Neither Clayton Kershaw nor Chris Sale was sharp in Game 1 of the 2018 World Series on Tuesday night. What could have been a cornerstone World Series moment for two of this generation’s best pitchers, including one of the greatest of all-time, was stymied by missed spots and good two-out hitting.
The velocity came back to Chris Sale. After hovering in the low 90s for the better part of a month and a half, Sale was routinely topping out at 96 MPH. The problem was, the control didn’t come back with the velo as Sale labored through 91 pitches over his four innings, giving up three earned runs, including a solo home run to Matt Kemp, before being pulled after walking Brian Dozier to lead off the fifth. Sale’s seven strikeouts were nice, but striking out is just kinda what the Dodgers do, so take those Ks with a grain of salt.
Kershaw’s Game 1 performance might as well have been Exhibit A for his October detractors. Like Sale, Kershaw was pulled with no outs in the fifth inning, leaving two runners on for reliever Ryan Madson in a 3-3 ball game. Xander Bogaerts would hit into an RBI fielder’s choice, scoring Mookie Betts and giving the Sox a one-run lead before Rafael Devers would drive in another run on a two-out single. Kershaw’s final line read 4 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, and a 5-3 Dodger deficit heading into the sixth inning.
The Dodgers would get one back in the seventh on a sac fly from Manny Machado, one of his two runs knocked in. But it was all for naught as Eduardo Nunez pummeled an Alex Wood low-and-in breaking ball over the Green Monster for a pinch-hit, three-run home run in the bottom of the inning, giving the Red Sox an 8-4 lead and the eventual Game 1 win. The decision by Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts to pull Pedro Baez, who struck out two in the seventh and been dominant all postseason long, for Wood could loom large the rest of the series.
Roberts has tabbed Hyun-Jin Ryu to start Game 2 for the Dodgers. Ryu made just one start between May 2 and August 14 after a groin injury landed him on the DL for most of the summer. Ryu was really good before the injury (2.12 ERA, .154 opponents' batting avg. in six games) and has been lights out since returning to the rotation in August (1.88 ERA, .389 opponents' slugging percentage in nine games). Ryu will face off against the much-maligned Red Sox lefty David Price in Game 2.
World Series Game 2: Los Angeles Dodgers at Boston Red Sox
Time: 8:09 p.m. ET (Wednesday)
Pitching Matchup: Hyun-Jin Ryu vs. David Price
1. The Price is wrong in October
David Price burst on the MLB scene with the rest of the World Series-bound Tampa Bay “Baby” Rays in 2008. Price was the catalyst for eliminating the defending champion Red Sox in the ALCS, winning Game 2 and finishing off Boston with a four-out save in Game 7, all without allowing a single hit. Since then, October has been unkind to the lefty from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Unkind may not be the right word. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is baffling. How is it that a pitcher that is so good during the regular season (Cy Young, seven-time All-Star) so bad in the postseason? In his last 15 postseason appearances, with four different teams, Price’s ERA is a robust 5.29, more than two runs higher than his regular season career mark (3.25), as he has given up 50 extra-base hits in 80 postseason innings.
The outset of the 2018 playoffs was more of the same song for Price and his October blues. In his one start against the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS, the Sox southpaw didn’t even make it two full innings, giving up two home runs, throwing 42 pitches to 10 batters before being pulled. Price took the bump in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Astros, and it was more of the same: 4.2 IP, four earned runs, four walks.
With an opportunity to finish off the defending World Series champions, Boston manager Alex Cora handed the ball to Price for Game 5. Price responded with the best playoff performance of his career, striking out nine Astros over six innings, allowing no runs on three hits as the Sox celebrated another AL pennant on the back of Price’s outing. Whether he can replicate that performance against the Dodgers, we’ll find out tonight, but history doesn’t seem to be on his side.
2. Time for Mookie to get hot
Mookie Betts made his mark early in Game 1, leading off the bottom of the first with a line-drive single to center field. Betts then stole second base on the very next pitch, gifting everyone in America a free taco before scoring the game’s opening run on Andrew Benintendi’s RBI single to right field. Betts would finish the night 1-for-4 with two runs scored, two strikeouts and a walk.
While Betts’ offensive performance in Game 1 didn’t lead the postgame highlight shows, his state line proves how he can impact a game, even without knocking the ball out of the park, something he hasn’t done in almost one full month with his last home run coming on Sept. 24. In fact, Betts has been struggling for the entirety of the postseason, slashing a lowly .205/.295/.285 with a .578 OPS coming into last night’s game.
Despite Betts’ struggles, the Sox are still 8-2 in these playoffs. How many other teams could have their MVP candidate playing well-below replacement level and still win eight of their last 10 games, all while outscoring the Yankees and Astros by 21 runs (56-35), let alone in October? Now, imagine what this Boston offense can do if and when Betts finds his MVP form in the Fall Classic.
3. Alex Cora’s bullpen management
Despite the early exit from his ace, Cora couldn’t have envisioned a better performance from his pitching staff. After Sale was replaced in the fifth, six different Sox pitchers toed the rubber, combining to give up only one run on three hits the rest of the way.
Obviously giving up just one run over the final five innings was key for last night’s win, but in the long term, the Sox pitchers’ efficiency could be what keeps the Dodgers’ bats at bay. All six Boston relievers kept their pitch counts under 20, seemingly making them all available for Game 2.
It’s improbable that Price matches his ALCS Game 5 performance, so it’s likely Cora will manage Game 2 much the way he managed Game 1 – hope his lefty starter can get through the LA lineup twice with as limited damage as possible, and limit the amount of high-leverage plate appearances the Dodgers’ left-handed sluggers (Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson) get in later innings.
With an off day coming up on Thursday, Cora might be more apt to throw some of his more reliable relievers, especially the starter Nathan Eovaldi, for more than one inning if needed.
The Dodgers’ bats got to Chris Sale in Game 1 but squandered precious game-changing opportunities, going just 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, striking out 12 times, and stranding 12 runners on base. With a red-hot Hyun Jin-Ryu taking the mound against an uncertain David Price, look for the Dodgers to be more aggressive the first time through the order in hopes of tying up the series before heading home to the West Coast.
Prediction: Dodgers 6, Red Sox 5
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.