There’s a fresh-as-a-daisy smell to the World Series that begins tonight.
Houston, which has only one World Series appearance in its history, takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who haven’t been a participant in a Kansas City Royals-like 29 years.
The teams I picked at the start of the season — Cleveland and the Chicago Cubs — are long gone. I thought whichever team won the Cleveland-New York Yankees series would win it all, while I had the Cubs over the Dodgers in the National League finale.
I’m not sure too many people had the Astros and Dodgers in the Series at the start of the year. It wasn’t that long ago when the Astros were challenging the baseball record for ineptitude, losing 111 games in 2013, that after losing 107 in 2012 and 106 in 2011.
But the Astros hit home runs on some of their high draft picks and made some shrewd moves. They started the turnaround in 2015 with 86 wins and then won 84 in 2016.
It’s a team that plays in a quaint ballpark, complete with the left field “box car.” The Astros are also “Team Sentiment” because their city is trying to come back after hurricanes threatened to put it under water.
The Dodgers were on an historic pace until a September swoon that saw them lose an improbable 16 of 17 games. Their success is no fluke, as they have been NL West champs five years in a row and have won at least 86 games every year since 2012.
But their playoff history in recent years has been miserable. They had lost in the NLCS twice in the last four years, including last year when they were ousted the Cubs.
The Dodgers are another team that’s been strong in player development, including the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Cody Bellinger. Seven of the eight regulars are in double digits for home runs and it has some interesting characters like the bearded Justin Turner and the unpredictable Yasiel Puig. And five of the eight everyday players are 28 or under, which means this team probably will continue to be good for a while.
The Dodgers are rightfully the favorite. Throw out the three weeks in September and we’d talking about them along with the 1927 Yankees. They were on pace to win about 118 games before collapsing.
They seemingly have regained their footing. They’re 7-1 in the postseason and their bullpen has been lights-out. The addition of Yu Darvish, who has found his old form, has been huge. They’ve coaxed a great year out of oft-injured Rich Hill and his devastating curveball and had a breakout year from Alex Wood, who was 16-3.
The starters should be well rested. None of them pitched more than 175 innings, so they’re not running on fumes.
Houston’s pitching, on the other hand, is a bit of concern. Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel are nails, but Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton are shaky, even with Morton’s five dazzling innings against the Yankees in Game 7. Ken Giles, the closer, makes me nervous.
Most of the series should be low-scoring, especially those games in LA when there’s a 5 p.m. West Coast starting time for TV purposes. The games started by Kershaw and Hill for the Dodgers, and Keuchel and Verlander for the Astros should produce little offense. I think the Dodgers have the edge in the other games.
I like the Dodgers in 6.