Home field advantage will play a vital role in 2017 Fall Classic
By Brendan DeVenney
The Dodgers just won their 22nd National League pennant. The Astros just won their 1st American League pennant, 2nd overall after being in the National League. That is all you need to know about how historic this upcoming World Series is.
Last year’s World Series had a similar feel. The Cubs entered with 16 National League pennants, while the Indians had just 6. But by throwing history out the window, both teams gave America and the world a World Series to remember. Houston and Los Angeles both hope to do just that starting on Tuesday night in Hollywood.
Digesting this series
The pitching between these two teams is slightly incomparable. Houston’s pitching, behind the dominating Dallas Keuchel and veteran Justin Verlander, have come up clutch in their wins. Make note of that, because in the American League Championship Series, New York was able to get to them in the Yankees’ three wins in a row at home, three of the four Postseason losses for the Astros.
Houston’s pitching let up 19 runs combined in Games 3, 4, and 5. We all know how much home field advantage plays a huge role in the Postseason, and we’ve seen that be a factor particularly in the American League bracket. In the Yankees’ Divisional Series with Cleveland, they got back in the series with huge wins at Yankee Stadium. They did the same thing by winning three in a row to take the series lead in the Championship Series with Houston.
The Astros did the same thing, winning the first two games at home in both series with Boston and New York. And with New York, they regrouped back at their place to win the series in elimination games at Minute Maid Park. And their pitching has been a major reason for all those wins and losses.
Looking back at this crazy ALCS, Houston’s pitching was all over the place in the series. In their first two games at home, Dallas Keuchel, who will throw Game 1 of the World Series, and Justin Verlander, who goes in Game 2, were magnificent, both going the distance. Keuchel went 7 innings striking out 10 and shutting the Yankees’ lineup down, and Verlander went a complete game with 13 strike outs and just one run on 5 hits, doing just enough to get the Astros win.
However, then they went on the road and didn’t do as well, with Charlie Morton getting rocked, not making it through 4 innings and giving up a dismal 7 runs in Houston’s 8-1 loss at Yankee Stadium in Game 3. In Game 4, Houston was nine outs away from winning with a 4-0 lead in the 7th, but Lance McCullers, known as a bullpen guy, got tired and exited the game. That’s where the bullpen didn’t do its job, with Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove, and Ken Giles giving up six runs in the 7th and 8th innings, allowing New York’s lineup to ride the Bronx crowd in a comeback win to tie the series. And Game 5 wasn’t a great outing by Keuchel, giving up 4 runs in 4.2 innings of work, despite striking out 8, as the Yankees won 5-0 to take a 3-2 lead in the ALCS.
But it was so interesting how going back to Minute Maid Park, Justin Verlander dazzled again, and Charlie Morton looked like a different pitcher. Verlander went 7 scoreless innings with 8 innings in Game 6 to even the series, while Morton did his job in 5 scoreless innings, and McCullers pitched a 12-out, scoreless save.
Home field advantage plays a critical role. It’s been proven. We’ve seen crowds at Dodgers Stadium, Yankee Stadium, and Minute Maid Park play key roles in helping their teams win ballgames. How will the Astros and Dodgers handle their opposing crowds?
Well, like mentioned above, the Astros don’t play particularly well on the road in the Postseason. Even in the 2015 ALDS versus Kansas City, they went 1-2 at Kaufman Stadium. This year they are 1-4 on the road. They won’t have that Houston crowd to back them up in the first two games of the Fall Classic. The Los Angeles Dodgers, much like the Yankees, are undefeated at home in the Postseason. Having the best record in baseball, the Dodgers won the first two games of each series with Arizona and Chicago, protecting that home field play. Ever been to a Postseason game in Hollywood? You’re missing a lot, especially when the offense is red hot sizzling.
The Dodgers offense has been lighting it up hitting a combined .273, led by Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner, hitting .414 and .387 respectively. After their losing streak at the end of August, beginning of September, some worried about Los Angeles. But it turned out to be a positive lesson for “The Boys in Blue,” peaking at the right time and going on a tear in the Postseason. In their first two home games versus the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers put up 9 and 8 runs off tough Arizona pitching. Justin Turner had 5 RBI’s in Game 1, and in Game 2, down early, took advantage of pitching miscues and rolled, thanks to a three hit game from Logan Forsythe, and two huge RBI’s from Yasiel Puig. They would go on to sweep Arizona with You Darvish dominating in Game 3.
They would come back home to host the defending World Champions, and they used both their pitching and hitting to take down the Cubs easily in five. Without Corey Seager, who injured his back in Game 3 of the NLDS, Los Angeles pummeled the Cubs in Game 1 with home runs by Puig and Chris Taylor and rolled to a 1-0 lead. Then in Game 2, with the game tied at 1-1 in the 9th, Justin Turner walked it off in the bottom of the inning with a three-run home run to left-center to take the series to Wrigley Field with the Dodgers up 2-0. It was the first walk-off home run for Los Angeles in the Postseason since Kirk Gibson’s historic, symbolic walk-off at Dodgers Stadium in 1988 World Series versus Oakland.
