Last Updated: 2018-10-21
The Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers will play for the Commissioner’s Trophy in the 2018 World Series. Boston’s road was decidedly easier than the path for Los Angeles, but it’s fair to say that the two best teams in baseball are playing in the Fall Classic.
Despite my stance on the Astros, after how that series played out and after how dominant the Red Sox have been through their playoff run, I’ve been apologizing and looking to make amends because Boston certainly stands out above the other AL contenders. Baseball’s playoffs are generally known for variance and some surprising results, but nothing has been all that surprising so far.
The Dodgers lost the 2017 World Series after not appearing in the championship round since 1988. The last team to lose the World Series and then reappear in the Fall Classic the following year was the 2015 Kansas City Royals and they have a flag that sways in the breeze at Kauffman Stadium to signal how that series wound up. Before that, the last team to lose the World Series and go back and win the next year was the 1989 Oakland A’s.
The Red Sox went about 265 years without a World Series due to the Curse of the Bambino. Okay, so it was actually only 86 years, but it basically spanned two World Wars and several generations. Now the Red Sox are in search of their third World Series win since 2004. Since the LCS was added in 1969, only three first-year managers have won the ultimate prize and none have done it since Bob Brenly in 2001. With how cool, calm, collected, and correct Alex Cora has been in these playoffs, it is hardly a surprise that he is here and he could very well become the fourth.
This had no bearing whatsoever in the ALCS, as the Red Sox eliminated the Astros in five games, but this was a Boston team that was a regular season overachiever. They were +9 wins in BaseRuns, which is a context-neutral standings metric. It takes individual outcomes for each plate appearance offensively and defensively and spits out a record based on those results. Basically, it eliminates things like extreme luck with runners in scoring position or a lack thereof on the pitching side.
The Red Sox were first in wOBA and second in wRC+ with runners in scoring position at .365 and 128, respectively, which means that they were 28 percent above league average in that split. They had the eighth-lowest wOBA against as a pitching staff in those spots.
The Dodgers were actually -9 in BaseRuns, as they should have played more like a 101-62 team than a 92-71 team. Even though the Dodgers were third in wOBA against with RISP, they were 15th offensively in wOBA and only posted a 103 wRC+.
In Boston’s defense, they led the league in plate appearances with RISP with 1,751. The Dodgers were sixth with 1,610. To some degree, it stands to reason that better offensive teams will do better in those high-leverage spots, but BaseRuns also eliminates sequencing luck. The sequence HR-1B-1B-K-K-GO (groundout) has the same outcomes as 1B-1B-K-K-HR-GO, but the first sequence leads to only one run and the second sequence leads to three runs.
In Third Order Win Percentage, Boston played more like a 99-63 team than a 108-54. The Dodgers were more like a 105-58 team. They were unlucky during the season.
Does all of that matter in a best-of-seven series? Maybe not, but I would think that we see Dodgers money on the series price because of some of these factors. Baseball betting markets are heavily driven by analytics. There are a lot of analytics that point to the Dodgers being the league’s biggest underachiever and Boston being one of its biggest overachievers.
Again, I’m just providing the information here, so don’t @ me or send me hate mail.
This series starts on Tuesday night. The Red Sox have been installed as a -130 favorite, as they have home field advantage and have beaten the Yankees and Astros to get here. The Dodgers beat the Braves and Brewers and will have to start a very long way from home.
Here is the schedule and the pitching probables for the series:
Game 1 @ BOS: Tuesday October 23, 8:09 p.m. ET (Kershaw vs. Sale)
Game 2 @ BOS: Wednesday October 24, 8:09 p.m. ET (Ryu vs. Price)
Game 3 @ LAD: Friday October 26, 8:09 p.m. ET (Eovaldi vs. Buehler)
Game 4 @ LAD: Saturday October 27, 8:09 p.m. ET (Porcello vs. Hill)
Game 5 @ LAD: Sunday October 28, 8:15 p.m. ET (Sale vs. Kershaw)*
Game 6 @ BOS: Tuesday October 30, 8:09 p.m. ET (Ryu vs. Price)*
Game 7 @ BOS: Wednesday October 31, 8:09 p.m. ET (Buehler vs. Eovaldi)*
There shouldn’t be any surprises here with the pitching probables. The Dodgers will get to run three lefties at a Boston lineup that was clearly superior against righties, but less so against lefties. Walker Buehler pitched the decisive Game 7 in the NLCS, so I presume he’d be tabbed if the series required a winner-take-all game. The middle games are where it could get interesting, but I can’t see Boston pushing Chris Sale out of his comfort zone too much.
