Discussing and dissecting baseball’s postseason structure has become a yearly affair: is it too inclusive, too exclusive, unfair, overly fair, not fun enough, too wild, and myriad other questions become the center of attention each year as we prepare for a month-plus experience of playoff baseball.
Maybe it’ll be different next year. Sure, the content machine churns on, and words must be written, but it’s harder to find a better promotional piece for MLB’s current playoff format than a recap of this October. It’s been a roller-coaster of a month, chock full of comebacks, collapses, and the birth of legends. And, perhaps most importantly, the results have shaken out the way they probably should.
For the first time in a long time, what might very well be the best two teams in baseball are, well, holding the titles as the two best teams in baseball. The pennant winners are more than deserving of their achievements: one club boasts the best record in baseball, the other is just a game shy of holding the second-best mark. As a result, we’ll be treated to what should be the best baseball you’ll see all season, played between two supremely talented clubs that are as good as it gets in all facets of the game. That’s what the World Series is about, and we’re fortunate to witness it.
CF-R George Springer (.283/.367/.522/.297)
RF-L Josh Reddick (.314/.363/.484/.296)
2B-R Jose Altuve (.346/.410/.547/.322)
SS-R Carlos Correa (.315/.391/.550/.320)
LF-S Marwin Gonzalez (.303/.377/.530/.303)
3B-R Alex Bregman (.284/.352/.475/.282)
DH-S Carlos Beltran (.231/.283/.383/.233)
1B-R Yulieski Gurriel (.299/.332/.486/.282)
C-L Brian McCann (.241/.323/.436/.262)
Houston’s lineup scored the most runs in baseball and had the fewest strikeouts. That’s pretty much the gist of it. This is a club with freakish offensive ability up and down the order, displaying dangerous pop at all slots and never letting up. Sure, the whole lineup wasn’t clicking against Yankees in the ALCS (namely Reddick and his 1-for-25 cold streak), but Houston has plenty of plug-and-play options off the bench and, even against some of Los Angeles’ premium arms, they’ll be a force.
Oh, and here’s where the Astros really get you: Much has been made of home-field advantage this postseason, but the Astros have been unbelievably good hitters on the road. Scoring nearly 100 runs more than the second-best offensive team away from home, this lineup isn’t going to be any easier to neutralize while in Los Angeles. That doesn’t mean they’re any easier of an opponent in Houston, though—the Astros are undefeated in the bandbox they call home this postseason. Damned if you have to pitch against this offense at home, equally damned when they’re on the road. Good luck.
CF-R Chris Taylor (.288/.354/.496/.309)
SS-L Corey Seager (.295/.375/.479/.307)
3B-R Justin Turner (.322/.415/.530/.347)
1B-L Cody Bellinger (.267/.352/.581/.331)
RF-R Yasiel Puig (.263/.346/.487/.296)
C-R Austin Barnes (.289/.408/.486/.325)
LF-L Andre Ethier (.235/.316/.441/.271)
2B-L Chase Utley (.236/.324/.405/.268)
The Astros will get you with quality bats up and down the order, but the Dodgers go with the “try to make it through our front four, we dare ya” approach. The top half of this order is simply impenetrable—if you’re lucky enough to get one stud out, good luck retiring the other three. With Taylor, Turner, and Bellinger all clicking (and Seager now healthy), it could be a long series for Astros pitching. And then there’s Puig, who’s slashing a casual .414/.514/.655 this postseason. The bottom few aren’t quite as terrifying, but there might not be a more dangerous top half in baseball.
As pretty as this lineup looks, though, there’s a very good chance you’re going to be looking at a different set of players every night. Sure, continuity counts for something (I think?), but there are plenty other lineup permutations that are just as dominant and the Dodgers’ platoon-based approach helped produce a top-five OPS against lefties during the regular season. Houston has only one southpaw in the rotation, but it’s Dallas Keuchel.
Benches (AVG, OBP, SLG, TAv)
The Astros bring legitimate pop off the bench with Gattis and White, both of whom may see more playing time than expected if Reddick continues his poor play. Centeno plays the classic third catcher role of affording Houston additional flexibility in using Gattis, while Maybin could be used as a defensive replacement late in games.
The Dodgers have the luxury of two excellent options behind the plate in Barnes and Grandal. Forsythe and Hernandez could see starts in Game 1 against Keuchel, but their utility is likely limited to southpaws in this series. Then again, Kiké may be awarded with additional playing time given that handy little three-homer game he ripped off in the NLCS.
