By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The World Series is upon us, with the spotlight once again on two of the biggest markets in the country.
While the Boston-Los Angeles rivalry has been mostly reserved for the hardwood, it has made its way to the diamond with the Red Sox and Dodgers set to battle for baseball supremacy. The 108-win Red Sox will take on a Dodgers squad that is back in the Fall Classic for the second straight season.
Boston is the favorite heading into the series, their fourth World Series appearance in the last 14 years, having dispatched a pair of 100-win AL powerhouses in the Yankees and Astros to reach this point. But the Dodgers are eager to make up for last year’s World Series loss and end a 30-year title drought. This World Series matchup has all the makings of an instant classic.
Chris Sale’s Health
When Sale finally toes the rubber Tuesday night, it will have been 10 days since his last appearance. How healthy he is in Game 1 could determine the series.
Sale hasn’t been himself since July, and last week’s stomach issue/belly button ring-induced illness added a new wrinkle to the ace’s postseason unpredictability. He’s been OK this postseason, allowing four runs in 10.1 innings, but he’s going to have to be a lot better than the four innings of two-run ball he gave Boston in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros.
David Price In The World Series
Sale’s unpredictability is nothing compared to that of David Price, who picked up his postseason first win as a starter in Boston’s ALCS clincher against Houston. It only took him 12 tries.
Now he’ll be on the hill when the spotlight is brightest and, if he starts Game 2, when the Boston weather is at its coldest (at least its coldest while baseball is being played). Hopefully he has a pair of mittens (and an extra set) for between innings.
If Price wants to keep rewriting his postseason script, and really win back the hearts of Red Sox fans, a win or two in the World Series should do the trick.
When someone mentions a highly paid pitcher who struggles in the postseason, chances are Price’s name is the first one that comes to mind. But Clayton Kershaw had his own postseason demons until a year ago.
The Dodgers ace and Game 1 starter is as dominant as they come in the regular season, but he’s human in the playoffs, sporting a pedestrian 9-8 record with a 4.09 ERA in 28 postseason appearances (22 starts). He’s turned those struggles around over the last three postseasons, going 7-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 12 starts and two relief appearances.
Kershaw struck out 11 Astros and gave L.A. seven innings of one-run ball in Game 1 of the 2017 World Series, earning his only win of the series, but was hit hard to the tune of six runs over 4.2 innings in a Game 5 loss. He pitched four scoreless innings of relief for the Dodgers in Game 7, but at that point Houston had already given themselves a comfortable lead in the deciding game.
Which Kershaw will show up in Boston? The Dodgers’ hopes of ending their 30-year World Series drought depends on it.
Rich Hill Comes Home
Who doesn’t love a good homecoming story? Oh, he plays for the other team? Forget him then.
But for Milton native Rich Hill, we can make an exception. Hill spent four years in a Boston uniform over two different stints, and thanks the Red Sox for helping revamp his career. While the Red Sox were OK letting him go after he went 2-1 and struck out 36 in 29 innings in a quartet of late-season starts (including a complete game shutout) in 2015, that brief show of promise earned him a $6 million contract with the Oakland A’s. A year later, the Dodgers gave him a $48-million deal, and now he’s getting ready for his second straight appearance in the World Series.
Hill grew up rooting for the Red Sox, and at 38, he’ll start a World Series game against them. Sounds like something Disney would make a movie out of.
Mookie At Second?!?!?
When the series shifts to La La land, the Red Sox will lose their DH. What is there to do?!?!?
That’s why Mookie Betts was putting in some work at second base over the weekend, just in case Cora needs to pull out all the stops come Game 3. J.D. Martinez cannot come out of the lineup, and it’d be difficult to lose either Andrew Benintendi’s bat or the glove of ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. for any stretch. If Betts can move into the infield and take over for the ghost of Ian Kinsler at second, then both Benintendi and Martinez can remain in the lineup, and Bradley Jr.’s gold glove stays in the field.
Life doesn’t always work out so perfectly, and there is a risk (a fairly significant one) to asking Betts to play a position he hasn’t seen much of since moving to the outfield four years ago. Cora has other options too, like moving Betts to center and keeping Bradley Jr. on the bench to start games.
But so far this postseason, everything Cora has touched has turned to gold. Let’s see if he has one more game/series-altering decision go his way.
