With Game 1 of the 2018 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers set for tonight at Fenway Park, Tiebreaker.com will be on top of things with analysis throughout what promises to be a great ride between the teams with the largest payrolls in the game.
The Sox, who have won three World Series since 2004, have spent $229.8 million. The Dodgers, who haven’t won since 1988, have dished out $195 million. And it’s apparently been money well spent.
If we had the time, we’d ask Manny Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez and even Reggie Smith, who played for Sox and Dodgers, who they are rooting for. But we think we know.
We begin with a look at the three positions we feel will play important roles in who wins and who loses.
What a way to start! It’s not exactly Bob Gibson (22-9, 1.12) vs. Denny McLain (31-6, 1.96) in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series between the Cardinals and the Tigers. But it’s a matchup between Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw, which could establish a trend for what’s to follow.
You may remember how Sale struggled in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros, walking four, hitting another in just four innings. What does that tell you? Well, perhaps Sale’s shoulder injury, which forced the Red Sox to coddle him through the last two months of the season, isn’t completely healed. Regardless, he pitched only 17 innings and made only one start from July 27 to Sept. 11. The idea has been to slowly build up his arm strength and help him regain his velocity.
The Elias Sports Bureau says Sale’s fastball was clocking in at 96.8 before he left for the DL, but then dropped almost 4 mph once he returned. And if you don’t think that makes a big difference, you haven’t watched MLB hitters turn around an average fastball. But the guy has a changeup and slider that can get him out of trouble.
And then there is the issue of the stomach trouble that put him into the hospital and forced the Sox to start David Price in Game 5 against Houston. That worked out very well. Will nine days rest be too much for Sale?
The Dodgers plan against Sale is clear – stack the lineup with righthanded hitters. Dave Roberts original Game 1 plan has David Freese at first and Matt Kemp at DH.
Kershaw, making his first start ever at Fenway, is likely the best pitcher in the game over the last decade. He has the distinction of throwing the first and last pitches of the NLCS for the Dodgers, the first time that’s ever been done in history.
Like Sale, his fastball isn’t cracking the same anymore. But he has plenty of other weapons to compensate. During his career, he has made eight postseason starts allowing one run or less and three hits or less. He’s the only pitcher in MLB history that can say that.
After Sale, the Red Sox come at you with Price, Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello. The Dodgers will counter with Walker Buehler, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
We guarantee Red Sox manager Alex Cora is depending on a good night from Sale. If he gets rocked, and the Sox lose, you never know what to expect from Price in Game 2, even though his ERA is 2.25 in his last 11 starts.
In this modern age of baseball and analytics it’s fair to say a solid, deep bullpen may be even more important than starters. Just ask the Tampa Bay Rays about that.
If that’s the case, the Dodgers might appear to be superior here. Their pen has a 1.30 ERA in 41 2/3 innings in the postseason. Kenley Jansen’s postseason ERA in 36 appearances is 1.85 with 65 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings. He has 10 Ks in 6 2/3 innings this season. He is also a horse and quite capable of working every night.
Veteran Ryan Madson has allowed only one run in 6 1/3 innings in the postseason. Pedro Baez, LA’s set-up guy, has struck out 10 in 6 2/3 innings.
But if can look past the horror that Craig Kimbrel has caused when he’s on the mound, the Sox have been even better. He has allowed a run in four of his five saves opportunities in the playoffs. But he did save 42 games and strike out 96 in 62 1/3 innings during the season. And thanks to Cora’s close friend Eric Gagne, a guy who knew all about soiling himself as a Red Sox reliever in 2007, the Red Sox believe that Kimbrel tipping his pitches against New York and Houston, and should now revert to form having corrected the flaw.
It’s what comes before Kimbrel that we really like. Matt Barnes is a classic set-up guy. His strikeout/per 9 ratio is 14.0 because he can hit 98 with his fastball and has a very nice curve, as well.
Ryan Brasier has been a pleasant surprise. A career minor leaguer, he caught the eye of Cora in the spring and now he’s one of the key guys in the Boston pen.
Advantage: Red Sox
The Power Hitters
Each team is blessed with powerful bats and the home run ball may ultimately make the difference. The Sox hits 208 homers, scored 877 runs led the Majors with a .268 team batting average. The Dodgers hit 235 homers, second to the Yankees, and scored 804.
What will be interesting is seeing how Cora fits DH J.D. Martinez into the lineup when the Series gets to Los Angeles this weekend. How can you bench a guy who has hit .330 with 43 homers and 130 RBIs?
Maybe Jackie Bradley Jr., the MVP of the ALCS, becomes a platoon player against the plethora of Dodgers’ lefthanders. That seems counterintuitive. He hit two home runs with nine RBIs and a .400 on-base percentage against the Astros and the guy can catch a flyball.
Maybe the way you get around that is by starting right fielder Mookie Betts, who led MLB in batting average, at second base at least once. The Sox have talked about it, and Betts does have a handful of Major League games at second base under his belt. Let’s see if it happens.
The Dodgers keep coming at you with Justin Turner (.310 postseason) Max Muncy (35 homers), Manny Machado (37 homers) and Cody Bellinger (NLCS MVP).
Edge: Red Sox