LOS ANGELES — What, you were expecting anything less?
For much of the past seven months, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros were the best teams in baseball, winning 104 and 101 games, respectively. And over the past eight nights, in sharing the field for the 113th World Series, they’ve lived up to their billing and packed some of everything into six heart-stopping games.
Home runs? The Dodgers and Astros have combined for 24 of them, a World Series record.
Comebacks? Let’s just say no lead has been safe.
Wild finishes? It doesn’t get much crazier than Game 2. Unless you’re talking about Game 5.
It wouldn’t have been right, then, for this World Series to be decided in anything less than seven games. The Dodgers and Astros will deliver that, too, when they square off Wednesday night in the 39th Game 7 of a World Series and the first to be played at Dodger Stadium, the third-oldest active ballpark which is hosting its ninth Fall Classic.
“This series was destined to go seven pretty much the whole time,” said Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros’ Game 7 starter.
Said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: “I think it seems fitting. You’ve got the two best teams in baseball going head to head. Like we’ve talked about from the beginning, these two teams mirror one another.”
And like any Game 7, every scenario will be on the table. Kershaw and Keuchel will be available out of the bullpens, and neither Roberts nor Astros manager A.J. Hinch will hesitate to call upon them in the race to 27 outs. That’s just the way it goes in Game 7s, where there’s always a chance to see something extraordinary.
The most important thing of the day: The Dodgers are 6-1 at home this postseason, and the Astros are 2-6 on the road. There’s no denying the Astros haven’t been as comfortable away from Houston in the postseason. They scored 20 runs in Games 3, 4 and 5 last weekend at Minute Maid Park, only three fewer than they’ve mustered in eight playoff games on the road.
Party time in Chavez Ravine, right?
Home-field advantage has tended not to mean as much in previous World Series Game 7s, with the home team going only 19-19. Just last year, the Cleveland Indians lost an epic Game 7 at home to the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers have lost winner-take-all World Series games at home, falling to the New York Yankees in 1952 and 1956 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
World Series Game 7: Astros at Dodgers (series tied 3-3)
The stakes: It’s Game 7 of the World Series. Enough said.
If the Astros win: In its 56th year with a major league team, Houston will have its first World Series championship. It will be a triumph for Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, and all the other great Astros who never won a title. And, of course, it will bring joy to a city that is still recovering nine weeks after Hurricane Harvey.
If the Dodgers win: Since we’re counting World Series crowns, this would be lucky No. 7 for the Dodgers and the sixth since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958. But it would also be the first since 1988, when Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser defeated the Oakland A’s in five games.
One key stat to know: Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has thrown 109 pitches in the series. To put that into context, it’s only nine pitches fewer than lefty Rich Hill has thrown, and Hill started Games 2 and 6. After throwing 1,012 in 65 appearances during the regular season, Jansen has crammed 10 percent of that workload into the past eight days. So, it’s safe to say his arm is dragging.
Jansen isn’t the only Dodgers reliever who has been taxed to the max. Kenta Maeda has thrown 106 pitches, 42 of which came in relief of Darvish in Game 3. And Brandon Morrow has appeared in every game of the series, throwing 10, 14, 13, 14, 6 and 14 pitches for a grand total of 71.
Here’s the good news for the Dodgers: Every pitcher on the roster — save for Hill — will be available in Game 7. Kershaw threw 94 pitches three nights ago in Houston, but as he told reporters, “I can go 27 innings. Whatever they need.”
At this point it’s a matter of when, not if, the Dodgers will use Kershaw.
The matchup that matters most: The Astros scored more runs during the regular season than any team since the 2009 Yankees. In doing so, they proved to have a deep and talented lineup. Marwin Gonzalez, who led the team with 90 RBIs, bats in the lower half of the order.
But the way to stop the Sluggin’ Stros, especially in the postseason, has been to shut down the dynamic duo of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Between the American League Championship Series and the World Series, Altuve and Correa have combined for 17 RBIs in the Astros’ seven wins and zero RBIs in their six losses.
Over the years, they have been mostly neutralized by Darvish, who faced them regularly when he pitched for the Texas Rangers. Altuve is 8-for-34 (.235) with three doubles, six walks and a .674 OPS against Darvish, and Correa is 3-for-16 (.188) with one double, one homer and a .625 OPS.
Then again, this is Game 7. Past performance probably doesn’t count for much.
The prediction: A series this good deserves a Game 7 for the ages. One night shy of the one-year anniversary of an unforgettable Game 7 between the Cubs and Indians, the Astros and Dodgers will deliver. Kershaw will find his way to the mound. So, too, will Keuchel. There will be tense moments and big hits and managerial moves to dissect for the next three months. In the end, though, the Astros will be one run better — call it 5-4 — with 40-year-old Carlos Beltran coming through with a big pinch hit late to win it.
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