BOSTON – Though the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers are two of Major League Baseball’s big-spending perennial powerhouses, the teams took very different routes to the 2018 World Series, which begins Tuesday at Fenway Park.
Boston won 108 games in the regular season — clinching a postseason berth in early September — and cruised past the New York Yankees and Houston Astros in the American League Division Series and AL Championship Series, respectively. The Dodgers needed to beat the Colorado Rockies in a tiebreaking Game 163 to clinch the National League West, then, after taking the NLDS over the Atlanta Braves in 4 games, needed a full-seven game series to oust the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS.
For the Dodgers, 2018 marks the sixth straight year playing into October and their second straight World Series berth. But despite frequent postseason appearances, the franchise has not won a championship since 1988, and they enter the Fall Classic widely considered an underdog against the juggernaut Red Sox team. Here’s a look at how they can upset Boston:
Matchups in their favor
The Dodgers’ 92-71 regular-season record belies their NL-best run differential — often the best predictor of future success. And outside of shortstop Corey Seager, who played only 26 games in 2018 before enduring season-ending Tommy John elbow surgery, the Dodgers appear as healthy now as they have been at any point this season. Key contributors including Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, and the Dodgers’ entire postseason starting rotation all spent time on the disabled list in 2018, and the club has played far better baseball since late August than it did in the early part of the season.
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- Kershaw to take mound in unfamiliar territory
Manager Dave Roberts relies heavily on platoons, drawing from a deep and defensively versatile roster to optimize matchups against opposing pitchers. In this area, the Dodgers appear better suited to beat the Red Sox than they did the Brewers: Where Milwaukee’s bullpen-heavy pitching mix made it dangerous to commit to a lineup too heavily left- or right-handed, the Red Sox employ a more traditional formula that will allow Roberts to manage to his team’s strength. Boston does not have a typical lefty specialist in its bullpen — southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez has been more effective against righties than lefties in his career. That means Roberts will be able to liberally sub in his left-handed bats after Chris Sale or David Price exit a game without worrying about a pitcher like Josh Hader coming in to neutralize them over multi-inning stints.
Causes for concern
The Dodgers hit righties better than any other club during the regular season, but were merely average against left-handers, and the Red Sox’s likely Games 1 and 2 starters — Sale and Price — both throw lefty. But the late-season additions of David Freese and Manny Machado, not to mention Turner’s return to health, gave the Dodgers a lot more good righty-hitting options than they had in the early part of the year.
The Red Sox’s home-field advantage in the series could benefit them multiple times over. While Roberts — a hero in Boston’s 2004 World Series run — is familiar with Fenway Park, none of the Dodgers’ outfielders has any experience whatsoever negotiating the stadium’s unique nooks and crannies. On top of that, chilly temperatures are expected in Boston this week, and the Red Sox, obviously, have a lot more experience playing in cold weather than Los Angeles does.
And, of course, playing the Red Sox at all is a major cause for concern for any pitching staff: The Boston offense was the best in the Majors this season, and hardly seemed flummoxed by the Astros’ stellar starting rotation in the ALCS.
How it will go their way
Clayton Kershaw will take the ball in Game 1 with two great starts already on his ledger this postseason and an opportunity to shake, once and for all, the nagging and largely overblown criticism of his October legacy. Kershaw’s the best pitcher of his generation, and though he’s no longer quite the transcendently dominant guy he was earlier in his career, he remains Clayton Kershaw, and he’ll see at least two turns in the rotation in this World Series.
If the Dodgers’ patient offense can hang high pitch counts on the likes of Sale and Price, it should be able to chip away at the Red Sox’ bullpen to help Los Angeles take some late wins.
Like every championship hopeful, the Dodgers will need a lot to fall their way to emerge victorious. But while they can’t quite match Boston for the top-end talent of Betts and Sale, they’ve got the deeper roster and plenty of postseason experience.
In the end
Dodgers win six.
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