Two of baseball's most historic teams -- the Red Sox and Dodgers -- are set to meet in what should be a thrilling World Series. The fun starts tonight at Fenway Park, with a classic pitching matchup on tap for Game 1.
Clayton Kershaw, a three-time National League Cy Young Award winner and seven-time All-Star, takes the ball for the Dodgers. The Red Sox counter with Chris Sale, who is also a seven-time All-Star and finished in the top five in the American League Cy Young Award voting the last five seasons. Kershaw and Sale are widely considered to the best lefties in their respective leagues for the last several years. Can it get any better than that to start a World Series?
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"Chris is a very good pitcher," said Kershaw, who beat the Astros in Game 1 of the World Series last year. "He was dominant this year. He's been dominant for a long time. I enjoy watching him compete. I have nothing but good things to say about him and the way he competes and the way he's pitched the last few years. I don't take much [stock] in the fact about the matchup, I don't really care too much, other than I'd like him to not be as good so we have a better chance of winning, for sure."
In another intriguing subplot, managers Alex Cora and Dave Roberts are good friends and former teammates. In fact, both Cora and Roberts played for the Red Sox and Dodgers. Look for Roberts to get a nice ovation when he is introduced at Fenway prior to Game 1. His stolen base in Game 4 of the 2004 AL Championship Series against the Yankees will never be forgotten.
One factor that could become huge is the ballpark, as Fenway's unique outfield is difficult for National League outfielders unfamiliar with its dimensions. The Red Sox are 6-1 at home in their past three World Series, and they have the best home winning percentage in the history of Interleague Play (.650). The Sox also have the best run differential at plus-296; the next closest is the A's at plus-201. Notably, none of the Dodgers' starting outfielders in Game 1 -- Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez and Yasiel Puig -- have played an inning in the outfield at Fenway, and Los Angeles has not played in Boston since 2010.
Here is a primer to get you ready for a Fall Classic that features two star-studded rosters and solid role players on both sides.
The starting lineups
Dodgers: Roberts used a different leadoff hitter in each of the last four games in the NLCS, and James Dozier, who has four doubles and three homers in his career against Sale, will bat first in Game 1 as the Dodgers go with an all right-handed-hitting lineup against Sale. Dozier has 50 career plate appearances against Sale, while all other Dodgers have a total of 31 plate appearances against him, with Manny Machado next at 22. Dozier has a .255/.300/532 career line against Sale, while Machado has a .316/.408/.579 mark versus the lefty in an extremely limited sample.
Roberts confirmed on Monday that David Freese will start and Matt Kemp will be the designated hitter. Puig generally doesn't start against left-handed pitching, but he will man right field after his three-hit performance, including a three-run homer, during the NLCS Game 7 clincher. Austin Barnes will catch again after starting the final four games of the NLCS. Whether all of those right-handed hitters can avoid the temptation of trying to pull Sale pitches over the Green Monster is one of the keys for the slug-happy Dodgers.
- Brian Dozier, 2B
- Justin Turner, 3B
- David Freese, 1B
- Manny Machado, SS
- Chris Taylor, LF
- Matt Kemp, DH
- Enrique Hernandez, CF
- Yasiel Puig, RF
- Austin Barnes, C
Red Sox: The most balanced lineup in MLB takes its act to the World Series with the clear mission of continuing to set the tone. The Sox are 7-0 this postseason when they score first and 0-2 when they don't. It was also a trend in the regular season, when Boston was 74-15 when scoring first. With Kershaw starting for the Dodgers in Game 1, Cora has stacked the deck with right-handed hitters, as he did against other lefties this postseason. This means that Steve Pearce will start at first base instead of Mitch Moreland, though the left-handed-hitting Rafael Devers got the nod at third base over Eduardo Nunez.
Regarding the decision to start Devers, Cora said, "[Kershaw is] one of the best pitchers in the big leagues. But throughout the years, it's not that he's a reverse-split guy, because he's still good. But there's some trends, and I think as far as the way he attacks hitters and where he attacks hitters, it's a good matchup for us."
Though Cora has more or less turned the catching reins over to Christian Vazquez of late, the slumping Sandy Leon caught Sale the majority of the time this season and will do so again in the World Series opener.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Dodgers: Kershaw makes his first Fenway Park start in Game 1 after convincing management he didn't need extra rest in the wake of throwing the final 15 pitches on Saturday night in Milwaukee. Kershaw lost his Game 1 start in the NLCS, lasting only three-plus innings, but won Game 5 with a masterful seven innings then closed out the clincher. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler and Rich Hill will follow Kershaw in Games 2-4, respectively.
