After defeating the New York Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 on Saturday night, the Houston Astros have won the American League Pennant and earned their spot in the World Series. The Astros will face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who knocked out the Chicago Cubs in five games to clinch their spot in the Fall Classic.
This World Series matchup has some interesting storylines, starting with the fact that this will be the first trip to the World Series for either team since 2005. In a league where you often see success come in bunches (think the San Francisco Giants and their recent playoff prowess), it will be nice to see an unfamiliar face hoist the World Series trophy at the end of this series. In addition, both of these teams are primarily built from homegrown players, which adds an unusual element to the series.
Despite the fact that neither team has had much playoff success in recent years, it does not mean that they came out of nowhere to make it to the World Series. In fact, the Dodgers were the most dominant team in baseball record-wise, and they led the entire league with 104 wins. In fact, due to their large divisional lead, they basically coasted through most of the second half and were able to rest many of their top players.
Similarly, the Astros held a massive lead in their division throughout the season, and ultimately won 101 games. The records of both teams were a testament to their overall dominance, however, they did it in different ways.
The Dodgers have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, and hold the second-best team ERA in the league. Additionally, the Dodgers lead the league with a 1.15 WHIP, and in lowest opponent batting average, with foes hitting .228 against them. Much of their pitching success can be attributed to their excellent starting rotation, which is headlined by ace Clayton Kershaw. Routinely one of the best pitchers in baseball, Kershaw led the National League in wins (18) and in ERA (2.31).
Even after Kershaw, things do not get much easier for the opponent. The Dodgers added another star to the rotation in Yu Darvish at the trade deadline. Darvish is known for his impeccable command and his unique ability to throw his pitches at a wide variety of speeds. He is an expert at keeping hitters off-balance. This addition added to an already solid pitching rotation rounded out by Alex Wood and Rich Hill.
In addition to their dominant rotation, they also have one of the best closers in baseball in Kenley Jansen, who led the NL with 41 saves. However, their bullpen has been inconsistent at times and the path to the ninth inning can be shaky. They do have the lowest bullpen ERA in the playoffs, but if one were to pick out their biggest question mark the bullpen would still likely be it. In knowing this, the Astros will look to exploit their bullpen by getting the Dodgers starters out of the game early.
Despite their pitching dominance, the Dodgers have an offense that has been capable of carrying the team at times. The Dodgers offense generally has relied on power to score runs, and this is evident by their pedestrian .249 team batting average, yet still posting the eighth highest slugging percentage in baseball (.437). Their power-reliant offense is highlighted by rookie sensation Cody Bellinger, who hit 39 home runs, and Justin Turner who batted .322 this season. Look for the Dodgers to get speedsters Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor and Corey Seager (who should be back after missing the NLCS) on the base paths often in hopes that Bellinger and Turner can bring them in.
On the other side of things the Houston Astros have relied on a juggernaut offense to bring them to the World Series. Statistically, the Astros led the league in runs (896), batting average (.282), on base percentage (.346) and slugging percentage (.478).
Their offense is catalyzed by MVP candidate, José Altuve. Known for his miniscule 5’6” frame, the second baseman has been a hitting machine since arriving to the big leagues. This season is no different. Altuve had the highest individual batting average in baseball at .346, and led the American League in hits (204). In addition to Altuve, center-fielder George Springer hit 34 home runs and shortstop Carlos Correa posted an OPS of .941, which was the second-highest on the team. A lineup highlighted by these three young hitters is a devastating one for any opposing pitcher, and they are the main reason for the offensive dominance of the Astros.
On the mound, the Astros boast a solid rotation of Dallas Keuchel, deadline-acquisition Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers. Verlander has been one of the faces of baseball for the last decade, and is always on top of his game during the playoffs. He has has been lights out thus far, winning all four of his starts while posting a WHIP of 0.93.
Like the Dodgers, the Astros biggest question mark is in the bullpen. However, the bullpen weakness of the Astros is more significant than the Dodgers. So far this postseason the Astros best relievers, Ken Giles and Chris Devenski, have been extremely inconsistent. This has forced manager A.J. Hinch to do some patchwork and it may force him to throw some starting pitchers out of the bullpen if the situation arises.
Because of the additional days off they got after beating the Cubs, the Dodgers should be much fresher than the Astros. In addition, they will certainly have the advantage in the bullpen, and likely in the starting rotation. Although, it will be interesting to see how baseball’s best offense matches up with Clayton Kershaw, and the rest of the Dodgers pitching staff. Generally, it seems that the Dodgers have an overall advantage in this matchup. However, baseball games are never played on paper, and in a seven game series anything can happen. Overall, this should be an exciting series for the fans, and will showcase many of the MLB’s brightest young stars. As a result, this will definitely be much-watch television.