A position-by-position look at the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox going into the World Series, starting Tuesday night at Fenway Park:
Dodgers: David Freese or Max Muncy. One of several spots where Los Angeles platoons based on matchups. Freese, a proven postseason performer, figures to face left-handers Chris Sale and David Price early in the Series. Freese was MVP of the 2011 World Series and NLCS with St. Louis. He had a homer and five RBIs in 10 playoff at-bats this year. Muncy, who was released by Oakland and spent 2017 in the minors, became one of baseball’s biggest surprises this season with 35 home runs and a .973 OPS. He batted .182 with two homers, 10 walks and 18 strikeouts in 11 playoff games.
Red Sox: Steve Pearce or Mitch Moreland. The underappreciated Pearce has played for seven big league teams, including all five in the AL East. He hammers left-handed pitching, which could really come in handy against a Dodgers team with three southpaw starters. Moreland, a Gold Glove winner in 2016 and an All-Star this season, has pop from the left side. He missed time with a hamstring injury during the playoffs but returned to the starting lineup in the clinching Game 5 of the AL Championship Series and got two hits against Justin Verlander. Moreland figures to start against rookie right-hander Walker Buehler.
Edge: Dodgers, but it’s close.
Dodgers: Brian Dozier or Enrique Hernandez or Muncy. The power-hitting Dozier, a 2015 All-Star and 2017 Gold Glove winner, was acquired from Minnesota at the July 31 trade deadline to help shore up a problem spot. But he batted only .182 with a .650 OPS in 47 games for the Dodgers. The athletic Hernandez can play all over the field, but he went 3 for 26 (.115) during the NL playoffs.
Red Sox: Ian Kinsler or Brock Holt. With longtime rock Dustin Pedroia injured, Boston obtained Kinsler from the Angels in a July 30 trade. The four-time All-Star is 36 but still a steady pro. Holt is a valuable utilityman who can be dangerous against right-handed pitching. He became the first player to hit for a postseason cycle in Game 3 of the Division Series at Yankee Stadium.
Edge: Red Sox.
Dodgers: Manny Machado. After young star Corey Seager went down early with an elbow injury, Los Angeles landed Machado for five prospects in a blockbuster deal with Baltimore on July 18. Only 26, the four-time All-Star is expected to command a huge contract as a free agent this offseason. He’s aggravated opponents with questionable ethics on the field, leading Brewers slugger Christian Yelich to call Machado a “dirty player.” He seems to be embracing the role of October villain — and Boston remembers his late slide that injured Pedroia last year. A terrific talent, Machado makes his World Series debut. He had three homers, two doubles and nine RBIs during the playoffs, including a surprise bunt single that paid dividends in Game 7 of the NLCS.
Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts. A heralded prospect, Bogaerts has become sort of a quiet producer on a loaded team. Batting cleanup in a high-octane lineup, the 2016 All-Star rebounded from a disappointing 2017 season with 45 doubles, 103 RBIs and a career-best .883 OPS this year.
Dodgers: Justin Turner. With his bushy, bright red beard and penchant for clutch hits, Turner has become one of the Dodgers’ most recognizable faces over the last few years. He was hampered by injuries this season but still batted .312 with a .924 OPS. Cast off by the Orioles and Mets when he was a part-time player with minimal power early on, Turner has blossomed into a .310 career postseason hitter with seven homers, 30 RBIs and a .941 OPS in 44 games.
Red Sox: Eduardo Nunez or Rafael Devers. The right-handed-hitting Nunez is a free-swinging slasher who can run when healthy. He’s been bothered by a sore right ankle lately and is shaky on defense. Devers, who turns 22 on Wednesday, is a left-handed bat who can catch up to anybody’s fastball but also has defensive shortcomings (24 errors). He went 7 for 20 (.350) with seven RBIs during the playoffs, including a three-run homer off Verlander in the clinching Game 5 of the ALCS against Houston.
