What to make of the 2018 edition of Major League Baseball’s World Series? On one side, you have the Boston Red Sox and their 108-win season, and on the other, you have the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that lost Game 7 of the Series in 2017. So who will win this time around?
Esteemed statistical analysis suggests the Red Sox have a 60 percent chance to win the World Series. Yet this heavily skewed towards regular-season performances, and the Dodgers suffered a lot of injuries this year on their way to a six-straight National League West Division title. For example, team MVP Justin Turner missed 59 games with a wrist injury, and legendary starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw managed only 26 starts.
So, you can throw the regular-season results out, somewhat. Both teams posted comparable run differentials (plus-1.4 runs per game for Boston, plus-1.2 runs per game for L.A.), and the Red Sox played an easier schedule, considering the numerous bad teams in the American League this year. Boston glided to 108 wins thanks to a 27-5 record against the three last-place finishers (Baltimore, Kansas City, and Texas) in the AL divisions, not to mention a 15-4 mark against the mediocre Toronto Blue Jays.
That’s a 42-9 record against some seriously bad teams. The last-place NL division teams (Miami, Cincinnati, and San Diego) were better than the bottom feeders in the AL, and the Dodgers’ mark against those teams (17-15) reflects the difference between L.A.’s regular-season record (92-71) and Boston’s win total. Combine the run-differential and the strength-of-schedule factors here, and it’s an even match on paper.
In fact, Baseball Prospectus has the Dodgers ranked higher than the Red Sox in terms of third-order win percentage, based on underlying statistics and adjusted for opponent quality. Both teams beat quality opponents to get to the World Series, however, and in all reality, you could flip a coin 100 times and not get a definitive winner here.
But we have to pick one, right? That’s the nature of the beast today. Also, as Babe Ruth proved once, you can be the better team and still lose the Series. So this is the way we see it going down:
- Game 1 features two amazing left-handed starters in Kershaw and Boston’s Chris Sale. It is difficult to see the Red Sox losing this game at home, even if Kershaw is on his game. Visiting lefties don’t like the Green Monster, after all. Boston wins.
- Game 2 will be exciting for Boston, since David Price—another lefty, although not in the class of Sale—will be starting. He pitched magnificently on the road in Houston last week to clinch the AL pennant for Boston. But his career postseason record (3-9, 5.04 ERA) is not good. His opposite, lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu has a little better history (3.56 career playoff ERA), and won’t be fazed by the moment at all. Los Angeles wins.
- Game 3 moves to Los Angeles, and this is where the Dodgers’ pitching depth takes over the series. The teams have not announced starters, yet, but you can bet it will be Boston’s Rick Porcello against L.A. rookie Walker Buehler. That favors the Dodgers, especially at home. In the postseason so far, the Los Angeles pitchers have posted an ERA a full run lower than Boston’s pitchers. Porcello won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award with the Red Sox, but he’s been mediocre since then (28-24, 4.48 ERA). Buehler may be young, but he has a 4.1-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio this October. He’s very good. Los Angeles wins.
- Game 4 exposes one of the Boston flaws. The Red Sox don’t really have a reliable starter for this, so they either bring back on Sale on short rest or start someone they do not expect to get a lot of innings out. Meanwhile, Los Angeles can choose between Rich Hill (11-5, 3.66 ERA) or Alex Wood (9-7, 3.68 ERA). Both are lefties and have flashed moments of brilliance in the last few seasons. Boston can counter with Sale or young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez (13-5, 3.82 ERA), who is good when healthy. He made just 23 starts this year, and this would be a big moment for him. Look for the Dodgers to ride their own home-field momentum here for another victory. Los Angeles wins.
- Game 5 is the final contest in Southern California, and it should feature a rematch of the first game between Kershaw and Sale. With a chance to clinch the World Series on home turf, this is where last year’s experience carries the Dodgers to their first championship since 1988. This will be the crowning moment of Kershaw’s brilliant career, as he pitches well enough to get the win. He won’t be on the mound when it’s all over, but he will earn the World Series MVP award nonetheless—assuming one of his teammates doesn’t hit .500 for the series, of course. That can happen. Los Angeles wins.
The reality is both teams have great offenses capable of scoring a lot of runs. The Red Sox have home-field advantage, but the Dodgers have better pitching. Boston has better defense, which can help in a place like Fenway Park, but in Dodger Stadium, it won’t matter as much with all the foul territory and the spacious outfield. It comes down to the fact that L.A. is on a mission here: Losing Game 7 in Houston last year remains a thorn in the Dodgers’ side, and the team will not let the possibility of a repeat experience happen. It’s a veteran team full of leaders that have been here before, and the Red Sox cannot say the same, since they don’t have much left from their 2013 World Series title roster.
Dodgers in five, and that will surprise a lot of people. Yet there is so much precedent for it happening in World Series history.