It’s all led to this.
After a 108-win regular season and convincing playoff wins over the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, the Boston Red Sox have arrived at the 2018 World Series.
Standing in their way: the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
L.A. easily discarded the Atlanta Braves in the NL Division Series before outlasting the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series.
The two franchises haven’t met in the Fall Classic since 1916 when the Dodgers called Brooklyn home, so this matchup is long overdue.
Before the Red Sox and Dodgers kick off their heavyweight fight, let’s look at how the two teams match up.
The Red Sox’s World Series hopes very well could hinge on the health and effectiveness of ace Chris Sale. Sale dazzled in his Game 1 win over the Yankees in the American League Division Series, but was ineffective during a four-inning start in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series against the Astros. The left-hander’s velocity was noticeably down during the loss to the Astros, but the bigger concern was his inability to locate his breaking ball on the outer half of the plate to right-handed hitters. Sale missed the remainder of the ALCS after suffering from a stomach illness that hospitalized him for a night.
Aside from Sale’s health and durability, the Red Sox’s biggest pitching question mark remains David Price. The lefty was fantastic in Boston’s ALCS-clinching win, using a heavy dose of his changeup and increased fastball velocity to baffle one of the best lineups in baseball over six strong innings. If Price can repeat his Game 5 performance during the Fall Classic, then the Red Sox will have a good shot at taking home the title.
L.A.’s rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill have had mixed results during the postseason.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts surprised some by naming Ryu as the Game 2 starter at Fenway Park instead of Hill. Ryu was hammered by the Brewers in his last start, giving up five runs on seven hits in three innings during Game 6 of the NLCS. Hill, meanwhile, has a career 1.25 ERA in 25 appearances at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark but will pitch Game 4 at Dodger Stadium and be relegated to bullpen duty after that.
While Kershaw has had his share of postseason disappointments, he has been quite effective in his past seven playoff starts, posting a 3.32 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and a .532 opponents’ slugging percentage in that span. If L.A.’s ace is on, that’s bad news for the Sox.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Thought to be a weakness entering the postseason, the Red Sox’s bullpen has been anything but that through nine games. After a rocky Game 1 against the Yankees, Boston’s relief unit has buckled down with the help of starters Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi and Sale, who all have logged time out of the ‘pen in October. Ryan Brasier, Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes have surrendered only two runs in 18 2/3 innings, giving Boston three reliable late-game arms in front of closer Craig Kimbrel.
Cora’s willingness to use starters in relief in high-leverage situations has given Boston’s bullpen an added dimension that has taken it from a question mark to a strength.
The Dodgers’ bullpen was a huge reason why they were able to overcome the Brewers in the NLCS and advance to their second consecutive World Series. L.A. relievers combined to post a 1.45 ERA over 31 innings in the championship series, and have been dominant all postseason, posting a 1.30 ERA while striking out 11 batters per nine innings in 41 1/3 postseason innings. Kenley Jansen and Pedro Baez haven’t allowed a run in October, giving LA a fierce 1-2 punch in the back end.
As good as L.A.’s pitching staff is, the Dodgers haven’t had to contend with a lineup as deep as Boston’s. The Red Sox have the most balanced lineup in baseball, which helped them lead the majors in runs, average, on-base percentage, slugging and total bases. The top four of Boston’s order — Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts — are a nightmare to get through, and if ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rafael Devers are going to continue mashing, it’ll be hard for L.A. to keep the Red Sox from putting up crooked numbers on the board.
Home runs are the great equalizer in baseball, and the Dodgers hit a ton of long balls in 2018, crushing a franchise record 234, second in baseball behind only the Yankees. Red Sox pitchers were able to keep New York from taking too many trots around the bases in the ALDS, but Porcello (27 homes runs allowed) and Price (25 allowed) were susceptible to the long ball in the regular season.
L.A. also will have to manufacture runs and come through with runners in scoring position, something it hasn’t been good at in the playoffs. Through 11 playoff games, the Dodgers are slashing .190/.330/.333 with runners in scoring position, so that could very well define the series one way or the other.
Red Sox in 7
This has all the makings of a classic series. These two teams are a lot closer than the 16 games that separated them during the regular season, but in the end, the Red Sox have too much offensive firepower for the Dodgers to overcome, capping off a historic season with a franchise’s fourth World Series title since 2004.
MVP: Mookie Betts
Thumbnail photo via Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports Images