World Series preview: 6 players who could decide Red Sox vs. Dodgers

Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts celebrates after his RBI-double against the Houston Astros during the eighth inning in Game 2 of a baseball American League Championship Series on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in Boston. (David J. Phillip/AP)

Few World Series matchups have brought as many smiles to the commissioner’s office as this one: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Boston Red Sox, two of the game’s most historic franchises in two of its biggest markets; the first Series to be contested by teams led by visible minority managers – Alex Cora and Dave Roberts – who are very much out of the mould of modern-day managing; a series loaded with potential redemption tales; a little bit of edginess; and players with deep resumes in need of final burnishing. And runs … my goodness but there will be runs!

The Red Sox are attempting to win their fourth consecutive World Series – they won in 2004, 2007 and 2013 – and only the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals have managed that feat. The Dodgers haven’t won in 30 years – Kirk Gibson, and all that – while the Red Sox could end up with the second-most total wins in a season: they’ve won 119 games between the regular and post-season. Four more would bring them to within two wins of the total for the 1998 Yankees. My guess? They come up short …

Mookie Betts, right-fielder/second baseman, Red Sox

Yes, that’s not a mis-print: with the designated hitter not in effect in the games at Dodger Stadium, Cora has had Betts taking grounders at second base – a position Betts played in the minor leagues after being drafted as a shortstop – in order to make it easier to get J.D. Martinez in the lineup.

It’s also keeps Jackie Bradley, Jr., as a regular for his defence at Dodger Stadium. Betts has had a quiet post-season at the plate (8-for-39, .205, with three doubles) and while the American League Most Valuable Player votes were submitted before the start of the playoffs every player likes to be at their best when the lights are brightest.

These are two of games biggest, most historical franchises. It might never get brighter for Betts.

Brian Dozier, infielder, Dodgers

Of his 43 career hits against the Red Sox, 11 are home runs. Dozier knows the Red Sox well from his time with the Minnesota Twins and with the amount of left-handed pitching the platoon-happy Dodgers will see it just feels as if Dozier will find himself in key situation at some point, particularly if Cora decides to use lefty starter Chris Sale out of the bullpen.

It’s been a struggle this post-season for the right-hand hitting Dozier, but with a Series that could very well set a new standard for attrition, don’t be surprised if Dozier gets his moments.

Clayton Kershaw, starting pitcher, Dodgers

I mean, really does seem as if he’s a permanent fixture on these lists, doesn’t it? Look: I’ll have no part of any debate about whether or not David Price chokes in the post-season. One start shouldn’t change your mind.

But the Dodgers Game 1 starter – who recorded the final three outs of NLCS Game 7 – is unfairly done by when it comes to post-season reputations. Yeah, he lasted just 4 2/3 innings of last years World Series Game 5, giving up six runs after being staked to a 4-0 lead. But he was brilliant in Game 1 (seven innings, 11 walks, no strikeouts) and won two games in the NLCS leading up to it.

Know what? In defence of both of these guys, the added layers of post-season games at the end of a long regular season present more chances for colossal meltdowns than pitchers back in the day. You need to be good to be in the position to have a legacy to begin with; but Kershaw can put the finishing touches on his in this series. Win a ring and the rest is gravy.

Manny Machado, shortstop, Dodgers

Here’s your nightmare scenario, Red Sox fans: Betts is playing second at Dodger Stadium, is taking a flip on a double-play grounder and don’t look now but Machado is bearing down on him.

The man who has knocked Yasiel Puig off his perch as most aggravating Dodger will sign one of the biggest free-agent contracts in history with somebody this winter regardless of what happens in the series. But it’s hard not to see him playing a pivotal role, after being a flashpoint in the National League Championship Series following his dicey slide into Orlando Arica, clipping the back of Jesus Aguilar’s foot, treating Milwaukee Brewers fans to a Game 7 crotch-grab and essentially stating that ‘hustle’ is, well, over-rated.

Machado, recall, wiped out Dustin Pedroia on April 21, 2017, spiking him, injuring his knee and exacerbating the downward spiral of Pedroia’s career, sparking a bean-ball incident. That’s all fine and well, but when you have the cojones to drop down a full-count, bunt-single in a Game 7? Dirty player or not, you’re going to be in the middle of things.

Steve Pearce, first base, Red Sox

Ex-Blue Jays alert! This was a spot I was reserving for the Milwaukee Brewers Erik Kratz, but alas it falls to Pearce. Not that his inclusion isn’t warranted: he is a lefty crusher, whose OPS against southpaws this season was .959, and whose defensive play at first base in the post-season has been largely unnoticeable which, as Blue Jays fans know, is a bit of a feat.

The Dodgers will run out three lefty starters in this series and, as Roberts has shown, won’t be afraid to use one of those lefties in emergency relief. Cora’s use of Pearce figures to be a strategic focal point.

Ryan Brasier/Matt Barnes/Heath Hembree/Joe Kelly, middle relievers, Red Sox

The Red Sox have spent the post-season with fingers crossed about their starting pitchers and closer, and while the emergence of Nathan Eovaldi and the settling down of Craig Kimbrel has mitigated some of those concerns it has been the middle relief that has posted jaw-dropping numbers.

These four arms have combined for a 0.81 ERA and have held the New York Yankees and Houston Astros to a .122 opponents average against. Since the first game of the AL Division Series, Red Sox relievers have stranded all 14 inherited runners. Josh Hader allowed no runs in 10 innings for the Brewers – Brasier is next in line with seven shut-out innings.

Forty-four pitchers have faced 20-plus batters this post-season … Barnes owns the lowest opponent average at .050 (1-for-20).

THE CALL: Dodgers in seven.

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