Astros @ Dodgers Oct. 25, 2017: World Series Game 2

(Via)

Last night still feels like a dream, but tonight’s huge game will quickly snap fans back to reality. Standing between the Dodgers and a crucial 2-0 series lead is a very formidable opponent: Justin Verlander.

Astros
Dodgers
5:09 p.m. FOX
Los Angeles
CF
Springer
CF
Taylor
3B
Bregman
SS
Seager
2B
Altuve
3B
Turner
SS
Correa
1B
Bellinger
1B
Gurriel
RF
Puig
C
McCann
LF
Pederson
LF
Gonzalez C Barnes
RF
Reddick
2B
Utley
P
Verlander (R)
P
Hill (L)

The Dodgers faced Verlander once this year, in his third-to-last start in a Tigers uniform. Verlander shut them down in convincing fashion. The only run the Dodgers scored in the eight inning start was on a Curtis Granderson solo shot, and the only other hit they registered was an Austin Barnes single. However, that was during the Dodgers’ extended rut, and it’s easy to state that they’re not really that team anymore. In that game, Cody Bellinger was resting a sprained ankle. Adrian Gonzalez hit clean-up. Chris Taylor had the day off. That August slump feels like it happened years ago to the fans, and it probably feels like years ago to the team as well.

Countering the right-handed Verlander is a lineup which has been dramatically shuffled since the NLCS. Corey Seager is back in the number two spot the night after hitting two singles and looking reasonably healthy. Joc Pederson is starting over Andre Ethier (and Granderson), which is a bit of a surprise. In his pre-game comments, Dave Roberts cited bat speed as a deciding factor. It seems like none of the available options are perfect and they may shuffle around when the series moves to Houston. Chase Utley is also in the starting lineup for the first time in the series, giving Logan Forsythe the night off. Utley has no hits in the playoffs, but is at least getting on base on occasion (two walks and a hit by pitch in 12 plate appearances). Still, at this point it’s hard to argue with preferring Forsythe on his weaker platoon side. This may be Utley’s last chance to make a significant contribution.

On the Astros side, they are trotting out the same lineup against Rich Hill that they sent out against Clayton Kershaw last night. For a team which looked so baffled and caught between pitches, the backwards-pitching Hill may not be a great matchup. Still, it’s not like he pounds the zone as much as Kershaw does and did, so there are pretty significant differences between the two. Regardless, the difference between Rich Hill and Justin Verlander is less than most make it out to be. Both FiveThirtyEight and Baseball Prospectus actually have the Dodgers as slight favorites in this game, with any pitching mismatch offset by the home field advantage. FiveThirtyEight’s projection is particularly interesting because their “adjustment for pitcher quality” and “pitcher score” (whatever those mean) actually rate Verlander as a better pitcher than Kershaw right now. Still, if you are going to disproportionately weight Verlander’s recent playoff performance, you have to do the same with the Dodgers’, and they’re 8-1.

Today’s pre-game press conferences were light on news, but Houston did finally announce their starters for Game 3 and Game 4. Lance McCullers, fresh from his dominant ALCS closing performance, will get Game 3. Charlie Morton will get Game 3. This would align McCullers to start again in Game 7 if the series were to get that far. Both pitchers will likely need significant bullpen help to close out the game, which makes Houston’s use of pitchers like Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh particularly important tonight. If the Dodgers can somehow get to Verlander early, it could significantly impact Houston’s plans in upcoming games as well.

——

The stakes on tonight’s game are nauseatingly huge. Win tonight and the Dodgers will be somewhere north of 80% likely to win the World Series. Lose, and it’s a brand new series, with home field advantage shifting to Houston. Like I said earlier, it’s not as big of a mismatch as people have made it out to be, but whether or not the Dodgers can break through against an incredibly tough pitcher will shape the trajectory of the rest of this series.

About Daniel Brim

Daniel Brim

Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn’t live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.