In Game 3, things didn’t get much better for Chicago, with Andre Ethier and Chris Taylor hitting home runs in the 2nd and 3rd innings, and then Taylor roped an RBI triple to put the pressure even more on the Cubs, as the Dodgers rolled to a 6-1 win. After Chicago took Game 4, the Dodgers exploded for 11 runs in Game 5 to advance to the World Series. Enrique Hernandez broke out for three home runs, one being a grand slam in the Dodgers’ 5-run third inning.
We have seen that the hitting is there for the Dodgers. But is the pitching? Los Angeles’ staff has a lot on their plate going up against a really strong lineup in Houston, who in Games 6 and 7 powered their way to the World Series against strong New York pitching, scoring 3 off Luis Severino, 4 off David Robertson, and hit C.C. Sabathia out of the third inning in the final game. José Altuve has hit .400 in the playoffs with 5 huge home runs. Carlos Correa has hit .295. Alex Bregman has been real special hitting .190 with 5 RBI’s. George Springer has hit .233, but is just 10 for 43. And Yulieski Gurriel has been huge with a .366 average and a three RBI game at Yankee Stadium.
But at home, Houston’s hitting has been unstoppable. They scored eight runs in both their first two home Postseason games, walked off in Game 2 versus New York with Carlos Correa, and came up huge with 7 and 4 runs in Games 6 and 7. With the Dodgers’ pitching, they’re blessed with having home field in the first two games with Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw going in Game 1 and Rich Hill going in Game 2.
Kershaw is a story in himself. In the regular season, he went 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA in 27 starts, and pitched just one complete game coming against Kansas City. Kershaw has not had a rough patch at all this year, and in the Postseason, he’s thrown three games earning a 2-0 record with a 3.63 ERA. Historically, he’s not a great playoff pitcher, with a 6-7 Postseason record and 4.40 ERA. He went 2-1 last Postseason, 1-1 in 2015, 0-2 in 2014, and 1-2 in 2013. But this year, he’s off to a much better start, and his last outing at Wrigley Field, he had his stuff working for him in 6 innings of work, giving up 3 hits, and just 1 run in Game 5 of the NLCS.
Rich Hill for Los Angeles will go in Game 2. Hill has thrown a 3.00 ERA in October in just two starts, not even making it past the fifth inning of either of those games against Arizona and Chicago. Hill went 12-8 in the regular season, so if a lineup built like Houston’s can get to him early in the game, you won’t see much of him. He’s known for doing just enough and letting the bullpen do the rest consisting of Ross Stripling, Kenta Maeda, Tony Watson, and closer Kenley Jansen. In Game 3, Yu Darvish will take the mound and he’s been special with a 2-0 record and a 1.59 ERA. He’s had experience with road postseason games with both his starts coming on the road so that helps Los Angeles. And Alex Wood will go in Game 4, with his only start coming in Los Angeles’ only loss in Game 4 of the NLCS where he went 4.2 innings of work, allowing 3 Chicago home runs.
That being said, both Arizona and Chicago were able to expose Los Angeles’ pitching, with the Yankees showing weaknesses from the Astros’ pitching staff. On paper, Houston’s pitching staff is stronger, and they are going to get tested from a lineup in Los Angeles that has hit .273 in the Postseason. Houston as a lineup has hit .247 in 11 games played, compared to Los Angeles needing only 8 games with the NLDS sweep of Arizona.
Playing the sorrow note
Everyone has felt bad about what has happened in Houston with Hurricane Harvey rolling through in August. Also, California has seen their fair share of devastation as well with deadly wildfires burning through northern Los Angeles near Hollywood. This is not the first time that baseball has played as an intercessor for fans of those cities that have been hit with harsh reality.
You take a long look back at the 1989 “Bay Bridge” World Series where the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck areas of both San Francisco and Oakland right before Game 3 at Candlestick Park. The series had to be postponed 12 days before Oakland would go on to sweep San Francisco, 4-0. Once that series resumed, it meant so much to the Bay Area, no matter who was winning the series at that point, as baseball became a time of satisfaction and hope that people in California can come back to reality.
In 2001, the Major League Baseball season would be postponed 18 days, and the regular season concluded from September 30 to October 7. The World Series was even more special that year as the New York Yankees would bring the City of New York and, the nation as a whole, together by making that year’s Fall Classic, and taking Arizona to seven games before blowing a ninth inning lead in Game 7. Once again, the series acted as a time where New Yorkers could forget what happened over a month ago and get back to reality.
The same thing will go for the 2017 World Series. It happens almost two months later from the end of Hurricane Harvey, but for Houstonians the devastation is still there and is still real. This Postseason, and this upcoming World Series, acts as a time of celebration and sheds light on what the city of Houston is all about.
- Game 1: Tuesday, October 24; First pitch: 8:00; Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, California
- Game 2: Wednesday, October 25; First pitch: 8:00; Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, California
- Game 3: Friday, October 27; First pitch: 8:00; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
- Game 4: Saturday, October 28; First pitch: 8:00; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
- Game 5*: Sunday, October 29; First pitch: 8:00; Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
- Game 6*: Tuesday, October 31; First pitch: 8:00; Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, California
- Game 7*: Wednesday, November 1; First pitch: 8:00; Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles, California
Prediction: Los Angeles in 6