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The 2018 World Series will be a showdown between two of Major League Baseball’s greatest titans.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the Fall Classic after coming up short in the 2017 World Series. This time around, they’re hoping to win their first championship since Kirk Gibson and company upset the Oakland Athletics in 1988.
Opposing the Dodgers is a Boston Red Sox team that knows a thing or two about winning. The franchise has claimed three titles since 2004, and this year’s squad won a club-record 108 games. To boot, the Red Sox will have home-field advantage.
Before the series gets underway Tuesday at Fenway Park, what follows is a preview of what each team is bringing to the Fall Classic and predictions for how each game will play out.
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Projected Dodgers Lineup
- LF Chris Taylor
- 3B Justin Turner
- 1B David Freese
- SS Manny Machado
- DH Matt Kemp
- RF Yasiel Puig
- CF Enrique Hernandez
- 2B Brian Dozier
- C Austin Barnes
It’s anyone’s guess as to how Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will fill out his lineup on a given day. He has many players to use, and he likes using all of them.
For Games 1 and 2 at Fenway Park, Roberts will favor lineups loaded with right-handed hitters to combat left-handed Red Sox aces Chris Sale and David Price. Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal will get called on to pinch-hit, however, and starts will await them once the Red Sox turn to Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello back in Los Angeles.
In any event, the Dodgers’ offensive depth is not to be underestimated. It helped the team put up an .803 OPS and 5.2 runs per game in the second half of 2018. Despite frequent strikeouts, it’s also gotten them past some tough pitching in October.
Projected Red Sox Lineup
- RF Mookie Betts
- LF Andrew Benintendi (L)
- DH J.D. Martinez
- SS Xander Bogaerts
- 1B Steve Pearce
- 3B Eduardo Nunez
- 2B Ian Kinsler
- C Christian Vazquez
- CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)
With Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu due to start for the Dodgers, Red Sox manager Alex Cora will have to favor righty-heavy lineups throughout the series. That means more starts for Steve Pearce and (if healthy) Eduardo Nunez and fewer for Brock Holt and Rafael Devers.
That’s not the only complication the Red Sox face in this series.
They’ll lose the designated hitter when the series shifts to Dodger Stadium. Cora has already committed to starting J.D. Martinez in every game despite that, but it means a key player will have to sit. It could be Jackie Bradley Jr., who’s fresh off winning the American League Championship Series MVP.
Still, it’s hard to see an offensive disadvantage for Boston in the World Series. The Red Sox used a balanced attack to score more runs than anyone in the regular season, and they just beat up the Houston Astros for 29 runs in five games.
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Projected Dodgers Rotation
- Clayton Kershaw (L)
- Rich Hill (L)
- Walker Buehler (R)
- Hyun-Jin Ryu (L)
According to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, Roberts’ plan is to start Kershaw and Hill in Games 1 and 2 at Fenway Park. As of now, the order is to be determined.
It’s a safe guess that Kershaw will draw the Game 1 assignment. The three-time Cy Young Award winner packs more upside than any Dodgers starter. And despite his relief appearance in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, he’ll be on regular rest since his last start.
It’s unclear how Roberts will line up Ryu and Walker Buehler for Games 3 and 4. But if he goes with Buehler in Game 3, he’ll have the young righty lined up to possibly start in a Game 7 on the road. Per Ryu’s extreme home/road splits, better Buehler than the lefty for such an assignment.
Regardless, the Dodgers have every reason to feel confident in their starting four. They combined for a 2.82 ERA in the regular season. The Dodgers also have to like that three of the four are lefties. The Red Sox don’t fare as well against lefty starters (.759 OPS) as they do against righty starters (.802 OPS).
Projected Red Sox Rotation
- Chris Sale (L)
- David Price (L)
- Nathan Eovaldi
- Rick Porcello
This is how the Red Sox lined up their rotation in the first two rounds of the playoffs. There’s no reason for them to change it for the World Series.
What everyone wants to know is if Sale is 100 percent healthy or even anywhere close. He was limited by shoulder injuries in the second half of the regular season. More recently, a stomach ailment knocked him from a start in Game 5 of the ALCS.
If Sale is right, however, the Red Sox will have one of baseball’s most electric pitchers to lead their World Series rotation. Nathan Eovaldi is plenty electric in his own right. Price and Rick Porcello are Cy Young Award winners, and the former is coming off a signature October moment.
