By Thomas Zinzarella ’21
The Boston Red Sox boast the best record in baseball and have found their way back into the World Series after defeating the defending champions, the Houston Astros. They are going up against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were defeated by the Astros in seven games last year in the World Series and look to collect their first title since 1988. The Red Sox have won two World Series, in 2007 and 2013, since breaking the 86-year-old Curse of the Bambino in 2004. The Sox look to add another ring into the collection under the leadership of first-year manager Alex Cora.
Both teams have their strengths. The Dodgers possess a strong rotation and bullpen. Lead by three-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have a trio of pitchers in rookie Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Buehler started game seven of the NLCS where he threw 4.2 innings and only allowed six hits, one earned run and struck out seven. The Dodgers pitchers are ranked near the top in most categories in the National League, they have the best ERA in the National League with 3.38, first in strikeouts and ranked second in BAA with hitters only hitting .230.
The Dodgers are also one of the leading analytics teams in the MLB, and they love defensive shifting. Manager Dave Roberts loves to use hitters off his bench in crucial situations, especially with the likes of right-hander David Freese, who can combat the Sox lefties Chris Sale and David Price. Freese was the hero in the St. Louis Cardinals’ run to a World Series win over the Texas Rangers in 2011.
The Red Sox have one of the best lineups top to bottom. The Red Sox place near the top in offensive ranks in the American League. The Sox are first in runs per game, average, on-base percentage, and slugging. There may not be any better hitters in the league than Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, and Andrew Benintendi does not get enough credit with his glove and at-bats. According to FanGraphs, Benintendi ranks 31st in the league for contact percentage at 86.5 percent, and his ability to make contact with tough pitches out of the zone and extending at-bats is even better at 75.6 percent putting him at 14th in the league. A few key pieces in the lineup are Jackie Bradley Jr. and Steve Pearce. Pearce loves left-handed pitching so expect him to be in the lineup against Kershaw and other LHPs. This year, Pearce hit .304 and had a .959 on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) against LHPs compared to .265 AVG and .828 OPS against righties. Jackie Bradley, Jr. is only 5-27 this postseason. He has come up with some clutch hits in key moments that won the Red Sox a few games. In the ALCS, his OPS was over 1.000 because two of his three hits were home runs and the other was a double. If Pearce and JBJ can get it going in the World Series, this lineup is dangerous and hard to stop. We already saw the Red Sox put up 16 runs against the New York Yankees on the road back in the American League Division Series.
The key for the Dodgers is to get to the Red Sox pitching early and get to the bullpen. The pitching has been unreliable in September and thus far in the postseason with only a few viable options. Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel has struggled mightily this postseason. In 6.1 innings pitched this year, he has allowed six hits, five earned runs, and six walks. His ERA is just under eight with 7.71 and his WHIP at 1.89. These are unusual numbers from your closer, who is typically one of the better relievers on the team, so it will be interesting to see how Alex Cora will use Kimbrel in this series.
The Red Sox want to score early and score often. Teams this postseason who score first are 21-6. The Dodgers bullpen this postseason has been lights out. In the NLCS against the Brewers, the bullpen had a 1.45 ERA with hitters only hitting .180 off them. Kenley Jansen solidifies the back end of this bullpen; he has allowed no runs this postseason with ten strikeouts in 6.2 IP.