One thing that we could see is that starters could work innings on their side days to help out the bullpens. It is worth pointing out that the Dodgers have played two more games than the Red Sox and those were very high-stress games in the NLCS that did push the bullpen a little bit harder.
These are both excellent offenses. The Dodgers posted a .333 wOBA with a 111 wRC+ and the Red Sox posted a league-leading .340 wOBA with a 110 wRC+. wRC+ is adjusted for park factor, which is why the Dodgers fared a bit better. The Red Sox do it the old-fashioned way in some respects with more contact, more hits, and more doubles. The Dodgers do it with walks. Their 10.2 percent BB% was the best in baseball. Boston’s 9.0 percent BB% still solidly ranked ninth.
Boston is more aggressive on the basepaths, but we have seen the Dodgers take some extra bases in the postseason. Los Angeles hit 235 home runs to Boston’s 208, so that could prove to be a big factor in the series.
Performance against lefties could also be a big factor in this series. The Dodgers will run out three southpaw starters and the Red Sox will use two. The Dodgers, like the Red Sox, had pronounced platoon splits. Los Angeles was 14th in wOBA at .317 with a 101 wRC+ against lefties. Boston was 18th at .313 with a 92 wRC+. Both sides struggles in that split, so that could be the deciding factor. Whichever team hits lefties better could very well be lifting that trophy.
I don’t have much more than that to say here because these two offenses are quite equal in terms of production and upside. Keep in mind that the Dodgers added guys like Manny Machado and Brian Dozier as the season went along. Boston didn’t really bolster the offense a ton. Ian Kinsler played well as a Trade Deadline acquisition and was a defensive upgrade at second base, but the Red Sox have basically been this offense throughout the season.
One thing that is worth pointing out is that the Red Sox have continued that regular season overachievement in the playoffs. Boston is slashing .370/.495/.658 with RISP through nine playoff games. The Dodgers are in the World Series despite hitting just .190/.330/.333 with RISP in their 11 postseason affairs. While these sample sizes are far too small to be significant, you do have to give some credit to the Dodgers for navigating the first two rounds while having very little success in their most important plate appearances. As for the Red Sox, it’s easy to see why they are where they are.
Another important element for the Dodgers in this series is that they will get to utilize a DH. That allows the Dodgers to maximize their defense in Games 1 and 2, and if we need them, Games 6 and 7. The Dodgers are extremely deep, so adding an extra bat to the lineup is an enormous upgrade. Matt Kemp is terrible defensively, so he only has 14 at bats so far in the postseason. Kemp, who slashed .273/.320/.508 against lefties with a .350 wOBA and a 124 wRC+, will play Games 1 and 2 against lefties in Chris Sale and David Price. That may loom large, especially in terms of taking away home field advantage.
I don’t think either lineup has a big edge in this series. The Dodgers are a very solid defensive team when Kemp isn’t patrolling the outfield, which is relevant with Boston’s contact-oriented offense. The Red Sox were in the middle of the pack in BB% during the regular season, but the biggest problem children that will see time in this series are Craig Kimbrel, who makes up for it with a 39 percent K%, and Matt Barnes, who makes up for it with a 36.2 percent K%.
Both offenses have deep lineups and the ability to score runs in bunches. The inclusion of so many left-handed starters in this series may have me leaning a little bit towards unders overall. The Red Sox only played eight games during the season with a total of 8 or less and a left-handed starter on the mound for the opposition. They were 4-4 in those games with the over at 5-3. One of those games was Game 1 of the ALDS and it was a 5-4 win.
There don’t seem to be any huge gaps here either. David Price spent his Game 5 start slaying playoff demons and Clayton Kershaw has done that a couple of times already in these playoffs. By winning in five games over the Astros, the Red Sox were able to give Chris Sale some much needed time off after he was hospitalized for an infection.