Together, these four have a solid 3.59 ERA in the postseason.
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Dodgers: Matt Kemp’s bat
Matt Kemp has barely played in the Dodgers’ playoff run. He’s started only two of 11 games and taken a total of 15 plate appearances.
This is partly owed to the veteran’s lackluster defensive profile. That won’t matter in Boston, where Roberts can slot Kemp into the DH role and hope for his bat to awaken.
That’s not a fool’s hope. Kemp rose from the ashes to make the National League All-Star team and finish with an .818 OPS and 21 home runs in the regular season. Traditionally, he’s also been a nightmare for left-handed pitchers.
Provided that Kemp’s bat doesn’t have any rust on it, he could be a difference-maker in the World Series.
Red Sox: Chris Sale’s health
Though the Red Sox are hoping for the best from Sale in the Fall Classic, neither they nor anybody else should have any idea what to expect.
Sale might have been the best pitcher in MLB through July 27, when he was sitting on a 2.04 ERA and 207 strikeouts through 22 starts.
But then came two stints on the disabled list, and he hasn’t had the same stuff since returning from the second. Through August 12, Sale’s fastball averaged 95 mph. Since Sept. 11, it’s sat at 92.8 mph. That includes Game 1 of the ALCS, wherein he sat at 91.8 mph.
Sale’s margin for error is smaller without his usual velocity. It’s up to him to show he can find it again, or if he can simply overcome it.
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The thought of a World Series duel between Kershaw and Sale ought to inspire images of two in-their-prime aces who attack hitters with deadly repertoires.
In reality, not so much.
Now that Kershaw’s fastball isn’t moving as fast, he’s throwing it less often. If Sale isn’t fully recovered from either his shoulder issues or his stomach ailment, he may prefer a similar tactic. If so, Game 1 would feature two junk-balling lefties who will try to get hitters to chase breaking and offspeed pitches.
A matchup like that favors the Dodgers. They’re a hyper-disciplined team under normal circumstances, and their all-righty lineup will get an excellent look at Sale. The Red Sox won’t have the latter luxury. They’re also due a reality check about their curious weakness against left-handed breaking balls.
Expect four so-so innings out of Sale and six good innings out of Kershaw. From there, Kenley Jansen and the superior Dodgers bullpen will wrap it up.
Final Score: Dodgers 5, Red Sox 2 (LAD leads 1-0)
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Staring an 0-2 deficit in the face, the Red Sox will need Price to bring more of the magic that he had in Game 5 of the ALCS to Game 2 of the World Series.
Price can use the Dodgers’ patience against them if his command is on point. He also remembered that he has quite the weapon in his changeup his last time out. He broke it out more often than he’d ever done in the postseason, and it worked wonders.
For their part, Boston’s hitters won’t have it much easier against Hill. His trademark curveball should buy him a couple of trips through the order. Once he departs, Alex Wood can step in and follow his example for a couple of innings.
The Red Sox won’t need much if Price is on his game, however. And should they require a late insurance run or two, no problem. As one might expect from an offense that works walks, puts the ball in play and hits for power, Boston’s excels in late and close situations. It certainly showed in the ALCS.
It’ll be a close shave, but the Red Sox will head to Los Angeles with a tied series.
Final Score: Red Sox 4, Dodgers 3 (Series tied 1-1)
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A duel between Eovaldi and Buehler in Game 3 will give the radar gun a workout, as they’re the hardest-throwing starters left in the playoffs.
The big difference between the two, however, is how often they rely on their heat. Buehler has used his four-seam fastball 44.4 percent of the time in the postseason, compared to 36.1 for Eovaldi.
More of the same from Buehler may be just fine by Boston’s offense. Hitting high-velocity fastballs is one of the Red Sox’s specialties, as only the Washington Nationals were more productive against heat of 95 mph or faster. And if they can lay off Buehler’s curveball, he won’t have anything to change speeds with.
The Dodgers figure to have a harder time opposite Eovaldi. Although they’re plenty good against velocity in their own right, they’ll also have to watch for his curveball, slider and splitter.
Look for Martinez, one of the best high-velocity hitters in MLB, to come through with a big knock off Buehler. Eovaldi will take it from there.
Final Score: Red Sox 6, Dodgers 2 (BOS leads 2-1)
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Even though he struck out a career-best 8.9 batters per nine innings in 2018, it’s difficult to refer to Porcello as a “strikeout pitcher.”
