The marathon Major League Baseball season is near its end.
Only two teams remain in pursuit of baseball’s crown jewel.
Here are a few things to look for as the Los Angeles Dodgers face off against the Houston Astros.
Despite a late-season tear by the Cleveland Indians, the Dodgers and Astros were consistently the two best teams in baseball all season long, posting 104 and 101 wins respectively.
As a result of attaining the best record in baseball, the Dodgers will have homefield advantage. Had the MLB used last year’s rules—where the league that wins the All-Star Game gets homefield advantage—the Astros would’ve received the coveted fourth home game.
The Astros needed every home game to advance past the New York Yankees in the ALCS, so the rule change could play a role.
Here are three key storylines to pay attention to in this year’s October Classic.
From The Sporting News:
1. Astros’ young lineup vs. Dodgers’ clutch hitting — Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is the headliner, putting together an MVP-caliber season while shrinking opposing pitchers’ strike zones.
He also added a power element to his arsenal. Altuve slumped a bit in the ALCS, but he was the catalyst behind the Astros’ comeback. If Altuve is hitting, Houston is in good hands.
However, if Altuve struggles to get things going against the Dodgers, someone else will have to step up. Much has been made regarding Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick’s leadership, but they haven’t been factors this postseason.
Instead, the Astros will rely on George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa to slug them to a World Series title. Correa batted .333 in the ALCS. He is ready for a breakout moment on the national stage.
The Dodgers are led by a myriad of potent bats, though few of them are obvious household names. Rookie Cody Bellinger, not even on the Dodgers’ roster to begin the season, emerged as one of MLB’s most lethal power hitters. Justin Turner was clutch against the Cubs, and Yasiel Puig has reigned in his emotions to produce at an elite level.
All eyes will be on Corey Seager heading into the World Series. Injury forced the All-Star shortstop off the NLCS roster, but manager Dave Roberts has expressed optimism about Seager’s return.
2. Rotation battles — Dallas Keuchel, who was available out of the bullpen Saturday for the Astros will likely start Game 1 against Clayton Kershaw. The two southpaws have legitimate swing-and-miss stuff, but Kershaw has continued his postseason struggles this year. Keuchel has been nearly flawless this postseason, minus a rough start in New York.
Once the dust settles on the aces, the Astros will send co-ace Justin Verlander to the mound. He is undefeated (9-0) in an Astros uniform since joining the club from the Tigers before the Aug. 31 trade deadline. Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock could also start for Houston.
Los Angeles’ postseason rotation has consisted of Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood. Darvish has allowed just two earned runs in 11 1/3 innings, while Hill has allowed three earned runs in nine innings. Runs may be hard to find in the World Series with both teams boasting deep rotations.
3. Bullpen edge — Both teams boast strong options out of the bullpen, but the Dodgers’ seemingly endless depth will be an advantage. Add in the fact that most of the guys L.A. will pull off the bench will be guys accustomed to relief pitching, and the Dodgers should feel confident late in games.
The Astros have options like McCullers and closer Ken Giles, who both possess electric stuff, but they are a bit thin in middle relief. It’s possible A.J. Hinch uses guys like Keuchel and Verlander in relief roles after making their starts, to prolong their influence on the series.
The difference in the series should be Clayton Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young winner is often untouchable in the regular season, but he’s inexplicably struggled in the playoffs.
If Kershaw isn’t at his best, the Astros have the lineup and the rotation to make the Dodgers pay.
Look for Kershaw to rise to the occasion and find his regular-season dominance.