The Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to break a 29-year drought. The Houston Astros are trying to break a forever drought. The Dodgers are the best team money can buy. The Astros had to tank their way to success. The Dodgers are starting the best pitcher in baseball in Game 1. The Astros are starting a non-prospect who had a 5.15 ERA in 2013.
These are just some of the many storylines you’ll hear about as the Dodgers and Astros square off in the 2017 World Series.
This happens every single year, of course. The two teams that outlast the other 28 got to this spot because everything went right. Their organizations had the right draft strategies, or some hot-shot general managers rebooted everything or a couple players came out of nowhere to help the team get here.
You could say all of those things about both the Dodgers and Astros … who are probably more similar than you think. You could also say a lot more, which is exactly what we’re about to do. Below, you’ll find 10 things to know about the 2017 World Series. What does “10 things to know” encompass? Everything. We’re lumping together storylines, fun facts and burning questions here.
The goal isn’t necessarily to be comprehensive, because we’d be here all day. But maybe you’ll learn something new, or think about an angle you hadn’t considered before. Here we go:
TWO TEAMS WITH 100+ WINS WILL MEET IN THE WORLD SERIES FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1970
We’ll start with one you’ve likely already heard, but it’s a good one. The last time two teams with at least 100 wins in the regular season met in the World Series was back in 1970, when the Baltimore Orioles toppled the Cincinnati Reds in five games. The Orioles led baseball in wins that year with 108.
Given how competitive the game has gotten in recent years, winning 100 games in the regular season is one heck of an accomplishment. Three clubs managed that in 2017: The two World Series clubs and the Cleveland Indians. You’d have to go back to 2004 to find the last time two teams crossed that threshold. Since then, it’s either one or none. It speaks to just how dominant the Astros and Dodgers have been this year.
CLAYTON KERSHAW’S LEGACY
Since 2009, Clayton Kershaw has been the unquestioned best pitcher in baseball. Sure, some players have come close, but no one has the consistency and dominance of Kershaw. He’s already made seven All-Star teams, won an MVP award and taken home three Cy Young awards.
It’s that last part that we’re going to focus on here. Kershaw is the eighth pitcher in Major League Baseball history to win at least three Cy Young awards. The other seven all have World Series rings. That doesn’t guarantee the Dodgers win in 2017. For from it. But it does tell you that teams with the best pitcher in baseball usually perform pretty well, and those guys at least get one shot to prove themselves on baseball’s biggest stage. Kershaw has had the Dodgers knocking on the door for a few years now. This is his moment to join that group.
WHAT WILL IT DO FOR JOSE ALTUVE AND JUSTIN VERLANDER?
Over on the other side, a World Series win could have implications for both Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve. For Verlander, it’s obvious. Like Kershaw, his legacy could be solidified here. The 34-year-old has been one of the game’s best pitchers for 13 seasons. He made the trip to the World Series as a 23-year-old, but hasn’t been back since. According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, Verlander isn’t a Hall of Fame pitcher just yet, but another year or two of solid production could get him there. A World Series ring might help too, especially since his postseason performance has already been exceptional.
Altuve is still young, so perhaps his legacy isn’t a factor here. But his status as an Astros legend could be clinched with a win. Altuve is one of the few members of the team who suffered through the worst of the tanking. The team’s highest win total in his first three seasons was 56. He was the lone bright spot then, though he wasn’t really the Jose Altuve we know today at that point. As the Astros improved, so did he. Altuve turned himself into one of the best players in baseball despite his non-prospect status. No player on Houston epitomizes their rise more than Altuve. If he can bring the city a World Series title in 2017, you can almost guarantee they’ll reward him with a retired number or statue when his career is over.
DAVE ROBERTS CAN JOIN A SELECT GROUP
If Dave Roberts can lead the Dodgers to a World Series win, he would be the first manager of Asian descent to win a World Series. He would also be the second African American to accomplish the feat, joining Cito Gaston, who led the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays to a title. It’s too early in Roberts’ career to start talking about legacy, but winning a World Series in his second year, combined with his regular season success, would certainly make a lot of people pay more attention to him.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED HAS PUT ITSELF IN AN AWKWARD POSITION
You may remember the now-famous Sports Illustrated cover from 2014 proclaiming the Astros “Your 2017 World Series champs.” No? Here’s a refresher:
The Houston Astros are one step closer to this … pic.twitter.com/jAtfsf5ClH
— Big League Stew (@bigleaguestew) October 22, 2017
Yep, that’s a fresh-faced George Springer during his rookie season. The Astros won just 70 games that season, but smart baseball fans knew the team was hoarding an immense cache of young talent in the minors. Springer was certainly a part of that group, and now he’s likely going to hit leadoff in the World Series just a few years later. Just as predicted.