He doesn’t have strikeout stuff, for one thing. For another, he’s whiffed only six batters in 10.2 innings of work against the New York Yankees and Astros this October. Evidently, a good offense can put the ball in play against him.
The Dodgers fit the bill. And with Martinez in a big right field and either Nunez or Devers at third base, Porcello’s pitching and an inferior defense figure to be a bad mix.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Ryu may not hold his own either.
He exploited an aggressive Atlanta Braves offense in his first October outing, but his approach didn’t work as well against the more disciplined Milwaukee Brewers. So it will go against the Red Sox. Mookie Betts and Martinez, in particular, will be a problem for Ryu if they get ahead in the count.
What is fortunate for the Dodgers is that they’re better equipped to salvage a bad start than the Red Sox are. Their pen goes deeper, and that should be the difference as their offense goes to work against the soft underbelly of Boston’s pen.
Final Score: Dodgers 8, Red Sox 6 (Series tied 2-2)
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The pressure will be on Kershaw to avoid a repeat of the last time he pitched in a World Series Game 5.
Kershaw opened Game 1 of the 2017 Fall Classic with seven dominant innings against the Astros. But when he returned to the mound in Game 5, he got lit up despite having a better fastball. Houston’s hitters adjusted to him, notably in how they were more aggressive.
The Red Sox can follow their example. Their offense operates much like Houston’s did last year, after all. And despite his evolution into more of a finesse pitcher, Kershaw still prefers to attack the strike zone. Red Sox hitters will adjust accordingly.
As strange as it may sound, it’s easier to have confidence that Sale comes through in Game 5 than in Game 1. He’ll be further removed from his stomach episode. If this doesn’t equal more velocity, it should at least equal less rust.
Look for the Red Sox to grab an early lead and then for Cora to be quick to protect it with his best defense and best relievers. A late Dodgers charge will fall just short.
Final Score: Red Sox 5, Dodgers 4 (BOS leads 3-2)
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The Dodgers might technically return Hill to the mound at Fenway Park in Game 6. But in the face of elimination, he’ll be less “starter” and more an “opener” for a Johnny Wholestaff game.
The big what-if is whether Roberts would include Buehler in the effort rather than hold him for a Game 7 start. The hunch here is that Roberts won’t plan ahead for a game that’s not guaranteed and that Buehler will play the same role Brandon Woodruff played for the Brewers in Game 5 of the NLCS.
For that matter, another hunch here is that Buehler’s performance will ultimately mirror Woodruff’s in that game. He’ll dazzle with his stuff, but the Red Sox will use their velocity-hitting skills to scratch runs across anyway.
Good thing for the Dodgers that their hitters should be more ready for Price’s crafty act this time. Manny Machado looms as an especially large threat. He’s seen Price more than any Dodger, and he’s enjoyed their meetings to the tune of a 1.024 OPS and five homers.
If Price makes an early exit, it’ll once again be up to Boston’s bullpen to save the day. To this end, their middle relief corps won’t be any more up to the task than it was in Game 4.
Final Score: Dodgers 7, Red Sox 6 (Series tied 3-3)
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If Roberts does indeed go to Buehler in Game 6 as part of an effort to stave off elimination, the cost will be a start for the young righty in Game 7.
Instead, the Dodgers would have to open with Ryu on three days’ rest and hope for more help from Johnny Wholestaff, this time with Kershaw in the mix. At this point in the series, fatigue is bound to render Mr. Wholestaff less reliable.
The Red Sox can simply trot out Eovaldi again. Dodgers hitters will have a better idea of how to approach him, yet even that may only go so far. There’s only so much hitters can do to adjust to pure stuff like Eovaldi’s, and he rarely uses the same pitch mix twice.
The Red Sox are bound to get more out of Eovaldi than the Dodgers will out of Ryu. They can then turn to Sale and Porcello, the latter of whom has pitched well in relief this October, to get the ball to Craig Kimbrel.
Kimbrel should only have a slim lead to protect, which sounds risky after his performance in the first two rounds of the playoffs. But if he’s truly finished tipping his pitches, there shouldn’t be any fireworks.
At least, not until some are exploding over Fenway Park in celebration of yet another Red Sox championship.
Final Score: Red Sox 4, Dodgers 2 (BOS wins series, 4-3)