After analyzing which team has the advantage in the World Series at each position, it’s now time to compare the pitching staffs of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox.
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Both were among the tops in the league in FanGraphs’ metrics. Boston and L.A. were 0.1 fWAR apart during the regular season, with the Red Sox having the slightest of edges. The Dodgers had the lower FIP and ERA, ranking ranking in the league in each. Boston was sixth and eighth, respectively.
Game 1 will pit two of the best lefties of all-time against one another. Clayton Kershaw, despite his spotty postseason record, is a sure-fire first ballot Hall-of-Famer with three Cy Young Awards and an MVP under his belt before he turned 27.
He hasn’t been quite as dominant this season, posting his highest ERA since 2010 and the lowest strikeout rate since he made his debut in 2008. Still, Kershaw’s 2.73 ERA was seventh-lowest in baseball (among pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched) and his 3.19 FIP was 12th.
Sale, on the other hand, is still in his prime. The 29-year-old is coming off a season in which he surrendered a meager 2.11 ERA and struck out a whopping 13.5 batters per nine innings. While he finished second for the AL Cy Young last season, there’s a good chance he brings home the prize for the first time in his career this year.
Game 2 will see another pair of lefties face off against each other. Hyun-Jin Ryu has been announced by the Dodgers as the starter, even though his last outing in the National League Championship Series left a lot to be desired.
Still, the 31-year-old is coming off his best season since 2014 and was dominant against the Braves in the NL Division Series. He’ll try to put his Game 6 debacle behind him and get right for the biggest start of his career.
The Red Sox are countering with David Price. Unlike Ryu, Price was dominant in his last postseason start, going six shutout innings with nine strikeouts. Price’s history in the postseason has been rough, as he’s pitched to a 5.04 ERA in 85.2 innings.
He’s appeared twice in the World Series, both times in relief, when the Rays lost to the Phillies in 2008.
Game 3 will be started by rookie Walker Buehler for the Dodgers. The 24-year-old will take the hill for the Dodgers’ first home game of the series after pitching the deciding game in the NLCS.
Like his teammates, Buehler has been up and down in the postseason, as he allowed nine runs in his first two starts, then settled in and allowed just one run in his most recent effort.
The Red Sox could counter with a hard-throwing righty of their own, and a familiar face at that. Nathan Eovaldi has been something of a prodigy this season after coming over from Tampa Bay. He posted a 3.33 ERA in 12 games with the Sox during the regular season and has allowed a minuscule 1.88 mark in the playoffs. He had never pitched in the postseason until this year.
Game 4 will likely be given to Rich Hill. The ageless southpaw pitched twice for the Dodgers in the World Series last year and surrendered just two runs. After a bit of a hiccup in the NLDS against the Braves, Hill pitched a solid five innings in Game 4 of the NLCS and came on in relief in Game 6 to pitch a scoreless inning.
Rick Porcello, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2016, is likely to take the hill for the Red Sox in Game 3 or 4. The 29-year-old righty pitched well against the Yankees in the ALDS, but struggled in Game 4 against the Astros, allowing four runs in as many innings.
And then there’s the bullpens. Headlined by two of the best closers in the game, both have seen better days. Kenley Jansen came off a season in which his FIP ballooned up to 4.03 and he allowed 1.63 HR/9. Kimbrel’s FIP was better, at 3.13, but he’s struggled mightily in this year’s postseason, posting a 7.11 ERA in six games.
The rest of the Dodgers’ bullpen has been strong, save Kenta Maeda and Alex Wood. Pedro Baez has been a revelation, while Ryan Madson offers another bridge to Jansen. Caleb Ferguson made six appearances without allowing a hit, but was replaced by groundball specialist Scott Alexander, who wasn’t on the NLCS roster.
The name that stands out the most is Julio Urias, the 22-year-old lefty who went nearly a year and a half without pitching, then came in at the biggest moment of the season.
Boston has received strong performances from some of their relievers as well. Veterans Ryan Brasier and Heath Hembree haven’t allowed an earned run this postseason, while hard-throwers Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly have kept their ERAs under 2.00.
The Red Sox replaced Brandon Workman, who allowed five earned runs and recorded just three outs, with lefty Drew Pomeranz.
Overall, the pitching staffs seem pretty evenly matched. Kershaw and Sale have the ability to completely dominate opposing lineups, but each have had issues in past postseasons. It will ultimately come down to who executes and which bullpen can keep games close for the offenses.