The Red Sox shouldn't fear any team. They proved that, not only by winning 108 games in the regular season, but also by cruising past the 100-win Yankees in the American League Division Series and the 103-win Astros in the AL Championship Series.But when it comes to Boston's World Series
The Red Sox shouldn't fear any team. They proved that, not only by winning 108 games in the regular season, but also by cruising past the 100-win Yankees in the American League Division Series and the 103-win Astros in the AL Championship Series.
But when it comes to Boston's World Series opponent, there is reason to believe the AL champs should have a preference, even if they would never say so.
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The Brewers and Dodgers will play a decisive Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night at Miller Park, after Milwaukee won Game 6, 7-2, on Friday night. Both teams obviously are talented and formidable, and either would present the Red Sox with plenty of challenges.
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Even so, here are five reasons why Boston should hope to see Milwaukee at Fenway Park for Tuesday night's Game 1, rather than Los Angeles.
1. The Dodgers lean left
Yes, the Red Sox have handled J.A. Happ, Carsten Sabathia and Dallas Keuchel well this postseason. But in a much larger sample during the regular season, Boston ranked first in the Majors in OPS against right-handed pitchers (.817), compared with 18th against southpaws (.719). That gap was less severe when looking only at starting pitchers (.802 vs. .759), but still significant. Among the Red Sox's hitters, only Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Steve Pearce had at least a .750 OPS off lefties.
The Dodgers likely would put three southpaws in their four-man rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill. Now that Giovany Gonzalez is out due to injury, Wade Miley is the Brewers' only lefty starter. L.A. also can choose from Alex Wood, Julio Urias, Caleb Ferguson and Scott Alexander to stock its bullpen.
2. Boston handles heat
Brewers pitchers used a fastball (four-seamer, two-seamer/sinker or cutter) 64.5 percent of the time this season, the fourth-highest rate in MLB. The Dodgers were 26th, at 55.8 percent. The only pitchers likely to be on Milwaukee's roster who are particularly offspeed-heavy, compared to the league average, are starter Jhoulys Chacin and reliever Jeremy Jeffress.
Why does that matter? The Red Sox ranked first in the Majors in batting (.288), third in slugging (.485) and first in wOBA (.368) against fastballs this season. Those numbers are even better this postseason, with Boston batting .318 and slugging .524 against heaters -- compared with .176/.261 against other pitches -- despite facing some tough opponents.
3. L.A. has the patience factor
During the regular season, Red Sox relievers had MLB's ninth-highest walk rate (9.8 percent). That has shot up to 15.2 percent this postseason, thanks in large part to shaky closer Craig Kimbrel (6 1/3 innings, six walks), plus Matt Barnes (6 1/3 innings, six walks), Richard Hembree (3 1/3 innings, four walks) and Ryan Brasier (7 innings, four walks).
The Dodgers are well equipped to take advantage of continued strike-zone issues, having led the Majors in walk rate this season (10.2 percent). The Brewers ranked 16th, at 8.6 percent. Notably, L.A. also swung at the lowest percentage of all opponent pitches (43.5 percent) and had the lowest chase rate out of the zone (23.8 percent), so don't expect the Dodgers to help out opponents struggling with their control.
4. The Dodgers' starting rotation can go toe-to-toe with Boston
Ryu struggled in the NLCS but was terrific in the NL Division Series and had a 1.97 ERA during the regular season. Hill, who resurrected his career with Boston late in 2015, is a savvy veteran. Walker Buehler has dynamic stuff and posted a 2.62 ERA as a rookie. And most importantly, Kershaw shook off a rough start in Game 1 of the NLCS -- and the narrative surrounding his postseason performance -- to dominate Milwaukee in Game 5. The Brewers, of course, have run their pitching staff in a non-traditional fashion this postseason, out of necessity. It has worked. With that said, Gonzalez's injury erases one option for Milwaukee, which will have used its top two starters (Miley and Chacin) in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS, respectively. It's reasonable to wonder if the experiment could hold up through yet another round against Boston's stellar offense, which just rolled over Houston.
5. The Brewers' bullpen might hit a wall
This is related to the last point, but it's worth considering on its own. This postseason, Dodgers relievers have thrown 37 1/3 innings, or about 42 percent of the team's total. Brewers relievers have thrown 53 2/3 innings, or about 63 percent of the team's total, although the bullpening strategy blurs that line, somewhat.
More to the point, Milwaukee has leaned on its top bullpen arms. Josh Hader (six games, seven innings), Corey Knebel (eight games, 9 1/3 innings), Jeffress (seven games, 6 2/3 innings), Joakim Soria (seven games, 4 2/3 innings) and Corbin Burnes (six games, nine innings) have gotten a lot of work at the end of a long season, with Jeffress and Soria enduring some significant struggles along the way. This group figures to go all out in Game 7 of the NLCS, with Hader, in particular, almost certain to log multiple innings. If so, there could be a price to pay in a matchup with the Red Sox.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.