The Fall Classic starts Tuesday matching two up-and-coming young clubs with just enough veteran presence. The Astros make their second World Series appearance, but first as the AL champion while the Dodgers carry the NL honors for the 19th time in the modern era and 22nd overall. Both teams reached the century mark in wins, the Dodgers on the strength of league leading pitching results, and the Astros with firsts in nearly every offensive category. More after the jump.
While the Astros have become the first franchise to represent both leagues in the modern World Series, their opponent can claim the same distinction for the first incarnation of the Fall Classic; the Brooklyn Bridegrooms represented the AA in 1889 and the NL in 1890, in the last two of seven post-season series between the champions of those leagues.
Both league champions topping 100 wins is a lot rarer than you might think. This is the first World Series between two such teams since way back in 1970 and only the seventh overall, the others coming in 1910, 1912, 1931, 1941, 1942 and 1969.
With their 19th pennant, the Dodgers join the Giants and Cardinals as the most prolific of NL champions. But, that hasn’t been the case recently, with a 29 year gap since LA’s last World Series appearance, a franchise record drought. That’s long enough so that none of the 1988 champion Dodgers ever played with or against any of the current crop (second baseman Chase Utley was a Phillie rookie in 2003 and might have faced ’88 Dodger Jesse Orosco playing his final season that year; but Utley was sent back down to the minors a week before the Phillies visited Orosco’s Padres in May of that season).
For the Astros, it took more than 40 years to record their first championship season in 2005, so a 12 year gap before their second is pretty short in comparison. No current Astros remain from the 2005 club, though current DH Carlos Beltran was a member of the 2004 Astro team that almost claimed the NL pennant before falling in 7 games to the Cardinals in the NLCS (that was Beltran’s first post-season, logging 20+ hits and runs incl. 8 home runs, and batting .400 with 1.500 OPS in both the NLDS and NLCS).
The Dodgers and Astros have faced each other in the post-season once before, in the 1981 NLDS with the Dodgers prevailing in the maximum 5 games, winning the last three at Dodger Stadium (by a combined 12-2 score) after dropping a pair at the Astrodome. Home field advantage could also be a big factor in this series, with both teams undefeated at home in this post-season and the Dodgers fashioning a majors-leading 57-24 record at Chavez Ravine, equaling the home record of last season’s world champion Cubs. Notwithstanding a 1-4 road record through their first two post-season series, the Astros recorded a majors best (tied with the Indians) 53-28 record away from home, a .654 clip that ranks as the best by a pennant winner since the 1986 Mets, and 11th best among all pennant winning seasons since 1913.
The Dodgers will throw mostly left-handed starters against the Astros, a split in which Houston posted an .814 OPS this season, second best in the majors. Despite that ranking, the Astros were only 21-24 in 45 games this season against a left-handed starter, with that starter collecting 15 of those 24 wins. The Dodger relief corps recorded the majors’ fourth best ERA and fourth best OPS+ against. Houston, though, feasted on relief pitching with an .828 OPS, far ahead of the .783 mark by the runner-up Nationals, that 45 point gap larger than the spread between the Nats and Dodgers in 12th place.
Dodger pitchers led the NL in strikeouts while Houston batters led the majors in fewest times striking out. On the flip side, Houston pitchers ranked 2nd in the AL in strikeouts (but ahead of the Dodgers) while Dodger batters recorded the 12th highest strikeout total. Removing batting strikeouts by Dodger pitchers, LA’s batters still struck out 170 more times on the season than did the Astros. Part of the reason the Dodgers struck out as much as they did was because of extending AB’s, with their 3.95 pitches seen per PA just a tick behind the NL-leading 3.96 mark by the Brewers. That patience yielded a majors-leading 649 walks, 140 more than the free-swinging Astros who finished third from the bottom in pitches seen at 3.79 per PA.
Houston pretty much ran the table on team offensive stats, recording firsts in runs, hits, extra-base hits, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (and, as noted above, fewest strikeouts). Thus, it’s not a surprise that they also led, by healthy margins, in lowest swing and miss percent (14.9% of all strikes, compared to LA’s middling 17.6%) and highest ball in play percent (30.9% of all strikes, more than a full point higher than second place and well head of the Dodgers’ 27.3%). That success is partly due to being selective about pitches they swing at, with Houston posting a 7th best 37.5% of pitches taken for balls, just a bit lower than the majors leading 38.7% mark by the Dodgers.
Both teams posted solid results in protecting late leads, with marks of 87-3 (Dodgers) and 89-4 (Astros) when leading after 7 innings. But LA was almost that good when leading at any point of the game, with a remarkable .864 or better winning percentage when holding the lead at the beginning of any inning (by comparison, Houston did not reach an .864 clip until taking the lead starting the 7th inning; see chart below).
Thus, to be successful, it would seem the Astros will have to avoid falling behind early, something they were better at than the Dodgers, trailing after the first, second and third innings in only 23, 38 and 46 games respectively, compared to 40, 48 and 55 for LA. To counter, the Dodgers will need to strike in the 5th through 8th innings when Houston has been most vulnerable, allowing 54% of their total runs; LA, though, has scored just 43% of their runs in those innings. Here’s that comparison.
Enjoy the series!