With their 5-0 victory over the Red Sox in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night, the Astros won the AL pennant for the third time in five years and have a date with either the Braves or Dodgers in the World Series.
So which National League foe should Houston be rooting for this weekend? Here’s a breakdown.
A chance at vindication
So let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat: The Dodgers have been waiting four years to avenge their World Series loss at the hands of the Astros in 2017, especially after the sign-stealing scandal that caused questions to arise about Houston’s legitimacy as that season’s champion.
But why would the Astros want to face the Dodgers, then? That’s a Dodgers thing, right?
Houston has a chance to put to rest the doubts about its World Series run in ’17, as well as gain a sense of vindication by not only winning another championship, but by doing so against the very same team it beat in that controversial year.
No rest for the weary
Another reason the Astros would benefit if the Dodgers won another NL pennant is because that club will have been through an exhausting journey to get back to the Fall Classic -- after winning a franchise-record-tying 106 games during the regular season, Los Angeles still had to play a tension-filled NL Wild Card Game against the Cardinals just to get to an NL Division Series matchup against the Giants, an epic series that the Dodgers won in five games.
Injuries have also ravaged the Dodgers’ roster -- they lost Max Muncy to a dislocated elbow in the final game of the regular season, then a hero of Octobers past was lost for the remainder of this postseason when Justin Turner suffered a hamstring injury in NLCS Game 4. Another huge blow to the club has been Max Scherzer’s dead arm, which will reportedly prevent him from starting Game 6 on Saturday as Los Angeles stares elimination in the face yet again. And reliever Joe Kelly is out for the rest of the postseason due to right biceps tightness.
In some ways, it’s remarkable that the Dodgers have even gotten themselves to within two victories of the World Series given all the adversity they’ve been dealt. Should Los Angeles reach the Fall Classic, the Astros may have a chance to deliver the knockout punch with the Dodgers against the ropes.
No experience necessary
One significant advantage the Astros would have if the Braves were to be their opponent in the World Series is that Houston’s roster is loaded with players who have been there before. It’s quite the opposite for Atlanta, a franchise that hasn’t won a pennant in 22 years. Sure, there are some Braves players who have reached the World Series with other teams in the past, such as Charlie Morton and Joc Pederson. But by comparison, the Braves are severely lacking in the experience department when it comes to playing under the brightest of October lights.
Any preference, Dusty?
Astros manager Dusty Baker has been a player, coach and manager in the Majors for more than half a century. He's had experience playing for and against a number of teams, and both the Braves and Dodgers have been central to his baseball story. Baker made his MLB debut with Atlanta at the age of 19 in 1968, and played for the Braves for the first eight years of his career. He then played for the Dodgers for the next eight seasons before finishing up his career with the Giants and A's.
The Braves and Dodgers have also figured prominently in his managerial career -- for a classic case-in-point, we go back to 1993, when Atlanta outlasted Baker's Giants in his first year as a manager to win the NL West by one game. The Giants won 103 games and didn't make it into the postseason. The team that defeated San Francisco on the final day of the regular season to crush its postseason hopes? The Dodgers.
Based on all of his history with both clubs, it would seem there's no clear preference on which team Baker would rather play outside the factors outlined above.
Bring on the rematch
It appears the Astros should be rooting for the Dodgers to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS with two victories at Truist Park this weekend. It would bring Houston opportunity on many fronts, not the least of which is the chance to silence critics who point to the 2017 World Series victory over Los Angeles as tainted. It would certainly be a heavyweight bout between the two most successful teams of the past five years, each vying for a second World Series title in that span.