For the first time in nearly a half century, the World Series will pit best on best.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, owners of a 104-58 record (best in baseball) will host the Houston Astros (101-61, second best record) in game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night.
The Astros completed a wild post-season in the American League by disposing of the New York Yankees 4-0 on Saturday night. The Dodgers, meanwhile, made short work of the Chicago Cubs, finishing their NLCS on Thursday in game 5, by a 11-1 count.
The playoffs have been full of all kinds of drama, from the Cubs five-game thriller with Washington in the NLDS to the Yankees shocking comebacks on Cleveland in the ALDS (down 0-2 they won three straight) and Houston in the ALCS (down 0-2 again, couldn’t find win no. 4 to complete it).
We’ve found some good — and not-so-good or just bad — individual performances pre-World Series. Some did not surprise, but others definitely did.
20. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians – Bad
Kluber may have been a Cy Young candidate in the regular season with his 18-4 record and AL best 2.25 ERA, but in the playoffs he was owned by the New York Yankees. In game 2 of the ALDS against the Bronx Bombers, Kluber was saved from being hung with a loss after his team rallied to win it in 13 innings, 9-8. He didn’t last more than 2.2 innings that game, giving up six earned runs on seven hits, including homers to Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks. Then, on short rest in do-or-die game 5, Kluber went just 3.2 innings, allowing three hits (two on homers) and three earned runs as the Tribe fell 5-2, finishing a pretty big choke on a series they led 2-0.
19. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals – Good
It’s too bad that the Nationals couldn’t have gotten solid pitching out of all their starters like they did from Stephen Strasburg. That the Nats failed again to advance past the NLDS was hardly the fireballer’s fault. In just the second and third post-season starts of his eight-year career, Strasburg threw absolute darts. In a 3-0 loss in game 1, Strasburg gave up just three hits in seven innings, two runs (both unearned), while striking out 10 Cubs. With his team down 2-1 in pivotal game 4, he was near lights out on short rest. He earned the win with another strong seven innings, allowing three hits, no runs and striking out 12 in a 5-0 victory. A command performance, to be certain.
18. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs – Bad
After being a playoff stud during Chicago’s historic 2016 World Series run, Anthony Rizzo was an absolute dud this time around. He wasn’t too bad in the NLDS against Washington, hitting .200 with a double, homer and six RBI in five games, but it was a far cry from his outstanding season (.273, 32 HR, 109 RBI). With the chips down against a very good Los Angeles Dodgers team in the NLCS, Rizzo came up so small as to be unnoticeable. He had one hit in 17 at bats, a single, while striking out eight times (14 total in 10 post season games). One of his worst outings was in game 2, which was a winnable contest in L.A. He was 0-for-3 that game with two strikeouts, both when the scored was tied 0-0 early (once with a man on, too).
17. Greg Bird And Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees – Good
We are calling this a good saw-off, as a rejuvenated Yankees team got offence from unlikely sources in a pretty good post-season run. First, shortstop Didi Gregorious followed up a great regular season (.287, 25 HR, 87 RBI) with timely hitting in the AL playoffs. He slammed two of his three post-season homers and drove in three runs during New York’s huge 5-2 game 5 victory over Cleveland, both off Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber. Second, 1B Greg Bird, who had a tough go of it at the plate during the regular season (.190 batting average), hit like a champ in the playoffs. He hit his second of three post-season dingers in a 1-0 triumph over the Indians in game 3 of the ALDS and hit .250 over 13 games (11-for-44, 3 HR, 6 RBI).
16. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals – Bad
Where Stephen Strasburg was dominant in the Nationals playoff run, one of their top starters, Gio Gonzalez, was very, very mediocre. As part of a great starting trio that included Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, Gonzalez went 15-9 in the regular season, posting a 2.96 ERA and 188 Ks in 201 innings. He wasn’t nearly as efficient in the NLDS against Chicago, starting with a five inning performance in game 2 victory over the Cubs. He only gave up three runs, but all of them came via a solo shot by Willson Contreras and a two-run bomb off the bat of Anthony Rizzo. Then, on short rest in a crazy game 5 won 9-8 by Chicago, Gonzalez lasted only three innings, allowing three hits and four walks, as well as three earned runs before being chased.
15. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees – Good
Great players find a way to take their game to another level when the games mean something. Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka did just that for a Yankees team that fell just short of yet another World Series appearance. With his team down 2-0 to Cleveland in the ALDS, Tanaka spun a fantastic seven inning effort, allowing just three hits and one walk, while striking out seven in a key 1-0 win. Then in game 1 of the ALCS against Houston, he gave the Yanks a chance to win, surrendering only four hits and two earned runs in a 2-1 defeat. After the Yankees had clawed back to even the series at 2-2, Tanaka again got the ball at Yankee Stadium in game 5. He completely shut down the Astros, going seven innings with just three hits against and eight strikeouts as New York won 5-0.
14. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs – Bad
The meat of the Chicago Cubs post-season batting order certainly had a lot of gristle. Along with clean-up hitter Anthony Rizzo, table setter Bryant underwhelmed, compared to just a year ago when he was instrumental in the Cubs race to a title. During the 2017 regular season, Bryant hit .295 with 29 homers and 73 RBI, but couldn’t come close to that production through 10 playoff contests. He had eight hits in 40 trips to the plate, with a lone homer and three RBI. Bryant also struck out 14 times, including 10 occasions during their NLDS victory against Washington. His worst effort was an 0-for-4 performance in game 2 of the NLCS, when he struck out twice.
13. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros – Good
If the American League MVP award included playoff heroics, Houston 2B Altuve wins in a walk. The AL batting champion destroyed AL pitching in the ALCS and ALDS, going 16-for-48 (.333), with five homers and eight RBI. Having been through the misery of a few horrid seasons in Houston, Altuve has made the most of this post-season, starting with a startling effort in game 1 of the ALDS against Boston. He hit three homers in that 8-2 triumph, setting the tone for the series. After going 5-for-8 as Houston jumped out to a 2-0 lead against New York in the ALCS, his bat (along with many others) went cold in three losses in the Big Apple (0-for-10). But, the wee man with the big club got hot again at the right time. He went 2-for-4 in game 6, with three RBI to lead the ‘Stros to a convincing 7-1 win. And in game 7, he bombed his fifth round-tripper in the bottom of the fifth to pad Houston’s lead to 2-0 in a game they would win 4-0.
12. Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks – Bad
For a guy who didn’t suffer too much in the pitch command department in the regular season, All-Star pitcher Zack Greinke had a lot of trouble with the strike zone in the playoffs. After allowing just 45 walks in 202.1 innings during a great regular season, Greinke walked six in only 8.2 innings over two starts in the wild card and NLDS. He was also roughed up for seven earned runs on 10 hits, ballooning his regular season 1.072 OPS to a terrible 1.850 in the playoffs. Greinke got the start against Colorado in the wild card game and lasted 3.2 innings in a 11-8 hit fest. He was tagged for six hits and four earned runs (one walk). In his final start, game 3 of the NLDS against Los Angeles, Greinke went five innings, but allowed four hits (two of them homers) and walked five in a 3-1 defeat.
11. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers – Good
Prior to getting back to the World Series for the first time in nearly 30 years, the Dodgers had seen many a great pitcher blow it in the playoffs. Closer Kenley Jansen, who was up and down over 17 appearances in four previous post-seasons, ensured his Cy Young worthy 2017 regular season was no aberration. The fireballing NL saves leader has locked it down when the Dodgers needed it most in seven appearances, so far. In eight innings, he has allowed two hits and one run (unearned), while striking out 12 and recording a win and three saves. Jansen set the tone of the NLCS in the Dodgers 5-2 game 1 victory, striking out all four batters he faced for the save, including Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and Ian Happ. Remarkable, so far.
10. Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals – Bad
Not many in baseball were as hot in the last two post-seasons than Washington 2B Daniel Murphy. A hero for the Mets in 2015 when he hit seven homers and drove in 11 runs, Murphy followed it up for the Nats in a losing cause last year, going 7-for-16 with six RBI. However, it doesn’t take long to go from batting champ to chump. Expected to dazzle with his bat and get the Nationals over the division series hump, Murphy was mostly quiet in yet another early Washington playoff exit. In the first four games of the series against Chicago, he had just two hits 16 at-bats, with no HR and zero RBI, while striking out five times. By the time he got of the Schneid in game 5, it was too late. He had a double and a homer to drive in two runs, but the Nats still lost 9-8 and went golfing early.
9. Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers – Good
Dodgers lore includes some very memorable clutch players and hits in the playoffs. One man who is bringing that Kirk Gibson circa 1988 feeling back is infielder Justin Turner. A fairly prolific hitter in the regular season (.322 average, 21 HR, 71 RBI), the bushy bearded ginger has come up large when his team needed him this fall. He was a one-man wrecking crew in game 1 of the NLDS against Arizona, clubbing three hits and driving in five runs (three on a homer) as L.A. won 9-5. In game 2 of the NLCS against Chicago, Turner drove in all four runs in a 4-1 triumph, including a mammoth two-out, walk-off three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth off John Lackey. Overall, Turner is hitting 12-for-38 this post-season, with three homers and 12 RBI. Fear the beard.
8. Starlin Castro, New York Yankees – Bad
Starlin Castro, brought to the Yankees last year to provide hitting and defence, had a good year. He hit .300 for the first time since an All-Star 2011 season, smacked 16 homers and drove in 63 in 112 games. But, his bat was mostly tepid in the playoffs, where he hit just .220, with no homers and one RBI. After going 6-for-22 against Cleveland (.273), Castro went cold against Houston, at all the wrong times. He managed just five hits in 24 trips and struck out eight times, against just one walk. In the pivotal seventh game, he hit a fielder’s choice in the second inning. In the top of the fifth, he struck out swinging after a lead-off double by Greg Bird. He whiffed again in the top of the seventh to end a quiet game and a very low-key post-season.
7. Brandon Morrow, Los Angeles Dodgers – Good
The feel good story of the 2017 playoffs might just be that of Brandon Morrow. The former starter in the Toronto organization was thought to be all but washed up after two injury-plagued seasons in 2013 and 2014. But after, two partial campaigns in San Diego and a renaissance as a relief pitcher, Morrow found his niche in L.A. In 45 appearances this season the former first round (5th overall) draft pick went 6-0, with 2.06 ERA, two saves and 50 strikeouts in 43.2 innings pitched. In his first ever playoffs, Morrow has kept up the good work, allowing only three hits, one walk and one earned run, while striking out eight in 8.1 innings pitched (seven appearances). His best outing was two innings of shut out ball in relief of Rich Hill in game 2 of the NLCS. Morrow struck out two and allowed no hits, paving the way for a Kenley Jansen save in a 4-1 victory over the Cubs.
6. Josh Reddick, Houston Astros – Bad
If the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees due to the efforts of guys like Jose Altuve, they also won in spite of the dismal effort at the plate by big-time free agent pick-up Josh Reddick. Signed to a massive four-year, $52 million contract after a season split between Oakland the Dodgers, Reddick will have the chance to atone for his poor ALCS performance against his old team in the World Series. He hit a career high .314 in the regular season, along with 13 homers and 82 RBI. Then, in the ALDS he was good against Boston, hitting .375 (6-for-16) with two RBI. However, when faced by New York Yankees pitching, his twig went stone cold dead. Reddick had but one hit, a single, in 25 at-bats. And that lone base hit came in the fourth inning of game 7, after Evan Gattis gave Houston the only run they would need in a 4-0 victory.
5. Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers – Good
Ever since being a highly celebrated All-Star during the 2014 season, Yasiel Puig has worn his share of the goat horns since then. But, he bounced back nicely in 2017, hitting .263 with a career high 28 homers and 74 RBI. The big Cuban has kept the good times rolling this post-season, leading all hitters still currently playing with a .414 average, including two doubles, a triple, a home run and six RBI. He was the catalyst in both game 1 of the NLDS against Arizona (a 9-5 victory) and game 1 versus Chicago in the NLCS (a 5-2 win). Against the D-Backs, he went 2-for-5 wht a double, a triple and two RBI. Puig ripped Chicago pitching in game 1 of the NLCS, smacking a double, a homer and driving in two runs. He capped his stellar National League playoff run with a 2-for-5 performance in game 5, scoring three runs in the 11-1 triumph.
4. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees – Bad (And A Little Good)
No one struck out more in the American League (or baseball), nor hit more home runs than Aaron Judge did in his mostly fine rookie season. A RoY and MVP candidate, the big man smacked 52 homers and whiffed 208 times in 2017. Judge was pretty much true to form in his first playoffs, striking out 27 times in 13 games, while launching four homers and driving in 11. We put him on the bad side, though, because hit just .188, which means he wasn’t putting the ball in play near enough (he had 57 plate appearances, which works out to a strikeout in nearly every other trip to the dish). Now Judge did have some timely hits in the ALCS, but it didn’t make up for his mediocre bat the rest of the time.
3. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros – Good
When the Houston Astros decided they were serious contenders, the last minute pick-up of Justin Verlander at the trade deadline couldn’t have been more prescient. The former Cy Young winner and MVP (2011) was languishing with an underachieving Tigers team, when the Astros shocked everyone by sending three prospects to Detroit to get him. He responded by going 5-0 in five starts (he was 10-8 with the Tigers), with 43 strikeouts in 34 innings. In a nutshell, the veteran starter was all the way back. Having never won a World Series ring (he’s been twice), Verlander has made it his mission to carry the ‘Stros on his back. He won the ALCS MVP award, based on two out-of-this-world starts against the Yankees. In a 2-1 game 2 victory, Verlander fired a complete game, allowing one run on five hits and striking out 13. Then, with his team facing elimination in game 6, he won his fourth game of the post-season, giving up just five hits (no runs) and striking out eight in seven innings. Wow.
2. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox – Bad
For a guy in line to win his first Cy Young award, Chris Sale surely laid an egg in his inaugural playoff series. The lanky lefthanded fireballer was more than mediocre in two starts against Houston, losing both games and finishing with a 8.38 ERA. This after a season where he owned a 17-8 record, 2.90 ERA and struck out a major league high 308 batters in 214.1 innings. But, he landed with a thud in game 1 of the ALDS against Houston, getting rocked for nine hits (including three homers by Jose Altuve) and seven earned runs in five innings of work. Called upon on short rest to pitch in relief in game 4, he was nearly as bad, allowing two runs on four hits (one homer) in 4.2 IP as the Bosox bowed 5-4 and were gone from the post-season.
1. Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros – Good
If anyone said that second year infielder Yuli Gurriel would be within striking distance of Jose Altuve’s batting average this post-season (.400), we would have called them loony. Well, the kid has been red hot this fall, to the point he has 15 hits (including four doubles and a triple) in 41 at bats for a .366 batting average. He has also driven in four runs and scored twice. Gurriel, who has manned first base in these playoffs, was particularly hot against Boston, going 9-for-17. He was 4-for-4 in a 10-3 loss in game 3, but made sure his hitting prowess was no fluke when he had three hits in five trips during the 5-4 clincher against the Red Sox in game 4. He would drive in his first four post-season runs against the Yankees and collect another six hits, failing to have a hit in just one game so far this 2017 playoff season.