BOSTON – A wall inside Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora's Fenway Park office features a defining photo from all of the team's club-record 108 victories this season. The display has been replicated on a field-level concourse, with the October addendum:
Even that number is outdated, as the Red Sox need just four more victories to claim a World Series championship. And as this World Series begins Tuesday night in Boston's cozy ballyard, there's overwhelming reasons why Cora's Red Sox will claim the trophy over a worthy and resilient, but inferior Los Angeles Dodgers squad.
Matchups in their favor
The Dodgers are among the most analytically-inclined teams in the game, and their hyper-platooning system has served them well, for the most part. In fact, their splits against left-handed and right-handed pitchers is so similar, you start to wonder if they are, in fact robots.
Against right-handed starters: .250 batting average, .332 on-base percentage, .446 slugging.
Against left-handed starters: .250/.333/.435.
That said, the Red Sox's trio of left-handed starters – Chris Sale, David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez – can force the Dodgers out of their comfort zone and also create favorable matchups.
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Sale and Price will start Games 1 and 2, which will liberate Matt Kemp's bat from the Dodgers bench, as he'll serve as designated hitter for at least one game. They'll also serve to either bench or curb the effectiveness of the Dodgers' top two sluggers, 35-home run man Max Muncy and NLCS MVP Cody Bellinger.
Bellinger hit just nine of his 25 homers off left-handers this season, and his average and OPS plunges from .278 and .880 against righties to .226 and .681 vs. lefties. It's a similar story for Muncy, whose on-base percentage plunges 40 points against southpaws.
The Dodgers are 7-4 in these playoffs so far, but three of the four losses came in games started against left-handers. Suffice to say, Sean Newcomb, Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez are a far cry from Sale.
The 6-6 Cy Young candidate is not fully back to his dominant form after missing much of the last two months with shoulder inflammation. Still, he has 14 strikeouts in 10 playoff innings, beat the powerful New York Yankees to kick off the ALCS and then closed them out in the decisive Game 4.
What's more, should Roberts order up one of his "line changes" in the middle of any game, the Red Sox have options. If he unloads the bench early against a lefty, the Red Sox can counter again with Rodriguez.
On top of that, Cora has not hesitated to unleash No. 3 starter Rick Porcello in relief – to preserve Game 1 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the ALCS. He and fellow righty starter Nathan Eovaldi give Cora interchangeable, powerful options to either shore up a game going awry or fold into the rotation.
Causes for concern
It would be nice to believe that closer Craig Kimbrel's ills are all in the past, now that he's found a fix for his pitch-tipping woes. Still, his woes have been so pronounced that it's hard for Red Sox fans not to get nervous when he comes in to slam the door.
Kimbrel has walked or hit eight batters in 7 1/3 innings, and has yet to enjoy a clean outing in five appearances.
Still, Matt Barnes is unscored upon in six of his seven playoff outings, giving up just four hits in eight innings, and Ryan Brasier hasn't given up a run in his seven innings, though he's walked four.
How it will go their way
This is a clash of the bomb-hitting titans: The Dodgers led the National League with 235 home runs, while the Red Sox hit 208 and featured the big leagues' home run runner-up in J.D. Martinez, who hit 43.
This will be decided, however, by the balls that don't go over the wall. And in both the quirky dimensions of Fenway Park and the vast expanses of Dodger Stadium, the Red Sox enjoy a huge advantage.
The outfiield triumvirate of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. in center and Mookie Betts in right has combined to produce the most outfield Wins Above Replacement than any group since 2002, according to Fangraphs. While Benintendi and Betts are elite offensive players, the trio's defense is nonpareil.
Even when they shift Betts, possibly, to second base in the three games at Dodger Stadium, Martinez is far from a stiff in right field and has Bradley alongside him.
By contrast, the Dodgers in most games will start an athletic but raw center fielder in Cody Bellinger, whose routes are far from perfect and won't save them many runs (his outstanding catch in right field in NLCS Game 4 notwithstanding). Yasiel Puig is a capable if occasionally erratic right fielder. Chris Taylor, Matt Kemp, Enrique Hernandez? None can hold a candle to the Red Sox's group.
In the end
This should be a spectacular series. The Red Sox are big favorites on paper, for many good reasons, but the gap probably isn't as wide as the 108 wins they posted and the 92 the Dodgers claimed during the regular season. That said, the Dodgers will need some help: A Kimbrel meltdown, an extended cold spell for Martinez, another playoff pratfall from Price. Here's saying they won't get enough of them. In a series featuring generational stars, booming power and MVPs past and present, the difference will be defense and Cora pushing every last button to perfection – and needing to find four more pictures for that wall. — Red Sox in 5
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