2018 World Series Preview: Dodgers vs. Red Sox

As I sat down to do my analysis, I really thought I was going to see more of a discrepancy between these two teams. The Red Sox won 108 games; the Dodgers needed an extra game to get to 92, in a supposed ‘weaker’ division, and in the ‘junior varsity’ National League. The Red Sox cruised through the season, having won more than 67% of their games up to this point; the Dodgers were nine games out of first place on May 8th, and 10 games under .500 on May 19th. In addition to the extra win necessary to get into the Division Series, they were taken to seven games by a good, but not great, Milwaukee Brewers team. The Red Sox, on the other hand, dismantled the Houston Astros, last year’s World Champions, by taking the final three games of the series in the Astros’ home park. So through that lens, the Red Sox should be a huge favorite. It says here, however, that these two teams are VERY evenly matched – and whoever wins this series better be packing some scary costumes because they will need the full seven games to hoist the trophy on Halloween night in 2018.

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Let’s start with the ManagersAlex Cora and Dave Roberts.
Cora, 43 years old, and Roberts, 46, are part of the player-friendly, analytics-driven, bullpen-heavy wave of managers that are extensions of an influential front office. Riding under the guidance of veteran bench coaches – in the case of Cora, Ron Roenicke; for Roberts, it’s Bob Geren – they provide a heavy dose of reaffirmation, high fives, and support that tend to endear themselves to players. Neither manager is hesitant to rely on bullpen arms, and both are avid utilizers of their bench. Though the payrolls are extensive, each manager has a deft touch and capability of getting maximum production from both minimum and maximum talent. Roberts was questioned thoroughly in 2018 by Dodger fans, but his resume reads extremely accomplished: Manager of the Year as a ‘rookie,’ followed by back-to-back World Series appearances. Cora replaced the 93-win John Farrell, and improved on that first place total by 15 games.
AdvantageEVEN. Roberts has the in-game World Series experience, but that did not go perfectly and some key decisions (Yu Darvish) were rightfully second-guessed. Cora, remember, was bench coach for AJ Hinch during the Astros World Series run last year. 
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Starting Rotation:
Chris Sale, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello
Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill
This is another fun one. Sale is one of the two most feared pitchers in baseball, a Randy Johnson 2.0 that is all knees, elbows, and wicked sliders that follow high-90’s heat. Kershaw, known for a decade as The Best Pitcher on the Planet, is considered more of a lower-tier Ace now, though he is (once again) pitching for his legacy. He is also the Modern Era record holder for lowest career ERA, so that looms significantly. Price and Ryu are not superficially similar, but their playoff versions are counterpoints. Price is a Cy Young pitcher that, until his Game 5 ALCS gem vs. the Astros, was the Worst Postseason Pitcher of All-Time. Ryu, who was exempted from military service due to his performance in a Gold Medal game in the Summer Olympics, is the definition of a big game pitcher – or he was, until the Game 6 implosion in the NLCS against the Brewers. Eovaldi and Buehler are, perhaps, the most exciting of this bunch as each is a young fireballer set on building off of a foundational year. Eovaldi has shown flashes of being unhittable, and Buehler reminds of Justin Verlander. Pretty heady stuff on that matchup. Then you have the two Ricks. Well, Rick & Rich. Each is crafty, took a while to get their career in order, and performed well enough to merit accolades; for Porcello, that was a Cy Young; for Hill, it was a nice contract. Each is very hittable and will have a short leash.
