The greatest show in sports starts tonight, the first cross-country World Series since the Yankees and Diamondbacks did battle in 2001. The generational Boston Red Sox face a Dodgers squad who almost didn’t make it here, winning a game 163 over Colorado for the NL West crown.
The Red Sox won 16 more regular season games than the Dodgers. That’s about the equivalent of the number of games the Dodgers were better than the New York Mets this year. Solely looking at it through that lens, this series shouldn’t even be competitive, right?
However, like everything in this sport, it’s not that simple. It’s never “that simple” in the most complex sport on the planet, is it?
The Red Sox have, somehow, despite their 108 wins, come into every series claiming they are underdogs. Just another Boston team with a massive inferiority complex, despite winning ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHT games this regular season. Why? Because we, myself included, have let them.
I’ve been one of those pushing that narrative, that the Red Sox were not the best team in the American League. I didn’t think they were the best team in their division. Heck, doubt crept into my mind that they weren’t the worst team in the playoffs on that side of the bracket. Evidently, I was wrong.
Still, however, their bullpen is a mess. It was why I picked them to lose to the Yankees, it was why I picked them to lose to the Astros. And it’s why this series is nowhere near the rout it looks like in the win column. Alex Cora has relied on starters, on their normal side session days, coming into big spots in playoff games. Craig Kimbrel was struggling so bad in game 4 of the ALCS that David Price, the next day’s starter, threw what felt like 400 pitches in the Minute Maid Park bullpen.
It’s not often that a team wins a World Series with a subpar bullpen. It happened last year, but that Astros team was also an anomaly, not the norm. In the era of “bullpenning,” the Red Sox being in this situation today is nothing sort of remarkable. Teams with bad bullpens are not supposed to be 7-2 in the playoffs. They aren’t supposed to be undefeated on the road. However, here we are.
Again, though, I just can’t see this holding up. The Red Sox are not winning this series in four or five. Clayton Kershaw is miles beyond any pitcher the Red Sox have faced in probably over a month, so they aren’t going to be able to ride solely their bats any longer. Speaking of starting pitching, noted belly button ring-wearer Chris Sale will face Kershaw in a battle of the aces in the first game. There’s no guarantee Cora and Dave Roberts are thinking anywhere close to the same lines when it comes to starting pitching, but assuming they do, Kershaw and Sale will pitch against each other in (likely) games one and five, and will bullpen against each other in a potential game seven.
The Red Sox are going to need to win two of those matchups for them to win this series. The Dodgers’ bullpen isn’t exactly a world-beating group, but it’s not made up of AAAA relievers like Boston’s. The Dodgers also have the better starting pitching.
Both Hyun-Jin Ryu, the game two starter, and Walker Buehler, who is starting game three, have been revelations for the Dodgers all season. Rich Hill has been great as their fourth starter. If the Dodgers are to win this series, it is going to be off the backs of those four guys, as their lineup doesn’t stand up to Boston’s.
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Speaking of Los Angeles’ lineup, it’s definitely not something to laugh at. Justin Turner is Babe Ruth in October, and I’m not joking. At the end of last year, Turner had the third highest OPS of any hitter (minimum 90 PAs) in postseason history, and he’s only done better this season.
Highest career #postseason OPS, minimum 90 plate appearances:
1. Lou Gehrig – 1.214
2. Babe Ruth – 1.214
3. Justin Turner – 1.115 pic.twitter.com/vrDDAC1PUu
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) October 16, 2017
Midseason acquisition Manny Machado, when he’s actually running out ground balls, has been a workhorse in the Dodgers lineup. He hasn’t been the MVP they thought they were getting, but he’s still probably the best bat in that lineup.
Cody Bellinger has also been great for the Dodgers of late, and the ability to move all around the diamond is a plus. However, Dave Roberts has been platooning him for sole use against righties, so with Sale and Price heading the rotation for Boston, he may not play at all or be effective.
Lower down the line, Max Muncy has been a revelation for the Dodgers. He’s a home run threat every time up, and with the wacky dimensions at Fenway Park, he could be in for a big series if Boston’s pitching isn’t careful.
The reason I’m talking about Los Angeles’s lineup is that everything that needs to be said about Boston’s already has been. They are the best lineup in baseball. They have the likely American League MVP, and then the guy who was fighting for the triple crown. Oh, and then the ALCS MVP rounding out their outfield.
Mookie Betts will likely be playing second base come the games in Los Angeles, which is something he hasn’t done regularly since his time in the minor leagues. He played a little bit there against the Yankees earlier in the year, but it isn’t normal. It’s likely not going to play a huge difference, but if it gets to a tie game in the ninth, where they can’t take J.D. Martinez out of the game, it could be devastating.
The World Series is going to come down to one simple question. Can the Dodgers pitching stop the Red Sox lineup? We know Boston’s pitching is leaky, and a good lineup like the Dodgers should be able to score at a decent rate. We just don’t know the opposite.
For Boston to win, they will need to beat some really tough pitchers. I’m giving Walker Buehler at least one win this series, and I’m giving Hyun-Jin Ryu at least one. Kershaw makes that three. I think Boston will need to beat every starter in that rotation once to win the World Series.
They’ll come close, but that isn’t happening. Dodgers in seven. Walker Buehler, game seven hero, wins MVP.