As sports fans know, Los Angeles and Boston have battled for NBA supremacy on several occasions. The two cities will square off again beginning Tuesday, but instead of the Lakers and Celtics fighting for a championship, it’ll be the Dodgers and Red Sox vying for a World Series title. At the outset of the 2018 MLB season, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see either of these teams in this position. Nearly seven months later, however, it’s fair to say the clubs took wildly different paths to arrive at this point.
The Red Sox were dominant from the jump, winning 17 of their first 19 games, and they didn’t let up much en route to a league-best 108-54 record. The club finished with the sport’s second-best run differential in the process (plus-229), thanks largely to a Mookie Betts– and J.D. Martinez-led attack which crossed home plate more than any other offense. Despite being an AL MVP front-runner, Betts’ production has fallen flat this postseason (.578 OPS in 44 plate appearances), making it all the more impressive that the Red Sox went 7-2 against the majors’ only other 100-win teams – the Yankees and Astros – in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Earning a playoff berth was never in doubt for the Red Sox, but the Dodgers were in peril at multiple points during the regular season. The team was supposed to roll after winning an NL pennant last year and losing a seven-game classic to the Astros in the World Series. Instead, the Dodgers began the season in catastrophic fashion, winning just 16 of their first 42 games – a stretch in which they saw star shortstop Corey Seager undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. Things were so dire for the club in mid-May that I polled MLBTR readers on whether the Dodgers would even make the playoffs. Nearly 65 percent of voters said they wouldn’t. But manager Dave Roberts never wavered during the Dodgers’ horrific start, declaring: “When it’s all said and done, the Dodgers will be at the top of the division.”
The Dodgers ultimately did rally to win the NL West for a sixth straight year, but they were in third place in the division as late as September. They also needed to win a Game 163 versus the Rockies to settle it, and after cruising past the Braves in a four-game NLDS, they went the distance against the Brewers in a seven-game NLCS. To this point, the Dodgers own a 99-75 record (92-71 during the regular season), which pales in comparison to the Red Sox’s mark. But they did run away with the NL’s regular-season run differential title (plus-194), giving them a 102-61 Pythagorean record which is right in line with Boston’s (103-59). They also led the majors in position player fWAR and wRC+, and topped the NL in pitcher fWAR and runs scored. All of those numbers help illustrate that the Dodgers are where they belong, despite their trying regular season.
Looking beyond the stats, this series has no shortage of interesting storylines. It begins in the dugout, with Roberts (an ex-Boston player) versus rookie manager Alex Cora, a third-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 1996 who was a member of the team from ’98-2004. Both managers had signature moments in those teams’ uniforms – Roberts served as a playoff hero for the curse-breaking Red Sox in 2004, the same year Cora capped off an 18-pitch at-bat with a home run.
On the field, a pair of the most dominant lefties ever – Boston’s Chris Sale and LA’s Clayton Kershaw – could match up on multiple occasions, and they’re supported by bullpens that feature all-time great closers (the Red Sox’s Craig Kimbrel and the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen). Those pitchers will contend with offenses which possess transcendent hitters, including Betts and Martinez on the Boston side and LA’s Justin Turner and Manny Machado – a longtime Oriole who has spent almost all of his career in the Red Sox’s division. Machado, whom the Dodgers acquired over the summer in response to Seager’s injury, hasn’t hidden his disdain for the Red Sox in the past.
With Machado on the verge of becoming one of the most sought-after free agents ever, this series may be his last in a Dodgers uniform. As his Dodgers tenure potentially winds down, perhaps Machado will help deliver the franchise’s first World Series title since 1988. On the other side, the Red Sox will attempt to take home their fourth championship since Roberts contributed to their cause a decade and a half ago. Which team do you expect to end up as the last one standing in 2018?
(poll link for app users)