Advantage: Dodgers. This would be even were it not for Sale’s subpar health over the last two months of the season, culminating in a belly button infection during the ALCS. Though not quite mirror images, these rotations are very similar 1-4.
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Closer:
Craig Kimbrel 
Kenley Jansen
Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Simply put, these are the two best closers in baseball over the last half decade. Kimbrel has saved 91% of his career opportunities; Jansen clocks in at 90%. Jansen’s career ERA is 2.20. Kimbrel’s is a microscopic 1.91. Kimbrel’s K/BB ratio is a hefty 4.23. Kenley’s is an unthinkable 5.76. What about WHIP, you ask? Kimbrel’s is 0.92; Kenley 0.88. So yeah, good luck against either of these fellas. The difference will be their recent body of work. Kenley struggled (by his standards) to a workmanlike 3.01 ERA in 2018, whereas Kimbrel’s was a career-high 2.74. Kenley, however, has been back at his best lately, cranking his cutter up to 96 mph in the final game of the NLCS, and he has yet to be scored upon in his six playoff appearances. Kimbrel, however, sits at an unsightly 7.71 ERA, with scare after scare versus both the Yankees and Astros. That said, he has yet to blow a save in the playoffs so once again, the
Advantage: is EVEN. Both of these guys are too good, and will likely close any ballgame once the ball is in their hands.
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Bullpen:
Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman 
Pedro Baez, Ryan Madson, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, Caleb Ferguson, Dylan Floro, Scott Alexander/Alex Wood 
Both of these bullpens were maligned heading into the postseason. The Dodgers did not have a ‘bridge’ to Kenley Jansen, as they had recently moved Maeda out of the rotation to become the presumptive eighth-inning pitcher. . .except when Roberts would use his matchups. That meant, any one of Flora, Ferguson, Baez, Madson would, at any time, be brought in to face whoever the numbers dictated. But a funny thing happened after Pedro Baez was sent down to the minor leagues; he came back as one of the most effective relievers in Major League Baseball, allowing only one earned run over his last 24 appearances. This gave the Dodgers a bonafide set-up man, and a reliable power arm to complement the one-off approach Roberts generally uses. The Red Sox counter with a duo to fill the role, as Barnes and Brasier have each outpunched their regular season statistics, allowing only one run in a combined 13 1/3 innings. Kelly and Hembree have been equally reliable, with a 1.69 and 0.00 ERA as well. Not to be outdone, Floro, Ferguson, and Madson have only allowed one earned run in 14 combined innings. The difference here is that the matchups favor Roberts; he simply has more left-handers in the ‘pen, and in games that will be this close, the bullpen gates will be swinging open wildly, and Roberts will use that to his advantage.
Advantage: Dodgers – they figured out the roles at the right time and their depth and matchups prove will key in this series. 

