The 2017 World Series represents a rare October treat for baseball fans by featuring a meeting between two legitimate powerhouses. The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers respectively won 101 and 104 games, which sets up the first Fall Classic with two 100-game winners since 1970. It’s also the first playoff series in any round featuring two 100-win teams in exactly 40 years (1977 ALCS).
So, how do these World Series heavyweights stack up against one another? Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the Astros and Dodgers before the showdown gets going Tuesday night.
Brian McCann’s bat slumped a bit during his first injury-shortened season in Houston, but he’s proven invaluable to the Astros and has handled their staff well. He’d struggled this October, but broke out late in the ALCS and iced Houston’s pennant win with a two-run double (not to mention that great tag at the plate). For the Dodgers, young Austin Barnes wrested control away from Yasmani Grandal and has been the primary backstop in the postseason. Barnes’ defensive abilities at this point in his career are better than what McCann brings, though his superior arm may not be a huge factor since the Astros haven’t run much in these playoffs. Edge: Astros
Yuli Gurriel, the Astros’ 33-year-old Cuban rookie, has been a revelation in his first MLB postseason, particularly during the ALDS. He’s shown solid defensive abilities and came up with a few big hits in both series to date. But Yuli’s no match for the Dodgers’ super-rookie at first base, Cody Bellinger, who powers the Dodgers’ engine and looks primed to etch himself into October lore. Edge: Dodgers
The Dodgers are a well-oiled machine, but could probably benefit from some WD-40 at the keystone position. Logan Forsythe has been Dave Roberts’ starter at second in place of struggling veteran Chase Utley, but was mostly a non-factor in the NLCS. Utley, meanwhile, has been nailed to the bench and doesn’t have a hit this postseason. Houston will start Jose Altuve, the likely AL MVP. Enough said. Edge: Astros
NLCS co-MVP Justin Turner is now a big part of Dodgers playoff history and has looked like a man on a mission this October, simply raking against any pitcher who dares throw a baseball his way. But Houston’s not lacking by sending Alex Bregman to the hot corner every night, either. While the youngster has struggled at the plate this postseason, his defense is critical for the Astros, as evidenced by his incredible throw to nail Greg Bird at the plate on Saturday. Bregman will have to work hard to reach Turner’s level of production in this series – is he up for the task? Edge: Dodgers
The marquee positional matchup of this series is right here – that is, if Corey Seager’s back holds up. Seager is expected to return after missing all of the NLCS, and although they survived against the Cubs without him, the Dodgers will need his all-around play in this series. Should Seager go down, however, NLCS co-MVP Chris Taylor proved to be more than a capable replacement if that’s where he’s asked to play. Carlos Correa, meanwhile, had a strong ALCS and more of the same should be expected in the World Series, though a key question is whether he’ll start hitting away from Houston. Correa’s raked at Minute Maid Park, but went just 2-for-12 with four strikeouts and no RBIs in the three ALCS games at Yankee Stadium – and now the Dodgers have home-field advantage. Edge: Even if Seager’s healthy, Astros if he’s not
We know Yasiel Puig will bring his bat-licking, tongue-wagging, Gold Glove-caliber defense to the World Series stage in right field, but who the Dodgers send out to left and center could depend on that night’s matchup, among other things. If Seager’s healthy, then super-sub Taylor would likely get center field, while Enrique Hernandez – another super-sub – would take left given Curtis Granderson’s struggles. Andre Ethier is another left-field option against the Astros’ right-handed starters.
As for Houston, George Springer and his leaping grabs in center are flanked by Gold Glover (and ex-Dodger) Josh Reddick in right, and utility man Marwin Gonzalez in left. All three have struggled at the plate, while Reddick notably snapped his playoff-long 0-fer with a single on Saturday. One of them will absolutely have to get their bat going for Houston in this series. There are question marks on both sides, and depending on who plays when, this matchup could tilt in either direction. Edge: Even
Carlos Beltran may be an Astros postseason legend forever thanks to 2004, but the 2017 version is 40 years old and hitting .176 in the playoffs as their DH. The odds are that powerful Evan Gattis will get the nod here when the series shifts to Houston and a DH is required. What the Dodgers will do for the American League games isn’t yet clear, but it’s possible Seager could take the DH slot at Minute Maid to help his ailing back; that decision would naturally lead to all kinds of movement position-wise in the Dodgers’ lineup. Ethier would be another candidate to DH if Seager can play the field, as would Joc Pederson if he makes the roster. Edge: Dodgers
As we’ve already seen, the Dodgers’ bench corps can depend on what starting lineup is submitted before the first pitch. The only sure bets are backup catcher Grandal, plus struggling veterans Utley and Granderson who’ve combined for exactly one postseason hit. Ethier, Pederson, Hernandez, or even Charlie Culberson (if he makes the roster) could also come off the bench on a given night. The Astros’ slugger off the bench at Dodger Stadium will be Gattis, who has no spot in the lineup without the DH and should provide thump for one at-bat per night in Los Angeles. Beltran and the lure of his postseasons past will also be available – along with question marks due to his decline this year – as will Cameron Maybin, who struggled in his one ALCS start. Derek Fisher, a likely pinch-running option, and third catcher Juan Centeno are non-factors. Unlike the Dodgers with Roberts’ penchant for substitutions, the Astros tend to rely heavily on their starting nine, although playing four games under NL rules could change that. Edge: Dodgers
Let’s get this out of the way: Clayton Kershaw is a built-in advantage. To have the best pitcher of this generation finally reach the World Series is a special treat, and Kershaw’s matchup against fellow Cy Young-winning southpaw Dallas Keuchel will be especially intriguing. Los Angeles has more depth in its rotation behind Kershaw in lefties Rich Hill and Alex Wood, plus Yu Darvish – a familiar foe for the Astros. Dodgers’ starters owned the league’s third-lowest FIP (3.74) during the regular season, making for an intriguing battle with an Astros lineup that posted an MLB-best 121 wRC+. Houston has that killer tandem of Keuchel and ALCS MVP Justin Verlander at the front end, but is weaker in the No. 3 and 4 spots. Can Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers both repeat what they did in Game 7 of the ALCS? Even if the Astros do force Los Angeles to beat Keuchel and/or Verlander at least once, the other guys will help decide this series. Edge: Dodgers
It’s hard to argue with results. Kenley Jansen has been all but unhittable out of the Dodgers’ bullpen, and same goes for Brandon Morrow. Meanwhile, Kenta Maeda has been a revelation in the middle innings. In fact, during the NLCS the Dodgers’ bullpen allowed a total of zero runs to score. As both the Cubs and Diamondbacks discovered, that kind of relief makes it very hard to beat this team in a playoff series. The Astros have some decent arms in their bullpen, but as a unit they simply pale in comparison. Edge: Dodgers
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)