Astros primed to hit their way to first championship

In 2014, Sports Illustrated printed an issue featuring Houston Astros outfielder George Springer hitting a home run, with the caption “Your 2017 World Series Champs.” Three years later, the Astros actually do have the chance to make this a reality, if they can find a way to best the extremely talented Los Angeles Dodgers.

After a 101-61 regular season, the Astros took down the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series. They played a much tougher seven-game series to beat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Now they are locked in an intense World Series battle with the Los Angeles Dodgers, just four victories from being crowned champions.

At the time that 2014 SI article came out, this prediction was laughable. The Astros had 111 losses in 2012 and 92 in 2013. To the average sports fan, it seemed there was minimal chance for improvement, seeing as the ownership did not have the funds to purchase the contracts of better players. The prediction by Sports Illustrated seemed incredibly bold at the time, but their explanation ended up being accurate. The Astros had an incredible farm system that was just beginning to adapt to the level of play that the Major League’s would necessitate. The three years between that 2014 season and this current season allowed these players to gain MLB experience and begin to reach their primes.

Shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Alex Bregman have developed into outstanding infielders, and Lance McCullers Jr. has evolved into a strong third starting pitcher. The Astros have also used trades to elevate the program to its current level. Most notable was the acquisition of veteran pitcher Justin Verlander in exchange for a few minor league players in early September. Verlander came into the Astros’ already solid pitching staff and overtook well-established Dallas Keuchel as the ace, adding the depth necessary to compete with top-tier teams in the playoffs.

While their pitching is very good, the Astros’ strength lies in their offense. Stellar batters such as Correa, Springer and Jose Altuve have highlighted the best statistical offense in Major League Baseball history. This year, the Astros finished first in runs scored, second in home runs and had a lower strikeout rate than any other team. With stats like these, it is clear that this was an offense that had no trouble putting the bat on the ball while hitting both for power and in clutch situations.

The Dodgers’ path to the World Series has been much less of a “rise from the ashes” story. The team will always have a much higher payroll and has made some great additions throughout the season.

The Dodgers pitching prowess will be their advantage over the Astros. They have the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, as their ace, with Yu Darvish, Rich Hill and Alex Cobb rounding out the rotation. Their rotation is deeper than the Astros’, which is where the Dodgers gain their advantage. The Dodgers’ relief pitching is also better than that of the Astros. Led by hard-throwing closer Kenley Jansen (1.32 ERA, 0.75 WHIP during the regular season), this bullpen has the ability to end ball games in the seventh inning. It will be interesting to see how the Astros handle the Dodgers pitching staff, being that they have such a powerhouse offense.

One big question for the Dodgers on the offensive side is the return of shortstop Corey Seager. He missed the National League Championship Series due to a back injury. When asked about the topic in a conference call, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “We are certainly optimistic. Co- rey really doesn’t want to be denied” (SB Nation, “Corey Seager expected to return to Dodgers for World Series”, 10.22.2017).

Seager’s dedication to returning in time for the World Series comes as great news, as the Dodgers truly need him. While one player will not likely make or break the series based on skill alone, the leadership and presence that he brings at the short- stop position will certainly be missed if he is not playing.

The Dodgers’ offense as a whole is solid, but not nearly as impressive as the Astros’. They ranked 12th in the league in runs scored, with 770 com- pared to Houston’s 896. There are several talented players in the lineup, such as Cody Bellinger, Yasi- el Puig and Justin Turner, but it is difficult to say whether they will be able to rise to the occasion against a tough Houston pitching staff.

In order to win, the Dodgers will need to put their best foot forward from a pitching standpoint to keep games low scoring. Then they may be able to push a couple of runs across and win. That being said, Houston’s offense shows tremendous upside. The Dodgers will have a tough time beating them in any kind of high-scoring affair. While it is often said that pitching wins championships, it is hard to say whether the Dodgers’ staff can shut down the best offense in league history. I believe that Hous- ton will bat its way to a World Series championship in six games.

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