Red Sox vs. Dodgers World Series 2018 preview: Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw highlight what you need to know
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox will meet in the 2018 World Series, and that fresh reality has us pondering …
We certainly don’t know the answer to that question, so in lieu of thundering certainty we’ll instead provide you with a brief walking tour of how these teams match up, along with whatever else comes to mind — i.e., what you need to know as this best-of-seven clash for the belt and the title looms. Come with us, won’t you?
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Chris Sale is coming off plenty of rest
Boston manager Alex Cora has not surprisingly tabbed lefty ace Chris Sale to start Game 1 at Fenway. Sale will do so not having pitched since Game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros. That means that Sale in Game 1 of the World Series will be working on nine days’ rest. A good first principle is that there’s no such thing as too much rest this time of year, and that’s especially the case with Sale. He’s dealt with a stomach ailment in recent days, he’s suffered from velocity loss since late in the regular season, and his command in that start against the Astros was a mess. So consider this some welcome time off for Sale. He’ll be lined up to make two starts in the World Series, so how he responds to the double dose (and then some) of rest in Game 1 will be telling.
Get ready for lots of lefties
It remains to be seen how the exact rotations line up, but either way you’re going to see a lot of left-handed starters in this series. We talked about Sale, and given how he fared last time out David Price may get the nod for Alex Cora in Game 2. If that’s the case, then Boston would start lefties in four of the first six games, assuming the series goes that long.
Across the way, the Dodgers’ rotation plans are less certain since they went the full seven games in their NLCS clash with the Brewers. Ace Clayton Kershaw threw 15 pitches in relief in Game 7 against Milwaukee on two days’ rest. Game 1 on Tuesday will give him five days since his last start (98 pitches against the Brewers in Game 5), so it seems likely that he’ll go in Game 1 for Dave Roberts. The rest is less certainly, but Hyun-jin Ryu and Rich Hill — lefties, both — figure to be part of the mix in some form or fashion. In other words, rookie Walker Buehler could be the only right-handed member of the Dodgers’ World Series rotation. If this one goes seven, the Red Sox could face lefty starters five times.
Given all that, the following numbers are relevant …
- The Dodger offense during the regular season ranked eighth in the National League with an OPS of .733 against left-handed pitching.
- The Red Sox offense during the regular season ranked eighth in the American League with an OPS of .719 against left-handed pitching.
Make of that what you will, but neither team especially thrived against port-siders. The real takeaway is that the profluence of lefty starters in this series doesn’t seem to benefit one team or the other.
The DH and lack thereof will present challenges and opportunities
In accordance with the ancient laws of combat, the games played in the AL park — Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 in this instance — will employ the DH, and the games played in the NL park — Games 3, 4 and 5 this time around — will not. Roberts and the Dodgers should be well equipped to handle the rule shift in Boston, thanks to that deep bench.
If, as expected, the Dodgers face lefties in Games 1 and 2, then Brian Dozier might get the call as DH in Boston. If there’s a Game 7 back at Fenway and a righty is on the mound for the Red Sox, then Roberts would likely work Joc Pederson into the outfield mix and go from there. With bench bats and “platooners” like Dozier, Pederson, Matt Kemp, Enrique Hernandez, David Freese, and Max Muncy, Roberts has plenty of tools to meet the DH challenge. That heavily-platooned lineup gives Roberts a lot of tactical flexibility, and that won’t change even when the rules do.
As for Cora and the Red Sox, it’s business as usual when the setting is Fenway. When the middle of the series shifts to Dodger Stadium, though, he’s going to have to make some tough choices. Priority No. 1 is getting J.D. Martinez in the lineup. Martinez was one of the most productive hitters in baseball during the regular season, and while he was the primary DH he also logged almost 500 defensive innings at the outfield corners. That’s where he’ll be — left or right — in L.A. Of course, Cora isn’t going to put Mookie Betts or Andrew Benintendi on the bench for this games, and that’s why he’s given thought to moving Betts back to his long-ago position of second base for the games at Dodger Stadium.
Betts was drafted as a shortstop, and he was a primary second baseman coming up through the minors. He hasn’t played a meaningful number of innings at the keystone since 2014, but given his history a temporary and brief return to the position shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge. As well, second base has been a weak spot for the Red Sox almost all season, and trade acquisition Ian Kinsler hasn’t really improved matters. Moving Betts to second base in order to make room for Martinez in the outfield obviously means a defensive hit — and the Dodgers have the NL’s most fly-ball-inclined offense — but you’ve got to get Martinez’s bat in the lineup. If things go especially poorly for Betts in Game 3, or if he seems unduly at risk with Dodger baserunners bearing down him as the pivot man, then perhaps Cora rethinks things. Don’t be surprised, though, if he gives this creative arrangement a go.