 Red Sox postseason bullpen stats:

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 10.15.31 PM
Dodgers postseason bullpen stats:

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 10.15.41 PM

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Catching:
Christian Vasquez, Sandy Leon 
Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal
This position is essentially a black hole of offense for both teams. Christian Vasquez gets the bulk of playing time for the Red Sox, but is hitting .227 in the postseason, an improvement on his regular season .207. Leon is a good defensive catcher but has yet to collect a hit in the playoffs. On the Dodgers’ side, Grandal, for the second consecutive season, lost his starting job to Austin Barnes in October, and has played himself into contention for Worst Player in MLB Postseason History, after his glove inexplicably turned to cement in the NLCS. Barnes has a great approach and is a good defensive catcher, but has not been able to capture his 2017 hitting prowess, and is hitting .111 in the playoffs in 2018.
Advantage: Red Sox. The weakest position also happens to be one of the most important, and though nobody stands out here amongst the four players, it might be an unsung hero from this grouping that changes the complexion of the series. Though not impressive by any means, the Sox have the better backstops here.
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Lineup:
Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Steve Pearce, Eduardo Nunez, Ian Kinsler, Christian Vasquez, Jackie Bradley Jr. 
Chris Taylor, David Freese, Justin Turner, Manny Machado, Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Brian Dozier, Kiké Hernandez, Austin Barnes
These lineups are subject to change based on handedness of the opposing pitcher as well as the whims, intuition, and analysis of their respective team’s front offices. This is my projection, however, for Game 1 lineups and both are fierce. Though the Dodgers sport only a .691 OPS as a group in their 11 games, the designated hitter plays directly into their hands, as their depth is significant and will play well in the American League ballpark. The Dodgers feature nine players that hit 20 or more home runs during the regular season, and finished with the sixth most home runs all-time in a single season, 235. The Red Sox counter with eight players with ten or more home runs, and come in with a .745 collective OPS in the postseason, and are averaging a little more than six runs per game. The Dodgers are, if anything, too reliant on the long ball and have only averaged four runs in their 11 playoff games in 2018. The Green Monster will be inviting to the homer-happy, as the 310′ distance is shorter than most high school fields. The right field line is only 302′, so do not expect the Dodgers to shorten their swings; they rarely do. The top half of the Red Sox lineup is filled with not just good hitters but professional hitters, as Betts is expected to be the American League MVP, only because Martinez did not complete his run at the Triple Crown; otherwise he would have won the award. The back half of their lineup is not as deep as the Dodgers’, though they are not strikeout-happy either, averaging only seven per game as a team. The Dodgers average ten per game; a typical byproduct of swinging for the fences
Advantage: Red Sox because – how do you pitch to these first four guys?
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Bench:
Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers, Brock Holt, Leon
Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Grandal
Some great depth here on both sides. As the Dodgers are expected to go with one additional bullpen arm, they’ll likely have one less bat, though all three of these players will likely start against right-handers. The Red Sox are no stranger to matchups either, as they have started Moreland, Devers, and Holt against right-handers as well. Moreland and Holt have a 1.101 and 1.145 OPS in the postseason, and Devers sits at .909. Muncy was at .973 for the regular season, but is at .736 in the postseason – along with 18 K’s in 33 at-bats. Pederson comes off of a 2017 World Series with three home runs, but is at a .741 OPS thus far in October 2018.
Advantage: Even. Though the numbers in these particular instances seem to favor the Red Sox, this is only a snapshot of the bigger picture. Roberts’ willingness – and the Dodgers’ ability – to mix and match positionally give them a unique advantage on the field, if not on the stat sheet. Bellinger, Muncy, Taylor, Hernandez, Barnes, and Freese are all proficient at multiple positions and can be used accordingly. Keep this in mind for the inevitable extra inning contest(s) that will arise in this Series. 

Red Sox 2018 Postseason Batting:

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 10.41.39 PM.png

Dodgers 2018 Postseason Batting:
Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 10.41.27 PM.png

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Running/Defense:
The Dodgers have stolen 13 bags this postseason; the Red Sox have swiped five. Though the element of speed should not be a defining aspect of the World Series, look no further than Dave Roberts to understand what one well-swiped bag can do for a team. The Dodgers have the advantage here. Defensively, both teams play clean baseball and were each ranked in the top ten during the regular season.
Advantage: Dodgers, but slight.

 

And this wouldn’t be a preview if I did not mention the Stadiums, yet another element of similarity between these great organizations. Dodger Stadium was built in 1962, and is the consummate ballpark; a picturesque, symmetric field surrounded by palm trees and nestled in mountains, with nary a bad sightline in the park. Fenway Park, completed in 1912, is an urban stadium with nooks & crannies, columns that block vision, and standing room only attendance in areas. Along with its history, the charm is undeniable, as watching a game in these confines is both intimate and awe-inspiring.
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Prediction: This series will, as all postseasons do, come down to pitching. The Dodgers have more of it and they have better matchups. A fully healthy Chris Sale could turn this series for the Red Sox, but as it stands, the Dodgers have shown that they can hit anybody, even if they are capable of striking out incessantly in concurrence. Price may have solved his postseason woes, but he is is still a question mark heading into the highest stakes he has ever faced, and the fact remains that the Red Sox do not have a quality left-hander out of the pen, meaning Roberts can lean heavier on his right-handed lineup to provide the bulk of the offense. This bodes well for the Dodgers.
Dodgers in 7.

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