Why you should care
Because it’s not just a beautiful matchup on paper.
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Why should I watch the World Series? Because this Fall Classic, which kicks off tonight when the Houston Astros take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, could well live up to the name. The matchup represents a baseball fan’s version of a full solar eclipse: the first series featuring two 100-win teams since 1970, it is a true clash of the titans between one of the strongest pitching teams in history (the Dodgers) and an equally historically strong squad of hitters (the Astros).
Is that all? Nope. It’s not just a beautiful matchup on paper. The Astros, who are gunning for their first World Series title, are playing for a city devastated by Hurricane Harvey (you’ll notice the Houston “Strong” patches on their chests). The last time the Dodgers won a title was in 1988, when an ailing Kirk Gibson hit a walk-off home run in a moment worthy of nearby Hollywood, but it has taken the team with the highest payroll in the league almost three decades to find its way back onto to the game’s largest stage.
WHAT TO KNOW
Why the Dodgers should win. The Dodgers thoroughly dominated the playoffs and much of the regular season thanks to a pitching staff with a knockdown bullpen and the best pitcher in the game, southpaw ace Clayton Kershaw (starting in Game 1), a three-time Cy Young winner who spends his offseason doing charity work in Zambia and his seasons dominating big league hitters. The Dodgers also enjoy a lineup packed with young hitters, including Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner, not to mention home-field advantage in the series.
Why the Astros should win. The only teams in baseball history better at generating runs than this year’s Astros were the “Murderers’ Row” New York Yankees teams of the Babe Ruth era, and the game’s smallest player, 5-foot-6-inch Jose Altuve, leads the way. The electric second baseman, perhaps the best hitter in the game, anchors a right-heavy Astros lineup, including young sluggers Carlos Correa and George Springer, that matches up well against Dodger lefties like Kershaw. Two recent Series trends also favor Houston: In recent years, the better hitting team, and the team that clinched its league championship last, has usually won.
This year’s breakout star? Who might be the unlikely hero of this year’s Series? One possibility is little-known Dodgers utility man Enrique “Kiké” Hernández, who not only launched three homers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, but also whose powerful backstory includes a father recovering from cancer and a special bond with the opposing Astros (his former team) and owner Jim Crane, who helped rescue members of Hernández’s family from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
It’s the analytics, stupid. Since hiring Andrew Friedman, a former Bear Stearns analyst, to run their baseball operations department in 2014, the well-endowed Dodgers have brought big money to Moneyball, and now boast the largest data analytics team in baseball. The Astros front office, led by a “Nerd Cave” of analysts including an ex-NASA engineer, has been even more aggressive in using analytics to turn the franchise around after back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013.
Your 2018 champions? The New York Yankees’ season may have come to an end with their loss to the Astros in the American League Championship Series, but they have emerged as a bona fide contender after years of mediocrity. The team, with young stars like flamethrower Luis Severino and Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge, and a perennially deep pocketbook, appears set to relive its 1990s glory days, when it combined homegrown talent and big-name signees to win four titles in six years.
WHAT TO READ
Jose Altuve, Baseball’s Unlikeliest Superstar, by Alex Putterman at The Atlantic.
“[B]aseball players like Jose Altuve are simply not supposed to exist.”
Why the Dominant Dodgers Are Actually World Series Underdogs, by Sam Miller at ESPN.
“[T]here’s another way to think about the Dodgers: not as a brand or a trademark or a corporation but as a collection of Dodgers. … And there is nothing inevitable about the individuals.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Kirk Gibson’s Dramatic Game-Winning Home Run in the 1988 World Series
“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Astros Help Rebuild, Heal Houston After Hurricane
“The Astros in many ways represent the spirit of this city. A few years ago, people would not have given them a chance.”
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATER COOLER
Here are a few more World Series fun facts:
Crystal ball. A Sports Illustrated writer predicted that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series — back in 2014.
Ambidextrous. The Astros are the first team to go to the World Series in both leagues.
Autumnal roast. With temperatures soaring to near 100 degrees, there’s a good chance Game 1 tonight will be the hottest World Series game in recorded history.
Home-field advantage. Neither the Astros nor the Dodgers have lost a game at their home parks yet this postseason.
Goose egg artists. The Dodgers’ bullpen has gone a record-breaking 23 consecutive innings without allowing a run in the postseason.