Cora will probably continue using starters as relievers
The Boston bullpen was something of a concern coming into the postseason, and that remains the case going into the World Series. While the middle-relief corps has stepped up in a big way, there’s no guarantee that will continue. As such, don’t be surprised if Cora continues to turn to his off-day starters to get key outs. In the ALDS win over the Yankees, Cora used Sale and Rick Porcello in relief on their non-start days. During the ALCS triumph over the Astros, Cora used Nathan Eovaldi and Porcello in such roles. All of this is in addition to having Eduardo Rodriguez in the bullpen. As well, knuckleballer Steven Wright’s injured knee might be well enough to allow his return to the roster.
Thus far in the postseason, Cora has generally depended upon Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, and off-day starters to get the ball to Craig Kimbrel. That doesn’t figure to change in the World Series. Oh, and speaking of the Boston closer …
Kimbrel might be back
The uber-dominant Kimbrel of yore is probably gone for good, but he’s certainly better than what he showed through most of the 2018 postseason. Before his series-clinching save in Game 5 of the ALCS, Kimbrel was lugging around a 2018 playoffs ERA of 8.44 with five walks in 5 1/3 innings. Suffice it to say, that’s not characteristic Kimbrel.
However, as MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo reported, former big-league closer Eric Gagne noticed that Kimbrel was tipping his pitches, and he reached out to his old teammate Cora to let him know. That led to some mechanical corrections on Kimbrel’s part, and soon thereafter Kimbrel worked his first scoreless inning of the postseason. Kimbrel in large measure depends upon swings and misses out of the zone, and if hitters know what’s coming they’re not going to bite. So perhaps the Sox have their closer is truer form heading into the World Series.
The Dodgers are better than you think
Obviously, the Dodgers, as NL champs, are a very good team. However, there’s reason to believe that they’re better than their total of 92 wins during the regular season. If you look at their impressive run differential of plus-194, then you’ll see they played more like a 102-win team at the runs scored and runs allowed level.
As well, the BaseRuns system available at Fangraphs is similarly high on the Dodgers. BaseRuns attempts to model a team’s run-scoring and run-prevention capabilities at the granular level — i.e., on a plate-appearance-by-plate-appearance basis and with the effects of hit “sequencing” removed. Basically, it’s a measure of how good a team is at controlling the fundamental outcomes of the batter-pitcher encounter. It yields what a team’s record should be based on core skills. In this instance, BaseRuns sees the Dodgers as a “true” 101-win team in 2018. Oh, BaseRuns also sees the Red Sox as a 99-win team. Do with this information what you will.
Oh, and the Dodgers this season had an opponents’ average winning percentage of .504, while the Red Sox check in with a figure of .498. The 108-win Red Sox coming off series wins over teams that combined for 203 wins are going to be favored in the World Series (the early line favors Boston), and that’s understandable. The Dodgers, though, are worthy competition.
Cora played for the Dodgers, and Roberts played for the Red Sox
Cross-pollination! The Red Sox’s manager Alex Cora was selected by the Dodgers in the third round of the 1996 draft, and he wound up spending the first seven seasons of his big-league career in a Dodger uniform (he later played for the Red Sox). As for Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts, the Dodgers traded him to the Red Sox at the 2004 non-waiver trade deadline. Roberts wound up being a key piece for that curse-busting Red Sox team, and this steal against the Yankees in the ALCS remains one of the legendary moments in franchise history …
Roberts scored two runs in that series despite not coming to bat.
The Dodgers are trying to break a World Series drought of sorts
Plenty of squadrons rightly envy the Dodgers’ success over the years, but the reality is that it’s been 30 years since the Dodgers won the World Series — you may have heard tell of the Kirk Gibson home run off Dennis Eckersley back in ’88.
The Dodgers won their first World Series back in 1955, when they called Brooklyn home. Then they won titles again in ’59, ’63, ’65, ’81 and — as noted — ’88. The current drought, then, is the longest by a wide margin since the Dodgers first joined the ranks of championship clubs back in ’55. That they fell to the Astros in seven games last year makes that pressure feel all the more acute. The Dodgers have impressive young talent and vast resources, so it’s too much to say this is their last, best chance for a while. However, in baseball there’s no such thing as a sound assumption.
The Red Sox are trying to climb the championship rankings
Boston is seeking it’s fourth title since 2004, which broke a title drought that famously lasted since 1918. Boston this time around will be seeking its ninth World Series title. That would put them in a tie with the Athletics for third place. The Yankees of course lead all comers with 27 titles and the Cardinals are second with 11.
SportsLine has seen this coming for a while
Know who’s not surprised by a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series clash? The SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter), that’s who. The SportsLine sims have been projecting a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series since the All-Star break, and, yes, the model expected the Red Sox to prevail over the favored Astros in the ALCS.
As for this Fall Classic, here’s how SportsLine sees it playing out:
SportsLine simulates the games thousands of time, and as you can see the Dodgers prevailed 54.3 percent of the time. As for specifics, the Dodgers in seven is the most likely outcome according to the sims. Again, see above for the underlying strengths of this Dodger team. It’s those powerful fundamentals that lead SportsLine to lean Dodgers, albeit not by much.
So who wins every playoff game? And which teams are a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to get MLB Playoff picks from the proven model that simulates every game 10,000 times, and find out.
Appetite whetted? Good. Now let’s enjoy the 2018 World Series.
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