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World Series preview: Little to separate Dodgers and Astros ahead of Game 1

The Dodgers and Astros will start their World Series match-up tonight.

Justin Turner of the Dodgers.
Justin Turner of the Dodgers.
Image: Harry How

THESE ARE THE two best teams in baseball and they have been all year.

Apart from one huge winning streak by the Cleveland Indians, the Astros have been the best team in the American League, while the Dodgers have had no equal in the National League despite an extended late-summer slump.

This is the series 2017 deserved and either team could win. This is the best hitting team in baseball against the best pitching team. It’s the best left-handed pitcher in Clayton Kershaw and arguably the best right-hander in Justin Verlander.

Either team could win this series and, here, we outline the case for both, starting with Houston.

1. The Astros love to throw the slider and the Dodgers can’t hit it

Source: Howard Simmons/PA Images

There is no team in baseball that loves breaking pitches more than the Astros. They love their spin rates and they love their sliders. They throw them early and they throw them often and it has been their most effective pitch this season.

According to Fangraphs, Dallas Keuchel has a .176 batting average against his, and Justin Verlander has held batters to a .215 average with the pitch. While Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton both throw curveballs their pitches are closer to ‘slurves’ (a pitch between a slider and curve) and they have the same effect as the pitch. McCullers has a .192 average against his breaking pitch while Charlie Morton is holding batters to a .104 clip.

In addition to that, Houston’s best relievers, Joe Musgrove, Luke Gregerson, Ken Giles, Brad Peacock and Francisco Liriano all have good sliders and love to throw them a lot.

As good as their pitches are and as much as they like to throw them, the Dodgers have trouble hitting them, too. No batter amongst Los Angeles’ regulars has a batting average higher than .262 against sliders while Corey Seager is hitting .221 and Game 7 hero Enrique Hernandez is batting .082.

2. In recent years the better hitting team wins

Source: Howard Simmons/PA Images

In each of the last four years the team with the better regular-season OPS (on-base plus slugging) has won the World Series. In seven of the last 10 years the same thing holds true.

Houston was the best hitting team all year long in baseball. The Astros had the most runs scored, the highest batting average, the most doubles, the most RBIs, the best on-base percentage and the highest OPS.

The first five games against the Yankees were the outlier, but the Astros found their bats again in Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS and look to be back to their old selves. That’s bad news for the Dodgers.

3. Houston is the more battle-tested team

Source: David J. Phillip/PA Images

It was a fair question to ask heading into Game 6 of the ALCS if the Astros had played any must-win games this season. They hadn’t and they had shown nothing to prove that they could win a game like that.

But after knocking off a Cy Young award candidate in Luis Severino in Game 6, a veteran lefty in CC Sabathia in Game 7, and scoring seven runs off the best bullpen in baseball in those two games, they proved they can win a game when they have to.

The Dodgers now face the question of how they’ll hold up to a must-win game. They haven’t had any pressure on them in the playoffs and the last time they had a must-win game, Games 5 and 6 of the NLCS in 2016, Los Angeles lost both times. Houston has proven it can win when it must. Los Angeles still needs to prove it can do so.

And here are three reasons why the Dodgers will win the World Series:

1. Home-field advantage

Source: Keith Birmingham/PA Images

The Dodgers have won all four of their home postseason games this year, and the Astros just lost three straight in New York. The best teams usually win in the postseason — regardless of venue — especially in a best-of-seven series, but the Dodgers should feel comfortable at home.

The Dodgers are batting .289 with 26 runs scored at home this postseason. The Astros are 1-4 on the road, batting .213 with just 13 runs scored. Houston has scored 31 runs at home, where it is undefeated this postseason. This series could come down to momentum, which gives the Dodgers the upper hand.

2. The Dodgers have the best closer in baseball

 

Source: Armando Arorizo/PA Images

While Aroldis Chapman may get all the hype due to his 100-plus mph fastball, Kenley Jansen is as cool as they come when a game is on the line. Jansen has three saves and a win this postseason. He has allowed just two hits and no runs through eight innings, posting a miniscule 0.38 WHIP.

But it’s not just Jansen leading the Dodgers’ bullpen. Guys like Tony Cingrani, Kenta Maeda (a starter during the regular season) and Brandon Morrow have been nearly unhittable this postseason. Teams with that many dominant options in their bullpen are tough to beat.

3. Multiple offensive weapons

Source: Brian Cassella/PA Images

The Astros’ line-up gets a lot of attention — deservedly so — after scoring the most runs during the regular season. But the Dodgers can hit, too. Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor are all batting at least .278, while adding power and patience at the plate.

Corey Seager might return to the Dodgers’ line-up, further strengthening their vaunted attack. Even if Seager is limited or unable to play, his replacement, Charlie Culberson, batted .455 against the Cubs. The Dodgers will be capable of beating the Astros in close games and offensive outbursts.

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