An unpredictable postseason in Major League Baseball has arrived at the most predictable World Series matchup. The National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers will face the Houston Astros, winners of their first American League pennant.
This year’s edition of the Fall Classic will be the first since 1970 in which both teams won 100 or more games in the regular season.
Los Angeles’s 104-58 record was the best in baseball this season. The Dodgers at one point ripped off 43 wins in 50 games, a run of supremacy unseen since 1912. The feat was accomplished by the New York Giants 105 years ago. The quest to become the winningest team in baseball history was ultimately undone by an 11-game losing streak in September.
The Dodgers cruised to the World Series on the back of top-line pitching. Los Angeles faced some difficulties in the first two games against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS, but since then their pitching staff has hit its stride. The Dodgers dispatched the Diamondbacks in a three game sweep, leading to a matchup with the reigning champion Chicago Cubs. Against the Cubs, the Dodgers gave up no more than three runs in a game, losing only game four of the series.
A rotation featuring all-world lefty Clayton Kershaw and veteran Rich Hill became even better in July. Yu Darvish was acquired prior to the non-waiver trade deadline from the Texas Rangers. The rotation’s dominance has continued into the postseason. Dodgers’ starting pitching have struck out 49 batters in 42.1 innings and have posted a 3.43 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
Kershaw has long carried the reputation as a pitcher who has faltered in the postseason. The future Hall of Famer exorcised his postseason demons in the deciding game five of the NLCS. Kershaw gave up three hits across six innings to lift the Dodgers to their first pennant since 1988.
Closer Kenley Janson has anchored the Los Angeles bullpen, not allowing an earned run in the postseason and only two hits in eight innings of work.
Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig have paced the Dodgers at the plate. Puig, oft troubled as a younger player, has batted .422 with a .669 slugging percentage in the postseason. Turner has not been far behind, batting .398 with a .680 slugging percentage. Turner’s walk-off three-run home run in game two of the NLCS gave Los Angeles a commanding lead in the series. Turner’s heroics earned him the co-NLCS MVP award, which he shared with Chris Taylor. Taylor batted .316 in the series and scored five runs atop the Dodgers’ deep lineup.
Lost in the excitement surrounding the Cleveland Indians’ record setting 22-game winning streak were the Astros, winners of 101 games in the regular season. The Astros have been built for 2017 and beyond, as years of top draft picks have finally yielded a World Series team.
Houston faced a far more difficult road to their first World Series appearance since 2005. The Astros were able to advance past the Boston Red Sox in four games, but went the distance against the youthful New York Yankees. The Astros went ahead 2-0 in the ALCS, but returned from the Bronx trailing 3-2 in the series. Back to back home wins secured their spot against the Dodgers.
Front-line starters Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander have been simply dominant for the Astros. Keuchel was hampered by a neck injury in the middle of the regular season, but rounded into form in the postseason. In his three starts, the 2015 Cy Young award winner has pitched to a 2.60 ERA and held opponents to a .212 batting average against.
Like Darvish, Verlander was a trade deadline acquisition who has been worth every penny. The 34-year-old took home ALCS MVP honors for his two masterful performances. Verlander hurled a complete game in game two of the series, striking out 13 batters. He was equally unhittable in game six, striking out eight in seven innings of work.
Leading MVP candidate Jose Altuve has defended his reputation as the best all-around player in baseball this postseason. The fiery 5-foot-6-inch Venezuelan has played a sparkling second base and is swinging a hot bat. His five home runs and .400 batting average have made him a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Along with shortstop Carlos Correa and first baseman Yuli Gurriel, the Astros have boasted the best hitting infield in the postseason. Gurriel and Correa have batted .366 and .295, respectively, in the postseason.
One area of weakness for Houston has been their defense. The Astros ranked in the bottom 10 in errors, fielding percentage and defensive efficiency this season.
The pick: Thanks to its depth, the Dodgers’ starting rotation holds a slight edge over Houston’s. Already tabbed the game one starter, expect to see Kershaw come out and give the Dodgers the lead in the series. Turner and Puig will keep up their hot hitting, and the rest of the lineup will follow suit. Playing the role of unlikely hero will be utility man Kiké Hernandez, who tagged the Cubs for three home runs in the decisive game five. It will be the Dodgers, with a better rotation and lineup capable of piling up hits, bringing a title back to Hollywood. Dodgers in five.