Starting Pitchers (IP, ERA, DRA)
The Dodgers are going to have a hell of a time trying to beat Keuchel and Verlander is going to be just as tough; he was unhittable for the Astros since a deadline trade and carried that incredible performance into the postseason. Although the final two Houston starters remain unconfirmed in this series, it’s likely to be McCullers and Morton in some order. McCullers and his constant stream of curveballs from hell are going to be fun to watch in this series, while Morton’s been hit-or-miss thus far in the postseason.
Penciled in by the Dodgers for the first three World Series games are Kershaw, Hill, and Darvish, with Wood a solid bet to be their fourth starter. Although Los Angeles is disadvantaged by starting the hapless Kershaw in the postseason (please read with heavy sarcasm), their final three starters bring the heat with a potentially dominant slew of pitching. While Houston has the offensive advantage in this series, the Dodgers have the better, deeper staff.
Relief Pitchers (IP, ERA, DRA)
RHP Ken Giles (63, 2.30, 3.20)
RHP Chris Devenski (81, 2.68, 3.40)
RHP Luke Gregerson (61, 4.57, 3.40)
RHP Joe Musgrove (109, 4.77, 5.76)
LHP Francisco Liriano (97, 5.66, 5.39)
RHP Will Harris (45, 2.98, 3.75)
RHP Lance McCullers (119, 4.25, 3.52)
Although the Astros have the inferior on-paper bullpen in this series, that’s more of a testament to the Dodgers’ bullpen than anything else. Giles remains an elite closer, and although the fatigued Devenski isn’t quite his 2016 self, he’s still a multi-inning weapon for manager A.J. Hinch. Harris has been hittable this postseason, but he’s generally very good as well. The one weakness here is the lack of a dependable southpaw, as their lone lefty is Liriano, who’s currently walking as many as he’s striking out. That’ll put the Astros in a tough position against powerful lefties like Seager and Bellinger
RHP Kenley Jansen (68, 1.32, 2.34)
RHP Brandon Morrow (44, 2.06, 3.17)
LHP Tony Watson (67, 3.38, 5.63)
RHP Kenta Maeda (134, 4.22, 3.89)
LHP Tony Cingrani (43, 4.22, 5.25)
RHP Pedro Baez (64, 2.95, 5.17)
RHP Ross Stripling (74, 3.75, 4.03)
RHP Josh Fields (57, 2.84, 4.34)
Apparently, Maeda is unhittable out of the bullpen. No, I’m serious. His postseason resume in relief thus far: five innings, zero hits, zero walks, zero runs, and seven strikeouts. The same ol’ Maeda, but with 95 mph fastballs, is pretty damn good, but he may not even be the third-best reliever in this stacked bullpen. Jansen is, y’know, Jansen, and Morrow’s excellent as well. The rest of the bullpen isn’t quite as good, but with the final two-plus innings on lock and Maeda looming as a fireman, the late innings could be an offensive dead zone for Houston.
With most of the managerial hirings this offseason, the clear priority is to find a sabermetrically-inclined mind, and here we’ll see two of the best in the business when it comes to that aspect of the game. Following the leads of their forward-thinking front offices, Dave Roberts and A.J. Hinch have both shown a willingness to make the analytically-backed moves in their tenures. It’s hard to pin down an advantage here, so I won’t, but the two are both very solid skippers who are unlikely to make many head-scratchers this series.
When it comes to defense, the leading headline for the Dodgers is their excellent duo behind the plate—both Grandal and Barnes are top-notch framers. The rest of the defense isn’t noteworthy in terms of reputations, but there are no apparent weaknesses and the Dodgers led MLB in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (PADE) thanks in part to excellent positioning. Be warned, though: a hundred columnists already have a mad-lib style hit-piece ready to run as soon as Puig overthrows a cutoff man.
The Astros’ solid infield defense will be particularly important in this series, as they’re sure to be busy given their staff’s AL-high 47.3 percent ground-ball rate. The outfield defense made all of the routine plays (and then some) against the Yankees in the ALCS, and they should be on their game yet again in the World Series.
As I said before, these might be the two best teams in baseball, so predicting a winner isn’t going to be easy. The Astros certainly have the advantage on offense, but the Dodgers have the upper hand when it comes to both their starting pitchers and relievers.
If the Astros and their deadly 1-2 punch of Keuchel/Verlander can steal the first two games, it’s going to be a tough climb for the Dodgers. Still, it can’t be overstated that Los Angeles has Clayton Kershaw. Plus, Darvish likely has the edge over whichever pitcher he faces in Game 3.
With that in mind, my pick is going to be Dodgers in six. The 104-win club is going into this series as the favorites, and while an offensive firestorm from the Astros could be too much to overcome, L.A. brings an excellent all-around package.