Three Key Matchups That Will Decide The World Series

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1. The Dodgers offense versus anyone but Verlander and Keuchel.  What we learned about the Astros in the ALCS is that when push comes to shove they don’t really trust anyone in their bullpen. Not even their closer Ken Giles.  The Astros squeezed 124 pitches of insanity out of Justin Verlander in Game 2. And in the last two games (both must win) of the series the Astros used Verlander, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers, all of which are starters, to pitch 15 innings.  

If you want to beat the Astros you need to put yourself in the position the Yankees did. To win you have to force Verlander and Keuchel to throw four near perfect games, and beat up on everyone else.  Verlander was immaculate in Games 2 and 6 against the Yankees.  Keuchel was unhittable in Game 1.  But they can’t be Bob Gibson every night.  It’s not feasible.  And the Yankees proved that if you can get to their bullpen and smack around their third and fourth starters all you have to do is beat Verlander or Keuchel once and you have a great chance at winning the series.  Unfortunately, the Yankees offense blew that opportunity in Game 7 when they put up a bunch of zeros.

The Dodger had the best starting pitching staff in the NL this year (3.38 ERA), and their bullpen has been dominate in the playoffs (0.94 ERA).  They should also have the better starting pitcher on the mound in five out of the seven possible games (Clayton Kershaw >Dallas Keuchel, Yu Darvish>Charlie Morton, Alex Wood> Lance McCullers). So it’s going to be up to the Dodgers offense to punish the Astros when they don’t have their aces on the mound. They only ranked 12th in the league in runs scored during the year. And if they can’t put runs on the board against Morton, McCullers and the bullpen, they have no shot at winning this series unless they pull some magic lever and muzzle the best offense in the league. Luckily, so far the Dodgers have been on fire in the postseason scoring 48 runs in just 8 games, Corey Seager is set to return from a back injury that caused him to miss the NLCS, and they killed the Cubs weak bullpen.  All those signs bode well for a Dodgers World Series victory.

2. Clayton Kershaw versus the world and his legacy.  Verlander and Keuchel have been phenomenal this postseason, but we have to remember that the most talented pitcher on the planet still resides in Los Angeles.  As everyone recalls, Kershaw’s had an up and down postseason career.  He’s pitched some good games.  His seven inning two hitter last year in Game 2 of the NLCS, his 6 inning 2 hitter against the Cardinals in 2013, and his seven inning 3 hitter against the Mets in 2015 were all spectacular performances.  But he’s also mystifyingly struggled in some big spots.  He got blasted by the Cardinals in 2013, allowing 7 ER on 10 hits in just 4 innings of work in a win or go home game.  He couldn’t come through in Game 6 in last year’s NLCS to keep his team alive either.  He got completely destroyed again against the Cardinals in Game 1 of the 2013 ALDS allowing 8 ER in six innings.

You know the story. He’s been called a choker.  He’s been overshadowed by Madison Bumgarner’s playoff masterpieces. And he hasn’t been super sharp in this postseason either.  Even though opponents are only hitting .194 off of him, he has a 3.63 ERA, has given up six home runs, and hasn’t made it through the 7th inning in any of his three starts.  It’s not that those are bad numbers.  It’s just that they aren’t Kershaw numbers.  This is the three time CY Young award winner we’re talking about. The one time MVP.  The guy who is number one in career ERA+ for any starting pitcher ever.  The guy who went 18-4 this year with a 2.31 ERA and a 180 ERA+.  The guy who has three seasons with an ERA below 2.00. The guy who is one of the best pitchers we have ever seen take the mound.

If Kershaw ever wants to be considered in the conversation of the greatest pitcher ever, a real possibility, he needs be lights out in this World Series.  If he ever wants to change his perception as a choker he needs to take his performance to a level we’ve seen only a few times from him in the postseason. The pressure will be enormous. But all-time greats step up when the moments are at their heaviest, and we shouldn’t expect anything less from Kershaw.

3.  Kenta Maeda versus the Astros big three in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings.  The Astros go as their big three go.  Jose Altuve is hitting .400 with 5 HR, 8 RBI, 8 BB, and an OPS of 1.275 during the playoffs.  Carlos Correa is hitting .295 with 3 HR and 9 RBI.  And less impressively, George Springer is hitting .233 with just 1 HR and 2 RBI.  But all of these guys have the ability to change the World Series with one swing of the bat. We’ve already seen it multiple times this postseason.

All three of them are key to victory. If you can keep them under wraps, like the Yankees did for three straight games, you have a great chance to win.  If you can’t you’ll get blown out like the Red Sox did. But it also just so happens that all three of them are right handed.  Insert Kenta Maeda.  While righties only hit .214 against him this year as a starter, and they only slugged a measly .389, both good numbers, Maeda has been on an entirely different planet this postseason. In 5 innings of relief so far Maeda has faced 15 batters (the minimum) out of the bullpen.  He’s struck out 7 of them, allowed zero hits, walked none, and thrown 78% of his 46 pitches for strikes.  And of course he’s downright nasty against righties.  

If a game gets tight in the 6th, 7th or 8th inning, there’s no question the Dodgers are going to turn to Maeda to get through the top of the Astros order with the way he is hurling the baseball right now.  How Springer, Altuve and Correa fare against the righty could decide the fate of this series.