For the first time in over 100 years, the Dodgers and Red Sox will square off in the World Series. The last time these two franchises met in the Fall Classic, the Dodgers were based in Brooklyn and called the Robins, while the Red Sox relied on their 21-year-old ace, Babe Ruth, and played their home games at Braves field, home to the National League’s Boston Braves (who’d later move to Milwaukee before settling in Atlanta).
Times, they have a-changed.
This is the 14th World Series appearance for the Red Sox, having most recently participated in 2013, when they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. This is the team’s fourth appearance since 2004, when they also defeated the Cardinals. (They overcame the Colorado Rockies in 2007.) Winning it all in 2018 would give the franchise nine World Series championships, moving them ahead of the San Francisco Giants and tying them with the Oakland Athletics with the third-most all-time, trailing only the Cardinals (11) and the New York Yankees (27).
For the Dodgers, they’re in the World Series for the second consecutive season and 23rd time ever. The franchise has six World Series championships, the most recent one coming exactly 30 years ago, in 1988, when they defeated Oakland.
Speaking of those Athletics, that was the first of their three consecutive appearances in the World Series, and their manager for all three of those American League pennants (and their 1989 World Series victory) was Tony La Russa…who was the manager of the Cardinals when they lost to the Red Sox in 2004, breaking the Curse of the Bambino…and who is now Boston’s vice president/special assistant to President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski.
Dombrowski cut his teeth with the Chicago White Sox before becoming one of the last general managers of the Montreal Expos. He left that job, however, to build a team from the ground up, being named the Florida Marlins first ever general manager. He spent nine years with the Marlins, achieving only one winning season–but that team, in 1997, went on to win the World Series.
He left after the 2001 season for the Detroit Tigers, where he took over a moribund, catering franchise. And it showed: in his first two seasons with Detroit, the Tigers went 55-106 and 49-113. But he managed to turn it around, reaching his greatest success in Detroit in 2006 when they won the ALCS before falling to La Russa’s Cardinals in the World Series. Boston hired him in August of 2015 after Detroit moved on from him.
Here is another odd tidbit: the Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS this year in seven games. Game Six took place at Miller Park, and Dodgers 1B/3B David Freese hit a home run in the first inning. He also hit a home run in the first inning in the last NLCS Game Six that took place at Miller Park, which was in 2011 when the Brewers fell to the Cardinals. The Cardinals would go on to win that World Series in seven games over the Texas Rangers, and Freese was named the World Series MVP, thanks in part to his heroics in Game 6 that included a game-tying triple when the Cardinals were down to their last strike and then a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th. That Game 6, possibly the greatest World Series game ever played, still haunts the dreams of Rangers fans.
Now, I doubt Freese will win the World Series MVP this year, but he could play a pivotal role. Since arriving in L.A. by way of the Pittsburgh Pirates before the deadline for postseason eligibility, Freese has platooned, mostly at first base with Max Muncy. Freese slashed .385/.489/.641 in 39 at-bats for the Dodgers in September before hitting .300 with 1 home run and 5 RBI’s so far in the postseason. Against the Red Sox, he can expect ample playing time, especially against lefty starting pitchers Chris Sale and David Price.
Sale will most likely start Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday despite having recently been hospitalized for a stomach illness. He only lasted four innings against the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS, which was on October 13. But in 6-and-1/3 innings pitched against the Yankees in the NLDS, Sale struck out 9 while walking only 2 and giving up 2 earned runs, good for a 2.84 ERA and a 1.105 WHIP.
Price, meanwhile, struggled against the Yankees, taking the loss in Game 2 when he surrendered 3 ER in just 1-and-2/3 innings pitched. But he rebounded against Houston, starting two games, pitching 10-and-2/3 innings combined, recording a 3.38 ERA and a 1.125 WHIP to go along with 13 strikeouts against 4 walks. The Red Sox hope he continues that trend, as he’s historically struggled in the playoffs. His career playoff line: 3-9, 5.04 ERA, 1.237 WHIP. This World Series marks his first since his rookie season with Tampa Bay when he closed out two games in a losing effort against the Philadelphia Phillies.
His struggles mirror those of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, a 3-time Cy Young Award winner and winner of the 2014 National League MVP Award, has been beset by injuries the past couple of seasons, including this year, when he was limited to 26 starts, the second least in his career, and the least he’s made since his rookie season in 2008. But he’s always struggled in the postseason, with his career playoff ERA at 4.09, which is over 1-and-1/2 runs higher than his career regular season ERA.
He pitched well against the Braves in this year’s NLDS, though, going 8 shutout innings in a winning effort, despite striking out only 3 batters. In the pennant against the Brewers, he made three appearances, including closing out the Dodgers’ 5-1 victory in Game 7. Kershaw struck out Jesus Aguilar and Mike Moustakas swinging to end the game and series.
For the series as a whole, southpaw starting pitchers will regularly take the mound. Down to a four-man playoff rotation, the Red Sox will go Sale, then Price, and then two righties in Nathan Eovaldi followed by Rick Porcello. The Dodgers will counter with three lefties and one righty, going Kershaw, LHP Hyun-jin Ryu, RHP (and rookie) Walker Buehler, and ending with LHP Rich Hill.
