The World Series match up has been set – the Houston Astros will meet the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This is the first time since 1970 that two 100-win teams will face against each other in the World Series. The Dodgers secured home advantage throughout the postseason after finishing with the best regular season record in the league, so there will be some work to do on the Astros part. Both teams are going into the fall classic with unique storylines behind them, which should add a bit more to look out for once the series begins on Oct. 24.
No more drought
One of them will end its World Series title drought. The Dodgers have not been to the fall classic since 1988 – the last time the club stood as best in the show. The Astros, meanwhile, have been to the World Series only once, in 2005, and have yet to win the title. In a 2014 edition of Sports Illustrated, then-rookie George Springer of the Astros donned the cover with the caption, “Your 2017 World Series Champs.” While there may be a bit of caution to be taken with this, given the belief of a curse surrounding the cover of Sports Illustrated, the Houston ballclub is most definitely hoping the prediction turns out to be true.
A tale of two bullpens
One of the most important things in making a deep run in the postseason is having a formidable bullpen. If a team is able to build a lead early, it can easily give its starting pitcher a rest and let the relievers shut the game down. This is exactly what the Dodgers have done en route to the World Series. While the Astros have been able to do more or less the same, the numbers look abysmal compared to the Dodgers.
The main relievers for the Dodgers have been Tony Cingrani, Kenta Maeda, Tony Watson, and Brandon Morrow, while closer Kenley Jansen gets the remaining outs. Combined, they have pitched 26.2 innings, have given up a mere nine hits, three earned runs, and two walks. They’ve tossed 28 strikeouts while donning a 0.452 WHIP and a 1.30 ERA.
The Astros, meanwhile, haven’t had this luxury of being able to slot relievers in for certain innings and situations. Rather, it’s been a mix of eight different relievers with whoever has had the most rest coming in, and it hasn’t looked good. Not counting Lance McCullers, Jr. coming out of the pen for a four-inning save in game seven of the ALCS, the bullpen combined has 27 innings pitched and have given up 32 hits, 19 earned runs, and 10 walks. While the relief core has been able to toss for 27 strikeouts, it does not mean much when you cannot shut down the inning and are giving up runs, which is reflected in a 1.57 WHIP and 6.06 ERA.
There’s no place like home
Once home statistics are separated for the Astros bullpen, an entirely new team is shown. Aside from the team being 6-0 at home, the bullpen at Minute Maid Park is much more comfortable: in 10.1 innings pitched they’ve given up nine hits, three earned runs, and three walks. They’ve picked up 13 strikeouts while maintaining a 1.056 WHIP and 1.99 ERA.
At the plate, the All-Star triad of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer combined for an average OPS of 1.223, while in their collective 68 at-bats they’ve racked up 26 hits, eight home runs, and 16 RBIs. It is Altuve doing most of the work here. In 22 at-bats at home, he has 13 hits, five homers, eight RBIs, and an astounding 1.913 OPS.
The Dodgers bullpen at Dodger Stadium has been near-untouchable. In 16 innings pitched, it has given up seven hits, three earned runs, and a walk. The staff has made batters miss with 15 strikeouts and collectively have a 0.598 WHIP and 1.58 ERA in post-season play. If you take Watson’s numbers away from the equation – where he accounted for three of the hits and two of the home runs – the bullpen’s ERA dips to 0.36.
The top three batters at home have been Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, and Chris Taylor. In their collective 45 at-bats, they’ve managed to get 18 hits, four home runs, and 18 RBIs, while maintaining a 1.271 OPS.
Seeing as how the Dodgers will have four of the games at home in this seven-game series, the Astros need to find a way to crack through the impenetrable armour that is the Dodgers bullpen and steal at least one game on the road. This will prove to be a tall task. The aforementioned Astros trio on the road during this postseason have had 59 at-bats combined. In those appearances, they managed to scrounge up only 14 hits, one home run, three RBIs, and a relatively low 0.652 OPS while also striking out 15 times.
Beyond the numbers
While baseball has always attracted a lot of numbers-oriented people, given the diversity and the size of the data sets, it is more than just that when it comes to this World Series.
Clayton Kershaw, the future hall-of-famer who has been with the Dodgers his entire career, is making his first appearance in the fall classic after coming up short the past four post-season appearances. In his immediate post-game interview after the Dodgers defeated the Cubs and punched a ticket to the series, he seemed to be overcome with emotion and on the brink of breaking into tears. A man who has accomplished so much in his career, yet still needs this one thing to make it complete.
For the Houston Astros, this post-season run has become bigger than baseball. After the devastating aftermath that hurricane Harvey left behind, the Astros returned to play with a patch on their jersey reading “Houston Strong.”
After shutting the Yankees down in game seven of the ALCS, McCullers, Jr. remarked, “This city,they deserve this.” When the team gathered to celebrate on the podium on-field, manager A.J. Hinch said, “Houston, we’re going to the World Series. We came home to win this before you fans.”
Of course, the fans showed love back. From one fan, “All the hopes of rebuilding, this is all part of that, so many people lost so much, and this gives them a little glimmer of hope, a few minutes of happiness.”
Another fan mentioned, “Seeing everyone’s faces – the relief after everyone went through the storm and everything, it gives people hope.”
While a middle school teacher added, “Knowing that we can get back up, a lot of my students lost their houses. On Friday, we all dressed up in Astros colours. The whole school was decked out.”
Game one is slated for tonight at 7 p.m. at Dodger Stadium, with game two going tomorrow at 7 p.m. also at Dodger Stadium.