By Joseph Baroud
After falling short of the 2017 World Series championship, a year later the Los Angeles Dodgers–a team that plays 18 miles from our campus (there’s your local angle!!!) will have another shot at ending their 29-year World Series-winning drought, a chance that begins tonight in Boston against the Boston Red Sox.
The Dodgers last championship came in 1988 and was sparked by one of the most dramatic swings in baseball history: regular-season MVP Kirk Gibson knocking a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against Oakland A’s closer Dennis Eckersley for an unbelievable 5-4 victory. It was an injured Gibson’s lone at bat in the series, but it propelled the Dodgers to a most unlikely 4-1 series victory over an Oakland team that seemed unstoppable.
It took 29 years until the Dodger returned to the Fall Classic, and though they battled hard, they dropped an epic seven-game battle to the Houston Astros. But the Dodgers vowed to return to the series this year, led by Yasiel Puig, who declared on live TV that the Dodgers would be back. It was Puig’s three-run homer in the seventh game of the National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers that slammed the door on a nerve-racking series the Dodgers won 4-3.
But getting back to the World Series is one thing; winning it is another. And the Dodgers opponent this year is the Boston Red Sox, who merely won 108 games, tied for ninth in Major League Baseball history. The two teams have met in one previous series: 1916, when the Dodgers were known as the Brooklyn Robins and the Red Sox had a pitcher named Babe Ruth, who threw a 14-inning complete game in the second game of a series the Red Sox won 4-1.
The Red Sox won 16 more games in the regular season than the Dodgers, who needed to win a one-game playoff against the Colorado Rockies to claim the National League West division and avoid playing a wild-card game. But as they have done all season, the Dodgers showed resilience. At the beginning of the season, the Dodgers struggled. In mid-May, they were 10 games under .500 and were eight games out of first place. Star shortstop Corey Seager was lost before the season began to a severe elbow injury, Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation was not winning games (due in large part to poor offense behind him) and their bullpen was a mess, with all-star closer Kenley Jansen particularly stinking up Chavez Ravine.
But as the weather grew warmer, the Dodgers got hot. From that low point in mid-May, they were 43-20 and by the end of July were in first place. They battled the Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks all year for first, finally finishing in a tie with Colorado at 91-71.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, raced to the American League East pennant, finishing eight games ahead of the New York Yankees in the regular season, beating the Bronx Bombers in four games in the division series, and handling last year’s champion Houston in five games.
Both the Red Sox and the Dodgers, who beat Atlanta 3-1 to advance to the series against Milwaukee, produce a lot of offense with the long ball. The Dodgers hit 235 home runs while the Red Sox knocked in 208. No team hit more home runs than the Dodgers except the New York Yankees, who hit 267. The Red Sox had the best batting average in the majors at .268, while the Dodgers hit .250, fifth best. The Red Sox had the most RBI’s, 829, while the Dodgers had the sixth most, 756.
The bottom line, both teams can hit the baseball well.
Because of a lot of injuries, the Dodgers only had one pitcher win more than 10 games, Rich Hill who went 11-5. The Red Sox had four pitchers who won at least 10 games, two of them won at least 15. But, the Dodgers pitchers are healthy and pitching well at the moment. Their bullpen, which gave them issues all year has been producing and containing the opposing team during the playoffs. They also aren’t allowing many runs, and Kenley Jansen has been lights out.
The regular season pitching statistics aren’t going to tell the story of this series. Things get incredibly tense when all eyes are focused on teams in the World Series, and this series may boil down to how much the very patient Red Sox hitters can work the Dodgers pitchers, and how capable the Dodgers are at manufacturing runs against the Red Sox staff, something that has been an issue all year for the Blue.
In the postseason, the Dodgers have hit more home runs than the Red Sox, 13-9, but the Red Sox have hit much better, .252 to the Dodgers’ woeful .218. But the Dodgers pitching has been better, with the team posting a 2.79 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 11 games, versus the Red Sox 3.78 and 74 K’s in nine games.
These storied franchises look to add onto their long illustrious histories. The Dodgers have won five World Series titles while the Red Sox have won eight. Both teams are storied franchises and have top-notch organizations, but all this is old news: whoever wins four games will be the best team in baseball right now.
Both teams will start their number one pitcher in Tuesday’s series opener. Clayton Kershaw (9-5 2.73 era) vs Chris Sale (12-4 2.11 era). Only four players on the Boston roster have ever faced Kershaw, who has never pitched at Fenway Park before. Similarly, only four current Dodgers have faced Sale, but they include Brian Dozier and Manny Machado, who have hit four home runs against him combined.
What to look for tonight? How will Kershaw respond tonight and in the series? He last started six days ago, throwing seven superlative innings against the Brewers in game 5 of the NLCS. But Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put him on the mound three nights ago in the ninth inning of game seven, to help ensure the Dodgers win. And then there is the Kershaw post-season record. In his 11 seasons, he has pitched in the postseason eight years, compiling a 9-8 record and an ERA of 4.09. He can be both brilliant (as he in the NLDS against Atlanta and game 5 of the NLCS against Milwaukee) and lousy, as he was in game 1 against Milwaukee, where he lasted only three innings and gave up five runs. That was true in last year’s World Series as well, when Kershaw’s Dr. Jekyll dominated in game one when he struck out 11 over seven innings and surrendered only one, but then Dr. Hyde emerged in game 5, when he gave up six runs in 4.2 innings.
Game 1: Los Angeles Dodgers @ Boston Red Sox; 10/23 Tuesday 5:09 p.m.
Game 2: Los Angeles Dodgers @ Boston Red Sox; 10/24 Wednesday 5:09 p.m.
Game 3: Boston Red Sox @ Los Angeles Dodgers; 10/26 Friday 5:09 p.m.
Game 4: Boston Red Sox @ Los Angeles Dodgers; 10/27 Saturday 5:09 p.m.
Game 5*: Boston Red Sox @ Los Angeles Dodgers; 10/28 Sunday 5:15 p.m.
Game 6*: Los Angeles Dodgers @ Boston Red Sox; 10/30 Tuesday 5:09 p.m.
Game 7*: Los Angeles Dodgers @ Boston Red Sox; 10/31 Wednesday 5:09 p.m.
(*) – if necessary.