5 people who could define World Series Game 7

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish points back to catcher Austin Barnes. (Alex Gallardo/AP)

The 2017 World Series has lacked many things: sanity, reason, predictability, a pace of play that allows anyone to get to bed on time.

But one thing it has not lacked is dramatics, and it’s a safe bet Game 7 will feature plenty more. With that in mind, here are the five most intriguing players to watch entering Wednesday night.

Watch Game 7 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers live on all regional Sportsnet channels Wednesday with a special World Series edition of MLB Central starting at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.

Yu Darvish

Naturally, we must start with the starters, and of the two men who will begin the game for their teams, Darvish will be watched closest.

Perhaps you remember Game 3, when the 31-year-old couldn’t escape the second inning, giving up laser beams all over the yard as the Astros tagged him for four runs. Darvish simply didn’t have it that night, and whether that had more to do with his own ineffectiveness or the slickness of the much-discussed baseballs being used in this series — which Darvish said affected his ability to throw his slider effectively — is up for debate.

Regardless, the Dodgers will count on Darvish to bounce back with a strong start similar to the ones he pitched in the third games of the NLDS and NLCS, a pair of one-run outings that saw him work into the sixth inning or deeper.

But it won’t be a surprise to see the bullpen start humming over his shoulder at the first sign of distress on Wednesday. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will certainly have a leash on his starter. And if Darvish runs into trouble, we’ll find out just how short it is.

Lance McCullers

McCullers has been a fascinating pitcher to watch this post-season, never more so than during the four-inning save he pitched against the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS, an outing that saw him throw 24 consecutive curveballs to the final six batters of the night. McCullers gave up only a hit and a walk in that outing and will look to recapture the Game 7 magic when he starts for the Astros Wednesday night.

His start in Game 3 of this series was OK, if a little spotty. He walked four and had to work his way out of a couple jams, but in the end he lasted 5.1 innings in a game the Astros won, 5-3.

Of course, this is Game 7, so his rope likely won’t be as long as it was that night. Especially considering Astros manager A.J. Hinch will have a full bullpen complement at his disposal, including Dallas Keuchel, Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock, all on two day’s rest.

Clayton Kershaw

Prepare yourself for a whole lot of shots on the broadcast of every little thing Kershaw’s doing throughout this game. Where’s he sitting? Is he wearing a jacket? Is there coffee in that cup? What’s he doing with his arms?

The Los Angeles ace, of course, will be available to Roberts out of the Dodgers bullpen and will more than likely pitch in this game unless the score is lopsided or Darvish is pitching a gem.

The question after that will be how long he pitches for. Kershaw was ready to pitch on one-day’s rest in Tuesday night’s Game 6 and told reporters afterwards he could “go 27 innings” if needed, which seems unlikely but the sentiment’s nice.

There will also be plenty of attention paid to how Kershaw adjusts routine-wise to pitching in relief for only the fifth time in his career. Of course, it’s the biggest game of his life and he’s the best pitcher on the planet, so odds are he’ll figure it out.

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George Springer

It’s kind of funny to think back to what people were saying about Springer when he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the first game of this series. At that point, Springer was mired in a 3-for-30 slump that began in the ALCS and questions were beginning to be asked about his placement atop the Astros batting order.

In the five games since, Springer has gone 9-for-20 with four homers, two doubles, and six walks, continuing to prove the MLB post-season is the small sample of small samples. Slumps can turn around in a heartbeat; hot streaks can end in an instant.

The Astros will count on Springer to spark their blitzkrieg offence once again in Game 7. If he does so with a home run he’ll join rare company, becoming only the third player in MLB history to hit five long balls in a World Series. The others: Reggie Jackson, who did it with the Yankees in 1977, and Chase Utley, who did it with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009 and will suit up for the Dodgers Wednesday night.

Kenley Jansen

That was a nasty six outs Jansen recorded to close out Game 6, wasn’t it? After surrendering a run in each of his three prior appearances — in Games 2, 4 and 5 — Jansen took over with a two-run lead in the eighth inning of a must-win game and absolutely starched the Astros. He needed just 19 pitches (18 strikes) to record the six outs, striking out three in the process.

If that version of Jansen shows up with a lead late in Game 7, good luck. When he’s at his best, Jansen’s as unhittable as they come.

But the 30-year-old has now thrown 15.2 innings this post-season (after 68.1 in the regular season, mind you) and has to be running on fumes. Roberts can’t not turn to his best bullpen arm if he has a late lead Wednesday. But the Astros know they’ve gotten to Jansen before and if this series has proven anything, it’s that all it takes is one swing.

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