Dodgers: Austin Barnes. For the second consecutive postseason, Barnes has taken over the starting role from a struggling Yasmani Grandal. Barnes hasn’t delivered the same offense as last year, but at least he’s a strong defender who remedies Grandal’s gaffes behind the plate. Barnes batted only .205 with four homers this season and went 2 for 18 with nine strikeouts in the NL playoffs.
Red Sox: Christian Vazquez or Sandy Leon. Not much offense out of this duo, although Vazquez carries a little pop. He has essentially been given the regular job in October over Leon, a slumping switch-hitter who has two hits in his last 52 at-bats. Leon, however, caught Sale all season and could start the opener.
Dodgers: Chris Taylor or Joc Pederson. Another versatile piece, Taylor often winds up at multiple spots in the same game. He gives manager Dave Roberts all sorts of flexibility because he plays center field, left field and both middle infield positions. Taylor’s numbers dropped off a bit this season and he led the NL with 178 strikeouts. But the co-MVP (with Turner) of the 2017 NLCS is having another fine October. Taylor batted .360 with a 1.067 OPS in 10 playoff games and made an outstanding catch in left field to preserve the lead in Game 7 of the NLCS at Milwaukee. Pederson is a left-handed hitter with power (25 homers) and a good glove. He can also play center.
Red Sox: Andrew Benintendi. A polished young player with all-around skills, Benintendi has been just about everything the Red Sox envisioned when they drafted him seventh overall in 2015. His diving catch with the bases loaded saved a wild win in Game 4 of the ALCS and was probably the most pivotal play against defending champion Houston.
Edge: Red Sox.
Dodgers: Cody Bellinger. Last season’s NL Rookie of the Year was unable to duplicate his huge 2017 power numbers, but Bellinger was still a big reason the Dodgers won their second straight pennant. He was a bit of a curious choice for NLCS MVP after batting .200 against Milwaukee, but he did come through with a couple of very clutch hits and an excellent catch in the outfield. The long, lean slugger also plays a smooth first base and appeared in a league-high 162 games this season. His father, Clay, was a light-hitting backup on championship teams with the Yankees.
Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr. A regular on the highlight reels for his defensive prowess, Bradley was batting .198 on July 7 before surging in the second half to finish at .234 with 13 homers and 59 RBIs. The 2016 All-Star got only three hits in the ALCS but homered twice and drove in nine runs to win MVP honors. He connected for the go-ahead hit in two Boston wins and a game-sealing grand slam in another. His .200 batting average was soon matched by Bellinger for the lowest by a position player to win MVP of a league championship series.
Dodgers: Yasiel Puig. It’s always an eventful ride with the excitable Puig, aptly nicknamed “The Wild Horse” by revered broadcaster Vin Scully. The talented and enigmatic slugger from Cuba burst onto the scene in 2013-14, then fell out of such favor with the Dodgers that they demoted him to the minors and tried to trade him. He’s responded with two solid seasons in a row, and he went 10 for 30 (.333) with a .962 OPS during the playoffs. His three-run homer gave Los Angeles a 5-1 lead in Game 7 of the NLCS at Milwaukee. Puig seems to love the spotlight, and he certainly appears to be having fun. Of course, his rocket arm, pure speed and powerful swing still come with cocky antics and exaggerated bat flips that irritate certain opponents.
Red Sox: Mookie Betts. The likely AL MVP this season, Betts does it all as one of the game’s very best all-around players. He led the majors in batting average (.346), slugging percentage (.640) and runs (129) while hitting 32 homers and stealing 30 bases from his leadoff spot. He plays dazzling defense, too. Betts has yet to hit a postseason homer, and he batted just .205 with three RBIs during this year’s playoffs — although he scored eight runs and shined in the field.
Edge: Red Sox.
Dodgers: Matt Kemp or Muncy. Following an offseason trade from Atlanta that brought him back to his original team, Kemp was more productive than anticipated. He batted .290 with 21 homers and 85 RBIs in 146 games, and even earned his third All-Star selection. Now 34, he still offers power from the right side of the plate and seems a logical choice for DH against lefties under American League rules at Fenway Park.