Get ready for a whole lot of managerial talk over the next week, and both skippers have earned all the praise that is about to be heaped upon them. Cora just guided the Red Sox through an historical regular season with 108 wins, and the follow-up has been just as great: A remarkable 7-2 run during the playoffs that has seen Boston win all five of their games on the road. He’s done all of that as a rookie manager. Not too shabby.
Meanwhile, Dave Roberts is heading back to the World Series for the second time in three years as manager of the Dodgers. He’s been a folk hero in Boston the last 14 years for his franchise-changing
The 2018 World Series doesn’t just pit a pair of younger, bright-minded managers against each other, but it’s the first time the Fall Classic will feature two minority managers.
Manny Being Manny
Every good series needs a villain. Dodgers third baseman Manny Machado will fill that role.
The Red Sox are not very found of the former Oriole who now wears Dodgers blue, still fuming from the spikes up slide he made on Dustin Pedroia in April of 2017. Matt Barnes delivered a fastball at Machado’s dome a few nights later, and while he doesn’t expect any more fireworks, he made it clear they have not forgotten Machado’s antics.
“You’re talking about a play in which Pedey still hasn’t played since then, really,” Barnes said Monday, via The Eagle Tribune’s Chris Mason. “When you take out a captain, a leader of a team, that’s not going to sit well with anybody. It kind of is what it is. You move on. I don’t see anything happening, I really don’t, but it doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten about it.”
Machado had a Machado moment in Game 4 of the NCLS, kicking Milwaukee first baseman Jesus Aguilar as he hit the bag on the routine ground ball. Aguilar was OK with the play after the game, but his Brewers teammates Christian Yellich and Travis Shaw called him out as a dirty player after the incident.
Barnes agrees, noticing a trend with Machado. But he isn’t going to rocket a fastball at Machado’s noggin this time around.
“I think the sweetest revenge would be to win a World Series and celebrate with them watching,” he said.
This could get interesting.
If you think a Machado meltdown is likely, the odds are just as high (if not higher) that a baseball purist is going to have a hissy fit over something Puig does over the next week-plus.
Maybe he’ll flip his bat after a homer. Maybe he’ll be a little too demonstrative in the outfield. Maybe he’ll have a little too much fun, which is not allowed in baseball. If he does, you better believe some old man will take a break from yelling at clouds in the sky (or sending out political tweets that don’t make any sense) to let the world know they’re dissatisfied with someone having a joyful experience while playing a game.
Craig Kimbrel has apologized for all the near-heart attacks he probably caused so far this postseason. An apology is great and all, but fans would much rather have an effective closer in the World Series.
The Boston brass remains confident in Kimbrel, even after his control completely vanished once the calendar changed to October. He’s walked six batters in 6.1 innings this postseason, and if it looked like opponents knew his nasty breaking ball was coming, it’s because the closer was tipping that pitch. Cora thinks that wrong has been righted, and Kimbrel should be back to form come Tuesday night.
And if you need some glimmer of hope to hang on to when Kimbrel trots out of the bullpen with a one-run lead, he’s allowed just one hit in 31 at-bats against the the Dodgers batters he’s about to face — a Puig single in June 2015 when he was closing games for the Padres.
Grandal Behind The Plate
If we’re talking about struggling, Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal has had an October to forget. He has just three hits in 21 at-bats, but those offensive struggles look even worse when you add on his defensive miscues that littered the NLCS. He was on the bench for Game 2 after he had a pair of errors and two passed balls in Game 1, and struck out three times in his return to the lineup in Game 3. Grandal was back on the bench for the rest of the series, relegated to pinch-hitting duties. He’s gone 0-for-3 in that role.
The Distance Between Freezing And Toasty
As noted by @SoxNotes on Twitter, the approximate distance between Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium is 2,588 miles, the longest ever between ballparks in any World Series matchup.
So as you can imagine, the weather is a little different in Boston than it is in Los Angeles. How the Dodgers adapt to the frigid temps in Boston (we need not pass along the forecast to you) will be an interesting storyline to follow in the first two games of the series.
And when the series shifts out west? It’s supposed to be in the mid-to-upper 80s for Games 3-5 in L.A. Hopefully Red Sox players have some short-sleeved shirts at the ready.