Plenty of sizzle as Dodgers, Astros square off
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES -- If regular-season wins are an accurate indicator, the 2017 World Series shapes up as one of the best matchups in decades.
It will be the 104-win Los Angeles Dodgers against the 101-win Houston Astros, just the eighth time in baseball history -- and first since 1970 -- that the two teams playing for the championship hit triple-digit victories. And with temperatures in Los Angeles expected to soar to the 100-degree mark, the heat will be on in more ways than one.
The Astros and Dodgers were National League West rivals as late as 1993, and Houston only moved into the American League in 2013. The clubs staged an epic playoff series in 1981 when the likes of Nolan Ryan and Fernando Valenzuela were leading the charge.
On Tuesday, it will be another classic duel in Astros-Dodgers history as Houston's Dallas Keuchel will face Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw in Game 1. Both left-handers are former Cy Young Award winners.
"They're a great team," Kershaw said about the Astros on Monday. "Their whole lineup is really solid. You saw that all year. They won 100 games for a reason. It starts with (Jose) Altuve and (Carlos) Correa in the middle of that lineup. They're both exceptional baseball players. Really all the way down (the lineup), they have a lot of guys that swing the bats well."
Although he sounded choked up on multiple occasions after the Dodgers advanced to the World Series with a victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Kershaw says he is locked in now that Los Angeles finally learned its opponent late Saturday night.
And while an emotional release before the World Series might sound a bit premature, remember that for all of Kershaw's regular-season greatness, his MVP and three Cy Young Awards, he is also known for his less-than-commanding postseason results: 6-7 with a 4.40 ERA.
Some of Kershaw's postseason struggles have been because of short rest between outings. After starting the Dodgers' NLCS clincher at Wrigley Field last week, he will pitch on regular rest in Game 1.
Keuchel has shown a far better playoff acumen, going 4-1 over his six postseason appearances with a 2.59 ERA, although it has come in over a third fewer games than Kershaw. Keuchel went 1-1 in the just-concluded AL Championship Series against the New York Yankees, posting a 3.09 ERA while striking out 18 batters and walking just two in 11 2/3 innings.
"They'll be the deepest team that we've played, hands down, and my job is to go out there and get the job done," Keuchel said. "But obviously (Justin) Turner is killing it right now, and (Yasiel) Puig always presents a challenge. He likes to swing the bat. And if you don't make quality pitches, he'll make you pay. But you could talk about Chris Taylor, you could talk about (Enrique) Hernandez, who used to be with us. Logan Forsythe, who I went to college with. Top to bottom, you could talk about everybody."
A season ago, Keuchel would have salivated at the chance to face the Dodgers' lineup. Los Angeles was historically bad against left-handed pitching, yet still managed to worm its way into the NLCS. This year, the Dodgers' offense has been transformed.
Turner has been worth every penny of his newly minted four-year, $64 million deal, while Puig might be playing his best baseball since his splashy debut in 2013. Taylor, who struggled to move past Triple-A in the Seattle Mariners' organization, has transformed himself into a leadoff man with power, while rookie Cody Bellinger was a huge reason the Dodgers went on a 44-7 stretch in the middle of the season.
And then there is reigning NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who will be added to the active roster despite missing the NLCS because of a back injury. Seager and his sweet lefty swing might be reduced to designated hitter duties when the series shifts to Houston on Friday.
"We're not going to concede anything because we've got a pretty good team on our own side," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who announced that Jake Marisnick (thumb) would not be on the World Series roster.
"(We have) a lot of respect for (Dodgers manager) Dave (Roberts) and the guys that are across the way, Clayton Kershaw, all the way through their entire roster. They didn't sneak up on anybody this year. There were some crazy performances out of them, but we'll compete with them. We'll do our best."
The Astros, meanwhile, might be as balanced as teams get when considering pitching, offense, baserunning and defense. They are tied for the lead among all playoff teams with 89 hits over 11 games while striking out 6.8 times per game. The Dodgers have 73 hits in eight games, striking out 8.5 times per game.
Altuve leads the charge for the Astros, batting .400 this postseason with a .500 on-base percentage while hitting five home runs and collecting eight walks. First baseman Yuli Gurriel might not have any postseason home runs, but he is hitting the ball as hard as anybody and has posted a .366 postseason batting average with a .409 OBP.
Add Correa's nine RBIs and George Springer's 10 hits, and the Astros are showing offensive balance in October.
Yet the talk before the series began was the Dodgers facing Keuchel in Game 1, followed by Justin Verlander in Game 2. Verlander will pitch opposite Dodgers lefty Rich Hill.
"It's going to be a great series, but looking at the 1-2 (in the rotation) that they're running out at you, you know you've got to beat them a couple of times in a long series," Roberts said. "It's going to be a fun series."
Updated October 24, 2017