slugging (.439), and total bases (2,550). A real juggernaut here, folks.
Offensively, the team was led by right fielder Mookie Betts, designated hitter JD Martinez, and a superb supporting cast of shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Rafael Devers, and left fielder Andrew Benintendi. Lineup-fillers Mitch Moreland (at first), Jackie Bradley, Jr. (in center), Eduardo Nunez (at second*), and backstop Sandy Leon each have their merits, but it’s the stars that drive this lineup.
Depth is also important in the postseason and while Boston’s bench does not inspire fear, there are guys capable of giving Cora late-inning flexibility and delivering big hits when needed. Veterans Brock Holt, Ian Kinsler, and Steve Pearce could all come in handy.
*Boston is leaning towards putting Betts at second during National League games in Dodger Stadium in order to get Martinez in the lineup as the right fielder. It’s a ding on defense at both positions, but the offensive uptick may be worthwhile.
Los Angeles was first in the NL, and fifth overall, with 4.93 runs scored per game on 804 runs scored (756 batted in). The Dodgers had 1,394 hits, including 296 doubles and a second-in-MLB 235 home runs. The team slashed .250/.333/.442 for an NL-leading .774 OPS which trailed only the Yankees and Red Sox. It’s a strong-but-not-spectacular offense.
There is power up-and-down the lineup, led by surprise breakout Max Muncy’s 35 round-trippers. With a resurgent Matt Kemp (21 homers) and the versatility of Cody Bellinger (25), Enrique Hernandez (21), outfielders, Joc Pederson (25) and Yasiel Puig (23), along with catcher Yasmani Grandal (24), along with Justin Turner (17), Swiss Army knife Chris Taylor (17), and midseason pickup Manny Machado (13 homers in LA), the Dodgers boast a lot of power throughout the lineup, but no true superstars like Betts or Martinez. Still, a hot week from one or two of these sluggers could carry the team.
The Dodgers have versatility all over the place with a very athletic squad, giving manager Dave Roberts a lot of options for who to play where and when. The bench bats include backstop Austin Barnes*, infielders Chase Utley and Brian Dozier, and outfielder Alex Verdugo. That is not including a couple of the above-mentioned starters who will likely be rotated in-and-out.
* Barnes is the nominal starter at this point because of his superior defense, but Grandal accrued 518 regular-season plate appearances, so expect to see them both behind the dish for LA at some point, with Barnes getting the bulk of the time overall.
Advantage: Boston Red Sox
On the pitching side of things, the BoSox were seventh overall with a 3.75 ERA and hits allowed (1,305), with 1,558 staff strikeouts against 512 walks. Advanced stats have Boston’s moundsmen just a hair worse with a 3.82 FIP, but overall the team still posted a solid 117 ERA+. In a time when “starter” or “reliever” has never been more blurry, the Boston starters posted a 3.77 ERA in 871 ⅓ innings, while the bullpen made a 3.72 ERA in 581 1./3 frames. If the Red Sox have a weakness, it’s on the mound late in games.
The Red Sox’s rotation of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Nathan Eovaldi is a strong and capable unit, although every hurler listed has some kryptonite. The goal for the Dodgers should be to try to break into the Boston bullpen early and often.
Speaking of the Boston bullpen, closer Craig Kimbrel was fantastic with a 2.74 ERA and 96 punchouts in 62 ⅓ innings. The rest of Boston’s crew was, less than good, I guess. “key” setup men Joe Kelly (4.39) and Matt Barnes (3.65) both posted ERAs more in line with middle men than elite arms, while Brian Johnson (4.17) and Heath Hembree (4.20) were both serviceable. The second-best Sox reliever is probably Hector “Who?” Velazquez (3.18 in 85 innings) or Ryan Brasier (1.60 in 33 ⅔) frames.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ strength is, as usual, pitching. A staff ERA of 3.38 was second in MLB to Houston, while the team had a 3.60 FIP to go with a 115 ERA+. The team as a whole struck out 1,5656 batters (good for third in MLB) against just 422 walks. LA’s starting staff logged a 3.19 ERA in 894 ⅔ innings, while its bullpen had a 3.72 mark in 581 ⅓ innings. As with Boston, the Dodgers have a good bullpen, but it also the team’s weakest point.
Staff ace Clayton Kershaw turned in a fine, but injury-shortened season this year, but actually rose his career ERA with a 2.73 mark. Backed by fellow lefties Rich Hill and Alex Wood, along with rookie standout Walker Buehler, Kenta Maeda, and Ross Stripling, Kershaw is looking to shake his rep as a “poor” postseason pitcher (4.09 ERA in 28 games). Los Angeles has more starting depth than Boston, and in a short series where traditional roles often get tossed aside, it could prove a difference maker for the Boys in Blue.
LA’s relief corps is led by Kenley Jansen, the closer who had a down year with a 3.01 ERA. Along with key lefty Scott Alexander, fellow port-siders Hyun-Jin Ryu and Caleb Ferguson, as well as righties Dylan Floro, Pedro Baez, Daniel Hudson, Josh Fields, with another name or two from the starters already listed, this is a very deep bullpen. As long as Roberts resists the urge to use every tool in his kit and doesn’t get too cute with over-management, the Dodgers have a potential edge here.
Advantage: Boston on starters; Los Angeles on bullpen
On defense, both teams display flashes of greatness but are solid-not-special around the field. Both teams largely are made up of good defenders who make their living with the bat. While Boston features a fantastic center fielder in JBJ, and a great right fielder in Betts, any change to that alignment (i.e., putting JD Mart out there) is giving up outs in the field for potential at the plate.
The Dodgers do not have any standouts on defense, but the athleticism and versatility of the team, in particular Bellinger, Muncy, Hernandez, and Taylor, provide the team with great gloves when needed.
Advantage: Push, unless Martinez trots out to right field, or Kemp makes his way to center field.
This is going to be a great series either way you go, with a pair of perennial contenders slugging it out. The “advantages” given here are mostly slight ones, and it could simply come down to a hot hand, a poor managerial decision, a shit replay call, or any number of small things which decide this year’s World Series.
Let’s go LA in seven.