The Red Sox might not win the World Series, but they made it there with as little playoff drama as you could expect at this level of competition and I can still barely believe it. The Yankees and Astros were legitimately great teams and the Sox tossed them aside, albeit with a margin of error of about six inches. Now the Sox have the chance to do it to the Dodgers, who merely came a game short last season, and they probably will. It’s a good feeling.
This Los Angeles team is pretty good, but I will lodge formal complaints if Boston loses, notarized ones and everything. During the regular season I am the guy who says to wait to until the playoffs to lose it over the little things, and now the Sox are in the World Series and there’s nowhere left to hide. It’s time to get our Boston Over Everything socks on, raise our voices three octaves and be the Sports Guy for Halloween. No one denies this!
As for predictions, Matt, Jake and I all picked the Sox in five on the podcast, so we all think they wrap this up sooner rather than later. As we noted, it’s terrifying for the three of us to agree on anything, leastwise something so consequential, and within such narrow guidelines. For my part I expect the five games (or however many, ultimately) to pass like those of the previous two series: At great length and very close. If the Sox really do win in five, it’ll feel like we’ve all been through the wringer.
But that’s the defining feature of this team, isn’t it? Nothing is going to come easy to them, despite how good they are. The current makeup of Major League Baseball looks a lot more like that of the Premier League than it does any major American sport, with a top-heavy group of elite teams dominating lesser competition, always with an eye on each other. This is more true of the American League this year than the National League, which is why the Dodgers feel like a letup, but they are not. They are easily good enough to win it all, even if I don’t think they will.
The scariest players in Los Angeles are Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner, Manny Machado, Kenley Jansen and Cody Bellinger, with a large group of interchangeable pieces just below tier one. If the Sox’s absolute best players are peerless -- Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez have no easy counterparts in Dodgerville -- L.A.’s strength is its depth, which ought to help in any of the interminable, grinding World Series games that are sure to break out. Much like the series itself, the longer it goes, the better it is for the Dodgers. They pushed it to Game 7 last year and came up just short, and are going to be out for revenge.
(Just a quick reminder, too, that last year’s World Series was extremely exciting because it was home run-heavy, which no less reputable a source than Justin Verlander attributed to the ball. That the game equipment looms large in the discussion of the championship doesn’t speak too well for the sport, but a) It doesn’t matter if the games are exciting, which they are sure to be, and b) It’s better than sign-stealing.)
The most interesting wrinkle, for me, is the inclusion of Machado to the whole affair. If he ends up going to the Yankees in the offseason, the Dodger World Series stopover will be the perfect spot for his evolution into Boston’s reigning troll king. From Buck Showalter-bred punk to high-class antagonist to bullying neighbor, there isn’t a spot he will have missed along the way. It only works because of how good he is, too, and would Machado be the the perfect foil for this potentially historic Sox team?
It’s been 10 years since the original Mannywood, and Manny Ramirez’s romp through the playoffs and postseason for the Dodgers after being liberated from the Sox, and since then the Dodgers have yet to win it all. If history says you simply need to be in the right time and place to win a title, the Dodgers are here again, and with the right people. Last year they were so close they could almost taste it, and to this hungry group they added a Hall of Fame player in his absolute prime. Just as it did with Ramirez, I still expect it to come up short.
The last two rounds have washed away my inherent contrarianism, skepticism and fatalism about how this team, or any other superlatively great team, will do in the playoffs. I’ve seen top-heavy teams stumble out of the gate before -- a league-best White Sox team falling in the first round to the Mariners, a historically great Mariners team falling to the Yankees in the ALCS -- but I can’t remember a team this good making the World Series and blowing it, and I don’t expect the Sox to blow it, either.
First, the Sox have the two best players in the series, and maybe three. Betts and Martinez edge Machado if just barely, and a healthy Sale could get up there as well. That Kershaw doesn’t quite make it shows the rarefied air in which we’re living, though if this was three years ago he’d be No. 1 in the whole league, so this isn’t exactly a backhanded compliment. He’s still quite good but you can hit his fastball now, and the Sox hit fastballs. If no one else can, Betts and Martinez will do it. That’s why having the best players helps. The ringers are important.
Second, the pitchers will be going against a National League lineup. The Dodgers may resemble an American League team, but they’re not one, and the recent history of Sox pitching in the World Series suggests we’re about to get some great performances out of the back of the rotation against the, ahem, ‘Senior Circuit.’ The Dodgers’s switch-happy ways might mitigate that to some degree, but good pitching beats everything, and I expect David Price and Rick Porcello to have strong outings.
Third, for a team that can pound the ball every which way, the Sox can also manufacture runs, and with Alex Cora at the helm they’re in a position to squeeze value out of most every situation. It’s ironic that Cora will be doing it against Dave Roberts, whose in-game managerial skill leaves something to be desired but whose playing legacy is intertwined with a postseason stolen base you’ve perhaps heard of, but I have confidence that the Sox will make the right moves during the series in a way I don’t think the Dodgers will. L.A. may have the depth, but Boston has a particular set of skills that ought to pay off in a seven-game series. It’s what they were built for.
Finally, it’s time Dave Dombrowski to win a World Series title in the American League, having come up short with the Detroit Tigers and so far with the Red Sox. He’s ultimately Boston’s third ringer, and the reason I’m sure about all this. We don’t think of him as such, but every move Dombo’s made or hasn’t made this year has brought the Sox to the doorstep of a title. He got Sale, he got Craig Kimbrel, he got Martinez, he traded for Steve Pearce, he traded for Nathan Eovaldi, he didn’t trade Jackie Bradley Jr., he let Hanley Ramirez go, he signed Ryan Brasier… the list goes on and on. For the Red Sox in general, and for Dombo specifically, there really is just one thing left to: Win the whole fucking thing.