The World Series is all set, with the Los Angeles Dodgers prepared to square off with the Houston Astros. For the Dodgers, this is their first appearance in the Fall Classic since 1988, when they downed the Oakland Athletics four games to one. For Houston, this is their first trip back since 2005, when they were downed by the Chicago White Sox, reversing Chicago’s “Black Sox” curse. As we look ahead to game one on Tuesday in Los Angeles, here are some stories to watch.
L.A.’s bloated payroll or Houston’s farm?
The Dodgers’ ownership poured money into payroll on this team to get them to the promised land. And after trying this tactic for the last few seasons, they seem to have finally broken through.
Let’s start with the ace of their pitching staff, Clayton Kershaw. His $33 million base salary and $35+ million total salary accounts for 13 percent of their payroll. They took on over $22 million for Adrian Gonzalez, who has been in and out of the lineup with the success of Cody Bellinger. They still owe Carl Crawford, who was a total stiff during the duration of this deal, and Andre Ethier, who is their fourth outfielder, a combined $38 million. They are still paying Scott Kazmir $16 million to sit on the 60-day disabled list. In total, they have spent $294 million on contracts, far and away the highest in professional baseball.
On the other side, the Astros’ core has come from players they have drafted early in each round between 2012 and 2014, coming off three straight seasons in which they lost 100 or more games. Over the years, they have drafted the likes of George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. They signed Jose Altuve for dirt cheap out of Venezuela in 2013.
It has only been in the past couple of seasons that they have gone out and spent money. They went out and signed Yulieski Gurriel for the 2016 season, then followed that up with Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick this offseason. They will be on the hook for the remainder of the Justin Verlander contract after acquiring him from Detroit, at the rate of $28 million each of the next two years, as well as Brian McCann for the next two after a trade with the Yankees. Even with all these recent acquisitions, the Astros’ front office has kept the payroll below the luxury tax threshold.
Can Kershaw get the monkey off his back?
Speaking of Kershaw, the only knock at him from being considered the best pitcher in baseball is the fact that he flounders in the playoffs. Comparatively speaking, his postseason numbers (a 4.40 ERA in 17 starts compared to a 2.36 ERA in the regular season) are abysmal. However, series against the St. Louis Cardinals that saw him go 0-2 with a 6.30 ERA and a 7.82 ERA respectively between 2013 and 2014 really raises the argument that it is just the Cardinals that he struggles with. His numbers have been far more respectable this postseason, but his 3.63 ERA in this postseason suggest that he is not quite there yet. A strong Fall Classic could put those whispers to rest.
Is this the year Verlander gets his ring?
In the Astros dugout, Verlander sniffs a chance at a ring, one that has eluded him during his entire career in Detroit. While his overall postseason career has been far more in line with his regular season numbers (especially when you compare his splits to Kershaw’s) the World Series always seems to be where he stumbles. In two starts against the Cardinals (notice a pattern here?), he gave up seven earned runs over 11 innings through two starts. In 2012 against the San Francisco Giants, he allowed five runs in four innings, including two home runs by Pablo Sandoval. If he is going to get that ring, he needs to step up as well.
Bottom line, these are two exciting teams, and I expect there to be fireworks. But who will raise the Commissioner’s trophy this year? Will it be the Dodgers for the first time in three decades, or will it be the Astros for the first time…well, ever?