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A clash of titans – World Series 2017

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After 162 games in the regular season – and over 100 wins each – and some hard-fought playoff series, we have our National League and American League pennant winners. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros are poised to face off in the 2017 World Series.

Shall we talk about it?

(Please note: By the time you read this, at least one game of the World Series will have already been played.)

It’s worth mentioning that this is the first Series matchup between two 100-win teams – Houston had 101, L.A. 104 – in almost half a century; the last time that happened was in the 1970 faceoff between the not-yet Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds and the Earl Weaver-led Baltimore Orioles.

We’re obviously talking about some history here, even leaving aside the specific histories of these two franchises. But since you asked …

This is only the second time that the Houston Astros have been to the World Series and their first as a member of the American League; their last (and only) championship shot came in 2005, before the team moved over from the National League. Alas, that Series ended in disappointment as Houston fell to the Chicago White Sox.

Meanwhile, while the Dodgers have a much richer postseason history in the grand scheme of things, it has been a tough few decades in Los Angeles. While they have made semi-regular playoff appearances in the interim, this team hasn’t won a World Series since their stories upset of the heavily-favored Oakland A’s back in 1988.

Basically, this means that a lengthy World Series drought is going to end. Either the Dodgers get their first championship in almost 30 years or the Astros who have gone twice as long (i.e. the entire history of their franchise) land their first one ever.

So who’s going to win?

Vegas has the Dodgers as favorites, which makes sense – Los Angeles was slightly better in the regular season and has had an easier path through the postseason; they lost just one of the eight games they played across the NLDS and NLCS and so have had a few days to rest and get their rotation lined up. The Astros, meanwhile, needed four games to beat the Red Sox and all seven to take down the Yankees; they’ve had half the rest the Dodgers have. Plus, L.A. has home field advantage. So Vegas favors the Dodgers. Fair enough. But who do I favor?

Short answer? The sports book would probably like to take my money.

Look, this Dodgers team has a lot going for it. They have the best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw, and while the lefty’s postseason performance hasn’t necessarily measured up to his regular season brilliance, he looked pretty darned capable against the Cubs in the NL Championship Series. He’s on regular rest and will be set to start three games if necessary, which is a HUGE advantage. The rest of the rotation, led by Yu Darvish and Rich Hill, is awfully strong as well.

And that bullpen. Holy crap. Closer Kenley Jansen had a season for the ages, but this group as a whole is throwing as well as any unit could possibly throw. They didn’t give up any earned runs in the NLCS. None. Zero. All while striking out 22 in 17 collective innings. And this is against a potent Cubs offense. Not as potent as the Astros, but plenty good.

And their offense is no slouch either. Presumptive NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger can mash. Chris Taylor’s OPS for the NLCS was over 1.200. We’ve all heard of the .300/.400/.500 slash line; for the series, Yasiel Puig was a hit shy of going .400/.500/.600. And all NL MVP candidate (and NLCS MVP winner) Justin Turner has done is rap a dozen hits and drive in a dozen runs in eight playoff games.

And yet …

Houston’s rotation has some star power of its own. Justin Verlander – a last-second addition to the Astros roster at the end of August – has been lights-out. The ALCS MVP, Verlander pitched two outstanding games, going all nine with just one run allowed in Game 2 and managing seven shutout innings in Game 6. Dallas Keuchel has been very good as well, and while Charlie Morton got touched up in Game 3, he righted the ship when it mattered most in the deciding game.

The Astros don’t have the bullpen strength that L.A. does; guys like closer Ken Giles and bridge guy Chris Devenski struggled in the ALCS after dominating regular seasons. However, manager A.J. Hinch may have inadvertently solved this issue when he brought in starting pitcher Lance McCullers to finish off Game 7. Four dominant innings later, the bullpen looks to be potentially less of an issue.

As for the bats, well, they might have had some issues against the Yankees, but this is a potent bunch. Diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve – easily my favorite MLB player, non-Red Sox division – has been raking all postseason; there’s no reason to think it tails off now. Carlos Correa and George Springer are next-level offensive talents; Correa has been great, but while Springer has been cold, I expect him to heat up. Ditto surprise star Marwin Gonzalez, who has struggled after a phenomenal regular season.

In the end, while my head says Los Angeles, I’m an American League guy in my heart of hearts. I love the passion and fire of this young, wildly talented Astros team. I love teeny-tiny Jose Altuve. Plus, I want the infamous 2014 Sports Illustrated cover predicting Houston’s win in the 2017 World Series to come true. And so I follow my heart.

Astros in six.

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