You may also remember earlier this year, when Sports Illustrated did this:
— Stephanie Apstein (@stephapstein) August 23, 2017
Awkward? Yeah, maybe. The magazine put out a cover with Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig proclaiming the Dodgers as the “Best. Team. Ever?” What happened next? Well, the team went on its awful losing streak, of course. But the Sports Illustrated curse reversed course. The Dodgers finished strong and now find themselves able to maybe live up to that billing. To do so, they’ll have to beat the team SI predicted to win the World Series three years ago. No matter who wins, SI wins … and loses, we think?
OK, BUT FOR REAL. BEST TEAM EVER?
The Dodgers aren’t even in the conversation for the best team ever if they win, right? We’re not entirely sure. The Dodgers have completely dominated postseason opponents, losing just one game en route to the World Series. If they can somehow sweep the series — which would be tough, especially against this Astros team — they would finish the playoffs with an 11-1 record. That would tie the 1999 New York Yankees and the 2005 Chicago White Sox for the best postseason record since the World Series required a team to reach 11 wins in the playoffs.
THE TEAMS ARE MORE SIMILAR THAN YOU REALIZE
The Dodgers are painted as a team with unlimited resources. They spent an absurd $265 million on their club. The Astros, on the other hand, are seen as the scrappy underdog who had to tank and then hit on all their draft picks in order to scrape together a contender. Both of these things are true, and yet, the teams are still somewhat alike.
Both the Dodgers and Astros have a huge reliance on homegrown guys, or guys they were able to turnaround. Los Angeles drafted Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Corey Seager, among others. Houston drafted George Springer, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr., among others. The Dodgers turned a struggling Justin Turner into a perennial MVP candidate. The Astros turned a struggling Dallas Keuchel into a perennial Cy Young contender. The Dodgers outbid teams for Yasiel Puig. The Astros outbid teams for Yulieski Gurriel. You get the point …
Money does play a role, of course. The Dodgers were able to retain Kershaw, Turner and Jansen with big deals because they have the resources. The Astros have been fortunate enough not to see members of their core become eligible for free agency yet. Still, both clubs feature a large portion of homegrown talent.
IT COULD HELP PUERTO RICO
Enrique Hernandez and Carlos Beltran have spent the past few months urging people within the game to donate whatever they can to help Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by hurricanes. Beltran has raised over $1 million for the cause. Hernandez has over $100,000 on his YouCaring page. Both players are from Puerto Rico, and have spoken passionately about helping the struggling citizens in their birthplace. The World Series will put both players — and hopefully their causes — on an even bigger national stage.
IT’S GOING TO BE A HOT ONE
We’re not just talking about the matchup here, as fans have shown a willingness to pay unbelievable amounts of money to attend the games. We’re talking about the temperature. It could be the hottest World Series on record, with both early games in Los Angeles expected to be over 100 degrees. It might not play a huge role, as teams that play in Houston and Los Angeles should be used to the heat. But if some players seem to be dragging as the games go on, you’ll know why.
WHO WINS IT?
The Dodgers have the edge in multiple categories. The team’s starting pitching, bullpen, defense and base-running all rate higher according to the stats. The one area where Houston has them beat is offense, where it destroyed righties and lefties equally. Taking down the dominant Dodgers pitching staff will be tough, but that’s what Houston has done all year.
The point is, it’s close. We’re leaning toward the Dodgers, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it went the full seven games. Do we feel confident about that pick? Of course not. The Astros are exceptionally talented and this is baseball. They could easily win the whole thing, even if we think they are the underdogs.
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More World Series coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Granderson left off L.A.’s World Series roster
• Triple-digit temps feared for World Series
• These Dodgers are pretty clueless about 1988
• This could be the X-factor for Dodgers, Astros