Red Sox: J.D. Martinez. After signing a $110 million, five-year contract as a free agent, Martinez was a perfect fit in his first season with Boston. He batted .330, launched 43 home runs and topped the majors with 130 RBIs before hitting .313 with two homers and nine RBIs during the playoffs. Martinez is no slouch in right or left field, and he’ll certainly remain in the lineup even with no DH under NL rules when the World Series shifts to Dodger Stadium for Game 3. That means rookie manager Alex Cora must open a spot for his slugger. He said it’s possible Betts, a Gold Glove winner in right, could move to second base. Betts played second in the minors and made an appearance there this year. Boston could also just slide Betts to center and bench Bradley or Benintendi — especially against left-handers.
Edge: Red Sox.
Dodgers: Longtime ace Clayton Kershaw (9-5) was limited to 161 1/3 innings this year, and his 2.73 ERA was his highest in eight years. But the rotation received a big boost from Buehler (8-5, 2.62) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (7-3, 1.97) after the lefty returned from a groin injury. Another veteran left-hander, Rich Hill (11-5, 3.66), is from the Boston suburbs. He was languishing in an independent league before reviving his career with the Red Sox in 2015. Kershaw, who has never pitched at Fenway Park, expects to start the opener following his 15-pitch relief outing in Game 7 of the NLCS three days earlier. The three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP has been trying for years to add a World Series title to all his individual achievements. But he is 9-8 with a 4.09 ERA in the postseason, and he flopped in a critical game during last year’s Series loss to Houston. This is a shot at redemption. Two of Kershaw’s three starts this October have been outstanding, the other was a dud. Ryu had a 1.15 ERA at home during the regular season and pitched seven shutout innings there against Atlanta in Game 1 of the Division Series.
Red Sox: With two Cy Young Award winners plus a seven-time All-Star who features some of the filthiest stuff in baseball, the Red Sox certainly appear well-armed. But there are question marks going into this Series. Sale (12-4, 2.11 ERA, 237 strikeouts in 158 innings) said he’s ready for the opener after being hospitalized with a stomach illness and missing a turn during the ALCS because he was still feeling weak. Shoulder trouble sidelined him during the second half of the season, too. Is he close to full strength? Price was 0-9 with a 6.16 ERA in 11 career postseason starts before throwing six shutout innings on three days’ rest to win the ALCS clincher in Houston. Is he finally over that October hump? Hard-throwing Nathan Eovaldi (6-7, 3.81), who began his career with the Dodgers and was obtained from Tampa Bay in July, is 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA in his first postseason. Fellow righty Rick Porcello (17-7, 4.28) had a 4.22 ERA in two starts and two effective relief appearances during the playoffs.
Edge: Red Sox.
Dodgers: All-Star closer Kenley Jansen allowed 13 homers this season, more than twice his previous high, and looked wobbly down the stretch. But he was in peak form during the playoffs, striking out 10 over 6 2/3 shutout innings while earning three saves. Pedro Baez, Ryan Madson, Dylan Floro and Caleb Ferguson give Roberts quality setup options in a deep bullpen that includes three left-handers. Converted starters Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood and Julio Urias provide flexibility and the ability to throw multiple innings. This group posted a 1.45 ERA during the NLCS, outperforming a touted Brewers bullpen that supposedly had an advantage. Then again, the Dodgers rode a dominant ‘pen into last year’s Series before Jansen and the rest of a tiring crew faltered against Houston.
Red Sox: Entering the postseason, the relief bridge to star closer Craig Kimbrel was supposed to be the one area of weakness on the best team in baseball. Instead, the setup guys have mostly pitched pretty well and it’s Kimbrel who’s been shaky in compiling a 7.11 ERA while saving five games. But he closed out the Astros with no problem in the ALCS clincher — apparently after former Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne pointed out a pitch-tipping issue. Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly and surprise find Ryan Brasier all have good stuff and were reliable in the playoffs, albeit a bit wild. Eduardo Rodriguez is an experienced starter, but it would be nice to have another left-hander. Cora has augmented this group in October by aggressively using Sale, Porcello and Eovaldi out of the bullpen in late-inning situations.
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