Red Sox: Sale, who has a lot of adrenaline even for starts in Spring Training, will be extra fired up for his World Series debut. He did have issues down the stretch, pitching just 17 innings from July 28 through the end of the regular season due to left shoulder inflammation. After Sale had an impressive showing against the Yankees in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, his velocity and command were lacking in his no-decision in Game 1 in the next round against the Astros. Sale had a stomach virus right after that start against Houston and will be on nine days' rest when the World Series starts. Extra rest has generally been a good thing for Sale. He made 11 starts on five or more days' rest during the regular season, going 6-2 with a 1.41 ERA. Sale doesn't have much history with the Dodgers. He last faced them on June 15, 2012, taking a no-decision at Dodger Stadium. Sale's only other appearance against them was in relief in 2011.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Dodgers: The Dodgers' bullpen had a 1.45 ERA in the NLCS. Not only is Kenley Jansen back, Pedro Baez remains unexpectedly dominant and Ryan Madson is the calm in a storm. Kenta Maeda hasn't been the impact setup man as expected, but with Dylan Floro, Scott Alexander and Alex Wood, Los Angeles' bullpen is deep and versatile. Of course, the Dodgers thought they had a superb relief corps going into last year's World Series, when Jansen and Brandon Morrow appeared to wilt under a heavy workload.
Red Sox: Boston's bullpen, much-maligned despite finishing fourth in the AL in ERA this season, had a strong showing in the ALCS. Pitchers have found their roles, and Cora has gained confidence in them. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are the two relievers Cora trusts the most in the setup role. In the postseason, Barnes, Brasier, Richard Hembree and Joe Kelly have a combined 0.81 ERA and a .122 opponent's batting average over 22 1/3 innings.
Closer Craig Kimbrel had struggled in this postseason until the Game 5 clincher against Houston, when he fixed an issue of tipping pitches that former Dodgers closer Eric Gagne pointed out to him, and he was dominant in closing out the Astros. Steven Wright, who missed the first two rounds of the postseason due to a right knee injury, was left off the World Series roster as well.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Red Sox: Everyone is available.
Any injuries of note?
Dodgers: None known. Joc Pederson started Game 7 after being hit by a 96-mph fastball on the right wrist in Game 6 but had only one at-bat, a groundout, before he was replaced after a pitcher change. But on Monday, he said he was fine.
Red Sox: Nunez has been bothered by right ankle issues since the regular-season finale, so the rest between rounds will likely do him some good. Moreland injured his right hamstring in Game 2 of the ALDS and has only started once since then. He still isn't running at full speed but will probably start against right-handed starters in the World Series.
Who is hot and who is not?
Dodgers: Taylor hit a quiet .364 against the Brewers and Puig hit .333, including his crucial three-run home run in Game 7. But even in the clincher, the Dodgers went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, so there are still chinks in the offensive armor, but the one hit was Puig's blast. Player Page for Max Muncy and Hernandez really struggled in the NLCS, Muncy with 13 strikeouts in 22 at-bats and Hernandez going 1-for-14 with eight strikeouts. The bullpen has been nearly untouchable, but the starting rotation unpredictable.
Red Sox: Considering Bradley hit .200 in the ALCS, it's hard to classify him as hot. But he has made his hits count. The three he had against the Astros added up to nine RBIs and led to the center fielder earning ALCS MVP honors. Betts has shown flashes of brilliance in the postseason, but he hasn't gotten hot yet. This probably means he will. In 39 postseason at-bats, Betts is hitting .205 with no homers and three RBIs. The Dodgers have a rotation that is lefty-dominant, so it will be interesting to see how Cora deploys left-handed hitters Devers and Moreland, who have both swung the bat well when they've played this postseason. In fact, Devers is one of five players in history to hit three or more postseason homers before the age of 22. The others? Mickey Mantle, Andruw Jones, Jose Cabrera and Bryce Harper, with four each. Leon continues to be close to an automatic out. Since Aug. 25, the switch-hitter has two hits in 52 at-bats and a .149 OPS.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• There's some rain in the forecast in Boston tonight, but it is expected to clear before the game. The temperature is expected to be in the mid to high 40s.
• The distance between Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium (approximately 2,588 miles) is the longest between World Series opponents.
• Fenway Park, which opened in 1912, is easily the oldest venue in the Major Leagues. Dodger Stadium is the third oldest, opening in 1962.
• This is the first time the Dodgers have played at Fenway Park since 2010. The last time the teams met was 2016, when Los Angeles took two out of three.
• These iconic franchises have met just once in the World Series, in 1916, when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and known as the Robins. The Red Sox won in five games for the second of three World Series titles won from 1915-18 prior to a drought that lasted until Boston again won the World Series in 2004.
• The Red Sox hope to continue their dominance against NL opponents. During the regular season, the Sox went 16-4 in Interleague Play. In their last three World Series appearances, Boston combined to go 12-2 against the Cardinals (2004 and '13) and Rockies ('07).
• Cora is the third rookie manager in the expansion era (1961-present) to lead his team to the World Series. The others were Ralph Houk (1961 Yankees) and Bob Brenly (2001 D-backs). Houk and Brenly both went on to win the Fall Classic.