Sticking to Sports: World Series Preview
On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers slugged their way past the Milwaukee Brewers to clinch the National League Pennant and set the stage for a World Series match-up with the Red Sox, beginning on Tuesday night in Boston. For Major League Baseball, it seems hard to imagine a better match-up. You have the massive Los Angeles market going up against the Red Sox and their vast national fan base: two of the league’s most storied and wealthy franchises getting together in baseball’s biggest event.
The storylines abound. Red Sox fans have fond memories of Dodger manager Dave Roberts, whose famed Game 4 steal of second base sparked the Sox’s miraculous rally from down three games to none against the mighty New York Yankees en route to their first World Series title in 86 years. Meanwhile, Red Sox manager Alex Cora once played with Roberts for the Dodgers. There’s Manny Machado, the Dodgers’ prized deadline acquisition, who found a way to somehow infuriate even the gentlest of Midwestern fans in Milwaukee during the NLCS. Just last season, while a member of the Baltimore Orioles, Machado’s questionable slide against Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox earned the wrath of Red Sox nation and led to two Red Sox pitchers, Chris Sale and Matt Barnes, throwing at him. There’s Mookie Betts, the Red Sox perfect-game-bowling, former MVP right fielder, who has emerged as one of baseball’s most exciting and likable stars. Both teams have a heavily paid pitcher with a reputation for falling short in the playoffs in Clayton Kershaw and David Price. In LA this week, it will be in the 80s and sunny. An early look at Tuesday night’s forecast in Boston shows cold and rain. While the rivalry between the two cities exists primarily on the basketball court, I’m sure neither side will have a hard time transferring that to the diamond.
For a fan base long tortured by the ghosts of Buckner and Boone, 2018 must have been a remarkably easy year. The Red Sox have been the best team in baseball since the season began, cruising to a league-best 108 wins, marching over their arch-rival Yankees in the ALDS and steamrolling the defending champion Astros to clinch the AL Pennant. In a sense, the Red Sox have become the Yankees. They spend big money in free agency, boast legions of fans who expect nothing short of a championship every year and win that championship more than anyone else. The Sox have three World Series rings to their name in the last 15 seasons, to say nothing of the other championships Boston has earned in every major sport during that run. And yet, there is something decidedly more likable about the 2018 Red Sox than there ever was about the Yankees of the early 2000s. The outfield triumvirate of Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi brings the kind of joy to the game baseball traditionally lacked. Watching David Ortiz, who has authored many of the greatest moments in Red Sox and postseason baseball history, react to the biggest moments of the post-season seems the most tangible proof that, no matter how many times your team or your city climbs the mountain, each ensuing trip through the postseason feels, at least in the moment, just as climactic as the first.
On the flip-side, 2018 felt like a much more difficult year for the Dodgers. Coming off a home loss in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, the Dodgers dragged their feet to a 16-26 start to the season. Star shortstop Corey Seager played in just 26 games before going down for the season to Tommy John surgery. Kershaw dealt with injuries all season. However, the addition of Machado and the general resurgence of key bats like Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger carried the Dodgers to a one-game playoff with the Rockies for the NL West Crown. Walker Buehler offered a strong start and home runs by Bellinger and Max Muncy gave the Dodgers enough for their sixth straight NL West title. While the Dodgers took care of the Braves with relative ease in the NLDS, they looked incredibly vulnerable in the Championship Series against the Brewers. In their three losses, they looked downright bad, and yet they survived all that and slugged their way to a Game 7 win. Like the Red Sox, the Dodgers at their best demonstrate what makes baseball great in 2018. They have a team full of players like Yasiel Puig, whose crotch-chopping run around the bases following a decisive three-run homer in Game 7 showed that baseball can easily be both fun and exciting.
If my past predictions are any indicator, I am remarkably inept at picking postseason baseball games. About a month ago, I foresaw a Cubs-Astros World Series. When I look at Dodgers-Red Sox, I don’t see dramatic differences in the two sides. Both teams have strong starting pitching and a deep lineup. Both teams have a dominant closer. In forecasting the series, one of the few major questions that comes to my mind is how the Red Sox will confront playing in Dodger Stadium, where they will not have the benefit of the designated hitter. Boston’s DH, J.D. Martinez, is perhaps their most potent bat. This lineup has looked radically more fearsome since his arrival via free agency last offseason. It seems hard to imagine a scenario in which Cora doesn’t find a place for Martinez even in LA. However, Martinez, officially an outfielder, has been one of baseball’s worst defenders throughout his career. Boston derives tremendous strength from its outfield defense with Betts, Benintendi and Bradley Jr., so putting Martinez out there seems a major risk. So where else could Martinez fit? Maybe first base, but he has never played the position before in the majors, so again, this feels dangerous. Fortunately for the Red Sox, they have home-field advantage, but this will likely be the dominant storyline for the three games in Chavez Ravine. With that being said, there seems to be something about this Red Sox team that will not be denied. Just as in their 2013 run, they simply feel like a team that will find a way to win. While the Dodgers have shown spells of inconsistency throughout the season, the Red Sox have never faltered. Boston in six.