After months of grinding it out in the regular season, we finally have the two teams who will compete in the World Series. The Dodgers and Astros are the last two teams standing and they will do battle in a best-of-seven series to determine who is named champion. Each team also had over 100 wins, which marks the first time in over 40 years that two teams with 100+ wins each will square off in the World Series. So both teams had great regular seasons, but who is going to win it all in the Fall Classic? In this article, we highlight the 10 factors, players, or matchups that will probably determine which team gets to spill champagne when it’s all over.
10. Who Wins the Pitching Battle?
While hitting and offense might be the “sexy” part of the game, pitching is often what wins games. Houston and Los Angeles have two of the best rotations in the MLB, but the Dodgers have a bit of an edge. During both the regular season and the postseason, the Dodgers hurlers have been throwing with the best of them. Everything from the starters, to the relievers, to the closer have all been spectacular. While many would pick the Dodgers (and you really can’t fault them for that), you cannot overlook the Astros. They have overcome a lot this season, and have some big arms that could cause problems for the hitters on the Dodgers if they’re on point — Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel among them. I don’t think there is a more intriguing matchup than which team’s pitching will be able to close out the season with the best performances.
9. Will the Dodgers Stay Red Hot?
When you take a look at their regular season, the Dodgers were about as good as they could have ever hoped. At one point they were on pace to break the record for most wins in a season, although a brief summer slump ruined that dream. Almost every aspect of their season was spectacular and somehow, they have been even better in the postseason. They have won seven out of eight playoff games so far, losing just a single game to the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, and really haven’t been given even a slight scare. If they continue playing with this momentum and the Astros can’t answer, it could be a very short series. The Dodgers also had five days off between the end of the NLCS and the start of the World Series, compared to just three for the Astros. Will the extended break cool them off or just help them rest up for the biggest games of their lives?
8. The Health of Corey Seager
The only thing the Dodgers have needed to be worried about during this postseason is the health of their star shortstop Corey Seager. He has been dealing with a back injury that has kept him out of action (and off the NLCS roster entirely), but the Dodgers are confident he will be returning in the World Series. While the team fared well without him and there are suitable backups who could fill in, none of them are as talented as Seager, especially on the defensive side of the ball. If he can’t play much (or at all) during this series, that gives the Astros a much better chance at winning. Seager hit nearly .300 this season, with 22 homers and 77 RBI, which makes him one of the most dangerous hitters on the Dodgers. There are already rumors that the Dodgers will employ Seager as a DH when the games shift to Minute Maid Park in Houston, which will be played under American League rules.
7. Will the Astros Offense Get Back to Regular Season Form?
Throughout the regular season, there was no one better at hitting the ball than the Houston Astros, and their young offense flourished with a number of players putting up career years. They were first in runs scored, had the highest batting average of any team, had the lowest strikeout rate, and was second in home runs. Those are very scary figures for opposing pitchers, even as good as the Dodgers staff is! While the Houston offense has been good enough in the playoffs, there have been times where it disappeared and the Astros struggled. Three games in the Bronx, for example. While they managed to eventually find the firepower to get to the World Series by beating the Yanks in seven, they better hope their bats don’t go quiet again.
6. Will Altuve Continue His Amazing Postseason
The unquestioned leader of the best offense in baseball is none other than Jose Altuve. The pint-sized second baseman has done it all for the Astros on the offensive end, from stealing bases to hitting homers, from putting up a high batting average to getting clutch hits. He is the odds-on-favorite to win the AL MVP this year, and he has continued his strong play into the playoffs over the past month. He has five home runs in this postseason so far, and don’t be shocked to see him hit at least one more in the World Series. He is also hitting .400 in October, so he is both connecting a lot AND showing off his power. All in all, the Astros’ offense could live or die based on the performance of Altuve.
5. Stealing Bases Could be Important
With baseball becoming more and more about the long ball, we’ve seen a drastic decline in the art of the stolen base. Some analytics experts claims that it’s just not worth risking giving away an out. While that may be the case, this oft-forgotten art just might be a key factor in this series. This is because the backcatchers on the Astros weren’t particularly great at throwing out base stealers in 2017 — Brian McCann nabbed just 13 percent of runners in the regular season, which is the worst rate in the league by far. If the Dodgers are aware of this fact (and they should be), there is a chance we could see them try and steal bases much more frequently than usual. I’m not saying base stealing will make or break the series for either team, but a perfectly timed swiped bag in a key moment could change the look of any game.
4. Can Yasiel Puig Keep it Up?
A few years ago, Yasiel Puig burst onto the scene and looked like the next big thing in the majors. He was capable of everything — power, contact, speed, and unleashing a cannon of an arm from the outfield. However, some character and maturity issues began to sprout up, along with a prolonged slump, and he was all but an afterthought to most baseball fans in 2017. However, he worked his way back into the majors and has had a career resurgence in the latter half of this season. Not only that, but once the postseason began, he turned it up another notch. Puig has been on fire this October, hitting over .400 and posting an OPS of 1.169. He has been the Dodger bright spot and needs to continue shining for them to be successful.
3. Can the Dodgers Bullpen Keep Causing Opponents Headaches?
While we often think about starting pitchers and the batting lineup when looking at a matchup between two teams, the bullpen is often overlooked. The Dodgers and Astros might be fairly even in many ways, but one area where they are most definitely not is in their pitching relief. The bullpen for the Dodgers has been lights out in 28.2 innings this postseason. They have an ERA of under 1.00, a WHIP of under 0.50, and a 32-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio. The likes of set-up man Brandon Morrow and dominant closer Kenley Jansen have been breathtaking. The Astros and their fans do not want to see those either of those two guys on the mound late in games. If the Dodgers relievers can keep up their amazing postseason, it will be tough for the Astros to get their offense going past the middle innings.
2. Can The Dodgers Deal With the Possible Adversity?
Each of these two teams have had two very different roads to the World Series. During the regular season, the Astros dealt with a myriad of different injuries and at times people were concerned about their future. They rallied around their amazing offense and still managed to win over 100 games. During the playoffs, they had some back and forth games and had to dig deep in the ALCS after giving up a 2-0 lead against the Yankees and being down 3-2. On the other hand, the Dodgers were the favorites almost all year, dominated the competition during the playoffs (with only one loss). Some are even calling them the best team ever. If the Dodgers do manage to find themselves in trouble throughout this series, will they rise to the challenge or falter under the pressure? Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw doesn’t exactly have a reputation for shining in the playoffs, after all…
1. Can Kershaw Dominate to Get His First Ring?
Speaking of Kershaw, he will once again be the key figure for the Dodgers’ World series hopes. Against a team like the Astros, the L.A. pitching will need to solid. Probably even better than solid, actually. Thankfully, they have the best pitcher in all of baseball (along with dependable second and third options, like Rich Hill and Yu Darvish). Kershaw has won three CY Young Awards, one MVP, and has a career ERA of 2.36 and well over twice as many wins as losses (144-64). He has done it all in his nearly ten years in the Majors, with the sole exception being capturing a World Series ring to call his own. The success of the Dodgers in this series will solely sit on the shoulders of their ace pitcher and his supporting cast. Kershaw is starting Game 1 and will likely be back for Game 5. Or he could even supplant Rich Hill in Game 4 if the Dodgers find themselves in an early hole. It’s also possible that Kershaw would pull a Madison Bumgarner and make himself available out of the bullpen if the Series goes to a deciding Game 7. If Clayton Kershaw is Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers are already half way to winning their first championship since 1988.