After winning an MLB-best 104 games in the regular season, the Los Angeles Dodgers are back in the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades. The Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks in the NLDS and then took down the defending World Series champion Cubs in five games in an NLCS rematch. Next up is the Houston Astros, who won 101 games in the regular season before beating the Red Sox (3-1) and surviving the Yankees in seven games to advance to the World Series.
For Los Angeles, this is the franchise’s first Fall Classic appearance since 1988 when it beat Oakland in five games. That was the World Series best known for Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run off of A’s closer Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1. So who will be the hero for the Dodgers for this time around? Here are five players to keep an eye on during this World Series, which starts Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
1. Corey Seager, SS
Seager didn’t even make the NLCS roster after injuring his back in Game 3 of the NLDS against Arizona. The 2016 National League Rookie of the Year and runner-up in the NL MVP voting, Seager didn’t put up the same type of numbers this season (.295-22-77) but his importance to the Dodgers can’t be overstated. The question though is he ready? Besides not playing in the NLCS, Seager hit .273 in the NLDS (11 AB) and only .210 from Sept. 1 to the end of the regular season.
2. Clayton Kershaw, SP
By now Kershaw’s postseason struggles are well documented, but rightfully so. The man widely recognized as the best pitcher in baseball has been anything but in the playoffs. He won Game 5 against Chicago to clinch the NL pennant for the Dodgers but is just 6-7 in 21 games (17 GS) in his postseason career with an un-Kershaw-like 4.40 ERA. Now the stakes are even higher and Kershaw will get the chance to set the tone, good or bad, as the Game 1 starter at home.
3. Yasiel Puig, OF
Somewhat quietly, Puig has had his best all-around season since bursting on the scenes as a rookie in 2013. He hit. 263 with a career-best 28 home runs and 74 RBIs and has carried that over to the postseason with a .414 average and more walks (six) than strikeouts (three). But in true Puig fashion, he’s had his showboat moments too. As long as the production continues, the Dodgers will live with the antics. But the last thing Puig needs to be at this stage is a distraction who does more to hurt his team than help.
4. Rich Hill, SP
Hill has already been named the Game 2 starter for Wednesday, opposite Houston’s Justin Verlander. Hill has had stretches when he’s been unhittable but also has gone through periods when his control deserts him or a blister forces him out of the game early. He posted a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts in the regular season and has given up just three runs in two starts (9 IP) thus far this postseason. He has strikeout stuff (12 Ks) but the southpaw will need to hit his spots consistently against this loaded Astros lineup.
5. Corey Bellinger, 1B/OF
With apologies to Corey Seager and Justin Turner, Bellinger is the linchpin to this Dodgers offense. Likely the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year and a safe bet for at least a top-10 finish in the MVP voting, Bellinger is hitting .278 with two home runs while striking out a third of the time (12 Ks in 36 AB) in his first taste of October baseball. So how will he respond on the game’s biggest stage against the likes of pair of Cy Young winners in Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, as well as the rest of the Astros’ pitching staff?
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)