The Houston Astros confirmed their place in the World Series on Saturday night. They were taken to Game Seven by the New York Yankees, but turned around a 3-2 deficit to win the series. After a devastating few months for the city, this postseason run has been a timely, uplifting story.
They will face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won the National League West for the fifth straight year. The Dodgers had a historic regular season, and have lost a grand total of one game on their playoff route to the Fall Classic.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were seen off with consummate ease, while the world champion Chicago Cubs could not muster significant offence. The Dodgers have been the favourites to win the World Series for much of this season, and are likely to welcome back 2016 Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager.
Each team has ridden superb starting pitching to win their respective pennants. Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw have been magnificent, while Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel have been more than adept in the role of supporting cast. Kershaw, Verlander, McCullers and Darvish are all under 1.00 on WHIP.
The Astros went all out by bringing Verlander in from the Detroit Tigers, and the future Hall of Famer has delivered emphatically. It would do the others a great disservice to suggest this series is about Verlander versus Kershaw, but, as they both push for their first World Series titles, their performances will be key.
Kershaw’s postseason reputation has been massively improved this October, but he must deliver against the Astros to cement that.
Despite the excellence of the starters – including McCullers’ four-inning Game Seven save – the Astros’ team ERA of 3.79 is the fifth best this postseason. That is largely down to their bullpen. The Dodgers, meanwhile, boast a ludicrous 2.28 team ERA. This is perhaps predictable with one team having gone 7-4 and the other 7-1, but it could prove to be pivotal.
Kenley Jansen leads a shutdown Dodgers ‘pen. The difficulties of late in the year are long forgotten, and Dave Roberts’ use of Kenta Maeda gives a necessary bridge to the late inning arms in the unlikely event of the starter struggling.
Contrastingly, the Astros’ bullpen has been shaky. Ken Giles has been uncomfortable away from Houston, but that is frustratingly only the beginning of their problems. Inexperience has been an issue, and there are no trusted arms that A.J. Hinch will turn to with Seager, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner up.
If this series were to become a battle of the bullpens, there is no doubting that Los Angeles win, and win convincingly. That remains unlikely with the depth and form of their rotations, however. The Astros’ starters are under extra pressure – which you hardly need in the World Series – to go deep into games with the obvious fragilities of their relief group.
The other worry for the winners of the American League pennant was the way their offence was shutdown by the Yankees. Until their offence returned for Games Six and Seven, the Astros had scored nine runs in five games. Superb Yankee pitching was largely responsible, but they must find a way to manufacture runs against the Dodgers if they find themselves in a similar situation.
These are two deep line-ups, though. The Astros are in need of contribution from the bottom of their order, while the Dodgers will be hoping that Turner and others stay as hot as they were against the Cubs.
Jose Altuve has been himself, but Houston desperately need consistency from George Springer, Carlos Correa and Josh Reddick – who had a torrid time against New York. Their .731 OPS is far better than most this October, but still far short of the Dodgers’ .872.
We have two 100-win teams in the World Series, we have two deep, dominant rotations, and we have two frightening offences. Houston and Los Angeles meeting in the Fall Classic is no shock, but the Astros’ Game Six and Seven heroics at Minute Maid Park give them necessary momentum to face the Dodgers juggernaut.
This series will go deep. However, Keuchel faces Kershaw at Dodger Stadium in Game One, and – if the Astros can snatch a win – they will have a very good chance of heading back home with a 2-0 lead with Verlander pitching Game Two.
In a year of record-breaking home run hitting across the majors, and strong offensive numbers from these two teams, it is pitching that will define the World Series. The winner of the last game of 2017 will be the team whose starters can go deepest into games, and whose relievers can turn quality starts into a step towards a ring.
The Dodgers have warranted their status as favourites for much of this year, but their 13/20 price is on the short side. In a series so tough to call, the Astros are the value pick after their heroics to win the pennant.
TIP: Houston Astros to win @ 5/4
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*