The NLCS MVP went to Cody Bellinger, who received the honor more for his big plays than for his overall play. (He slashed .200/.231/.360 with 1 home run and 4 RBI’s.) In making the World Series for the second time in his second season, Bellinger extends his family’s World Series appearance streak to six appearances in six years. His father, Clay, played for the Yankees between 1999-2001 and played with the Anaheim Angels in 2002–meaning, of course, the teams for which he played made the World Series every season in which he had at least one Major League at-bat.
Three of those teams won the World Series.
The younger Bellinger figures to have more of an impact that his father, however. And he’ll need to step it up. Despite winning the NLCS MVP, he’s struggled throughout the 2018 playoffs, having gone without a hit against the Braves in the divisional round before going 5-for-25 against the Brewers.
The top three Dodgers regular hitters in the NLCS, according to OPS, were Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, and Manny Machado. Each of those three will be in every game against the Red Sox, barring injury, and will need to continue their hot streaks in order for the Dodgers to have a chance.
Machado will also have to keep a cool head, too. He became immersed in several controversies against the Brewers, from clipping Aguilar on his way to first base to failing to hustle out a ground ball. Plus, he’s got a history of beef with Boston, stemming to his days as the face of the Baltimore Orioles. Last year, Machado slid hard into second base, taking out the longtime second-baseman of the Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia, who then missed the next several games. Red Sox pitchers Matt Barnes and Sale retaliated by throwing at Machado’s head and behind his knees, respectively.
Surely Machado remembers (and surely Barnes and Sale, both of whom remain Red Sox, do, too). For his career, he’s slashed against the Red Sox .277/.321/.475 for a .796 OPS, including 16 home runs and 52 RBI’s. He’s only hit more home runs against the Yankees.
For the Red Sox, they’ll be looking to their sluggers to continue to lead the way. CF Jackie Bradley Jr. won the ALCS MVP thanks to his 9 RBI’s (and despite his .200 batting average) against Houston, while DH J.D. Martinez put up an .909 OPS. RF and MVP-candidate Mookie Betts slacked, though, hitting only .217 and driving in one run.
Mostly, the Red Sox have cruised through the playoffs, going 7-2 against the Yankees and Astros, including winning the last four games against Houston.
The Dodgers have had the tougher road, only clinching a postseason berth in the final week before battling the Rockies in a one-game playoff for the NL West crown. After winning that game, they handled the Braves easily enough, 3-1, before getting taken the distance by the Brewers.
It seems like the Dodgers are facing more pressure to win, though of course Boston has its fair share. But the Dodgers have made the postseason six years in a row now with zero championships to show for it. The new ownership, whose face is L.A. favorite Magic Johnson, bought the team in 2012, and continually invests boatloads of cash into the roster. Don Mattingly was the manager when Johnson & Co. took over, and despite his winning three consecutive NL West titles, he was fired after the Dodgers faltered in the NLDS in 2015.
Could the same fate befall Dave Roberts? This is his third season, and despite three trips to the NLCS and winning it twice, his job may be in (slight) danger should the Dodgers fall to the Red Sox. After all, as mentioned, it took until Game 163 for the Dodgers to win the West this year, and the team’s record of 92-71 represents a 12-game falloff from last year’s 104-win team.
Roberts really only needs to look across the diamond in Game 1 to see how seriously big market teams take winning on a yearly basis. The Red Sox replaced John Farrell, who was the manager of their 2013 World Series Championship team and who went 432-378 in five seasons, after the team fell in the ALDS last year. And then the team responded under new manager Alex Cora, winning a league best 108 games before steamrolling the Yankees and defending-champion Astros to get to the World Series.
This World Series is a dream come true for the folks atop Major League Baseball, like Commissioner Rob Manfred, and for the casual baseball fan. It boasts two of the three biggest markets in the league and is a true West Coast vs East Coast battle. It boasts two historical teams looking to start new dynasties. It boasts big names for each team–Machado, Kershaw, Puig, and closer Kenley Jansen for the Dodgers; Sale, Price, Martinez, Betts, and closer Craig Kimbrel for the Red Sox.
And it pits two evenly-matched teams against one another.
In the end, I’m going with the team I’ve twice picked against so far this postseason, the team that’s not only proved me wrong at every turn, but done so in an emphatic fashion. The Boston Red Sox won 108 regular season games for numerous reasons: a deep rotation, a solid bullpen, a dynamic offense, and a manager who knows how to handle a ballgame.
Though the Dodgers won fewer games than the Yankees and the Astros in 2018, this is the most formidable opponent the Red Sox have yet encountered, for the Dodgers understand better than any other team how hard it is to get back to the World Series, especially after a loss. The Dodgers should look to the 2015 Kansas City Royals for inspiration: that squad, led by Edgar Frederick Yost III (a/k/a Ned), defeated the New York Mets in the World Series after falling to the Giants the previous October.
Still, riding the arms of Sale and Price, the bats of Bradley Jr., Betts, and Martinez, the cool savvy and calm intellect of Cora, the Red Sox will prevail. They last won the World Series in Farrell’s first year at the helm, and will do so again in Cora’s first year in charge.
In 1916, the Red Sox defeated the Robins in five games.
In 2018, the Red Sox will defeat the Dodgers in six games.
As far as what our other writers here at Fourth Quarter Sports think, check it out:
Joel Deering: Red Sox in 7.
Kevin Dannaher: Red Sox in 5.
How do you think this World Series will unfold? Let us know in the comments!