Heading into the deciding Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS on Saturday evening, the most popular talk among fans of the Dodgers seems to be revolving around which American League club provides the more favorable matchup for Los Angeles. Plenty of different criteria is being thrown around and about—regular season stats, managerial success rates in the postseason, who plays better in certain weather—just to name a few. But at the end of the day, playoff baseball is such a completely different animal, as it’s almost impossible to predict the mindset of the team which will take the field in the opener.
From the perspective of the Dodgers, though, they have no control over the matter, and most of the players would probably say that they have no personal preference. Perhaps former All-Star shortstop and TBS analyst Jimmy Rollins said it best:
“When you’re the best team in baseball, it really doesn’t matter.”
In the same breath, it certainly doesn’t hurt looking at a few factors which may have an effect on the outcome of the 2017 Fall Classic. After all, how much fun would it be without a wealth of speculation and predictions to ponder?
From a theoretical standpoint, there are several reasons why the Dodgers would matchup better against the Houston Astros. Of the 10 teams who took part in the playoffs, the Astros ranked a mere sixth in bullpen ERA during the 2017 postseason. The Houston relief corps surrendered a monstrous 19 earned runs in an even 30 innings of work, which calculated to an ERA north of 6.00. More importantly, the Astros’ bullpen has given up eight long balls and five doubles so far in the playoffs, as opposing hitters tallied a .328 OBP, a .521 slugging percentage and an .850 OBP. And while Los Angeles is often known as a squad which thrives in latter parts of games, this is certainly a factor which could play into the Dodgers’ favor.
During the regular season, the Houston bullpen ranked a not-so-impressive 17th in the MLB in bullpen ERA—a figure that’s very surprising for a club on the cusp of a World Series berth.
Secondly, Astros’ catchers threw out a major-league worst 12% of would-be base stealers during the regular season. Granted, the Dodgers aren’t a team which will steal an overwhelming number of bags, but skipper Dave Roberts does indeed like to capitalize on his club’s baserunning savvy and speed. During the regular season there were three Los Angeles players—Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig—who stole in double-digit numbers, in addition to another handful of players who can swipe a bag when least expected.
As far as the perils go, despite fading during the playoffs a bit, the Astros were far and away the most prolific offensive club in all of baseball, hitting an explosive .282/.346/.478. Their 346 doubles and 238 home runs were both marks that finished first in the bigs during the regular season. Even more impressive is the fact that Houston batters struck out less than any other team in the majors. While the Dodgers’ backbone could arguably be their pitching, these offensive figures could pose an ominous threat when considering the matchups on paper.
Looking at the New York Yankees, the very first thing that comes to mind is the number of games they played in the postseason. Including the Wild Card game, five contests in the ALDS, and a whopping seven games in the ALCS, the tally comes to 13 contests. Remembering the Dodgers have only played eight to date, this comparison certainly favors Los Angeles from an outlook of who is fresher and more rested.
Recently, R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports pointed out that, in theory, the Dodgers’ pitching staff might fare better against the Yankees’ bats.
“The Yankees are a good matchup for the Dodgers for reasons that relate to Los Angeles’ pitching staff. While both the Astros and Yankees were good against righties during the regular season—they ranked No. 1 and 2 in OPS—the Astros were significantly better against left-handed pitchers. Houston had an .814 OPS, as compared to New York’s .757 mark. The Dodgers, obviously enough, have three left-handed starters, in Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Alex Wood, plus the potential to run out Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson in relief.”
Taking it one step further, the Yankees have hit only .217/.297/.386 so far during the playoffs, which ranks seventh among the 10 teams who took part in the postseason, after finishing seventh in the majors during the regular season. The strength of New York, however, is almost certainly its pitching staff, after having the fifth best ERA in the bigs and the third best ERA in the American League during the regular season. On top of that, the bullpen trio of Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson and Dellin Betances may be one of the most formidable in all of baseball.
The most interesting aspect of the Yankees’ prospective World Series starting rotation is that it would feature a quartet of right-handers in Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Sonny Gray. Keeping that in mind, while the left-handed based batting order of the Dodgers surely looks better on paper, it was the righty-dominant lineup which far and away did the most damage against the Cubs in the NLCS.
In the end, it might be safe to say that the Astros are the more dangerous offensive club, while the Yankees may have the better pitching, although the Houston rotation is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Either way, there will be thousands of stats thrown out in the baseball blogosphere between the time the ALCS is decided Saturday night and the beginning of the World Series on Tuesday evening.
Which team would you say is the better matchup for the Dodgers?
(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)