Nate Eovaldi allowing just three runs on 12 hits over 14.1 innings of work in the playoffs is honestly something that I didn’t see coming, but Walker Buehler is pretty strong in his own right for the Dodgers. Rick Porcello and Rich Hill seem to be on an even plane.
Overall, the starters seem to match up pretty well. I still have concerns about Chris Sale with his workload leading up to the playoffs and now the extended layoff, but he’s a pretty special talent, so it’s hard to be too concerned. At least not to the point where I would swing the balance of starting pitcher power in this series to the Dodgers.
The one weakness on the starting pitching side may belong to the Dodgers in Hyun-Jin Ryu. Ryu has 15 strikeouts in 14.1 innings of work, but he’s had some sequencing and command issues as the playoffs have gone along. He was battered in Game 6, but he’ll have every chance to bounce back. Of course, we could also point to Price’s Game 5 start and call that an anomaly. Given his previous playoff performances, it is.
Here’s the thing about pitching in the playoffs, though. The sample sizes are so insignificant. We can’t make a lot of definitive determinations because the playoffs are such a unique beast. I wouldn’t be comfortable doing that with any pitcher. The narratives that are out there may affect pitchers mentally, but all of these guys are world-class. Teams that make it this far don’t have bad pitchers.
Elite closers are on both sides. The Red Sox bullpen may be a bit fortunate so far, though. Craig Kimbrel has not looked particularly sharp and he is not a multiple inning guy. Ryan Brasier has walked four in his seven innings to go along with six strikeotus. Heath Hembree has issued four walks in 3.2 innings. Matt Barnes has only allowed one hit, and it left the yard, but he’s walked five in 6.1 innings. Eduardo Rodriguez hasn’t been much of an option.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have gotten outstanding relief work for the most part. Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda have had occasional hiccups, but Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez, Dylan Floro, and Caleb Ferguson haven’t allowed a run with six appearances each. Ryan Madson has been pretty solid overall. Julio Urias is a huge weapon in high leverage.
This is where the Dodgers have the edge. Their bullpen is deeper and better built for the playoffs in my humble opinion. Furthermore, the walk issues for the Red Sox are even more problematic against the most patient lineup in baseball.
Advantage: Los Angeles
The Dodgers have the better bullpen. They have a closer that can go two innings if need be and not look like a completely different guy. The starting rotations are very similar, though I do think Buehler and Hill have a higher upside than Eovaldi and Porcello.
You’ll notice that I haven’t gone as deep statistically in this series as I have in other matchups. There aren’t a lot of differences between the two teams that require that type of deep dive as far as I’m concerned. Also, in small sample sizes like the playoffs, it’s hard for a lot of things to be significant.
Both managers are solid. Dave Roberts has done well for the Dodgers and Alex Cora has been spectacular for the Red Sox. I’ve been very impressed with his feel for the game and with the decisions that he has made.
These are two fantastic defensive teams, especially that Boston outfield defense. It is truly exceptional.
I do think that the travel scenario benefits the Red Sox a bit. Because MLB needs to get the East Coast viewers, all of the games in Los Angeles are 5 p.m. starts out there. The Red Sox can remain on their regular schedule. The Dodgers don’t have that luxury. They also had to log additional miles making the return trip to Milwaukee for Games 6 and 7.
One thing that does work against the Red Sox is that they’ve been idle since October 18. They’ll have been off for five days before this series begins. The Dodgers had to stay sharp and keep playing games up until the 20th. It’s only two days, but that has to feel like an eternity when waiting for the biggest series of your lives. As a result, I do like the Dodgers a bit in Game 1, especially with Kershaw pitching on his side day to stay sharp.
That has a direct impact on my pick for the series.
Pick: Los Angeles in 6
The Dodgers should be able to take home field advantage away in Game 1 as far as I’m concerned. That will dramatically alter the course of this series. It’s hard to find too many faults or flaws with either one of these teams. I do think the difference is ultimately that Boston bullpen and the control problems that it has shown so far.
If the Red Sox keep getting hits in big spots like they have since the end of March, they will be tough to beat, so this isn’t the strongest of plays. I just think that the Dodgers can take HFA away with a Game 1 win against a team that had a lot of time to sit around and try to stay sharp. That will shift the dynamics in this series and give the Dodgers the upper hand.
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