Playing Pepper is a feature on BtB where members of the staff provide quick hit insight on the postseason. In this edition, the guys size up the 2017 World Series.
Sum up the LCS in one sentence.
@khurramala: The Dodgers flexed, the Astros dug deep, and both teams better take care of business now because the two clubs they left behind will be back–with a couple other contenders chomping at the bit.
@JPowellBtB: One team on an upswing surpassed expectations by a landslide, while another slid into oblivion just one year removed from their “new reign.”
@BSirvioBtB: Two decidedly entertaining, compelling series featuring four teams that clearly belonged.
@realDanFederico: The LCS had, in my opinion, the two best teams in each division fighting for a chance at a World Series Championship – the way it’s supposed to be.
@DHealy22: Despite all the talk about juiced balls and home runs, pitching continues to be the king of the postseason.
What surprised you in these LCS?
@khurramala: The emergence of Lance McCullers. It’s not like McCullers hasn’t shown flashes of brilliance in his nascent career, but injury issues and a disastrous second-half of 2017 moved him out of the current Justin Verlander role and into the, “Whatever we get is gravy” typecast at the start of the playoffs. Against the Yankees, McCullers produced 10 innings of 0.90 ERA and .6 WHIP work, grabbing a no-decision that had nothing to do with him, and a four-inning save. If his production even approaches what we’ve seen so far, the Astros have a formidable short-rest rotation awaiting the Dodgers.
@JPowellBtB: L.A.’s masterful relief core and the Yankees’ incredible push to show their youthful club is more wrought with potential than inexperience.
@BSirvioBtB: Josh Reddick, whose OPS this postseason isn’t appreciably better than his OBP this season. Getting his lefty bat going will be essential to protecting the rest of a potent Astros lineup.
@realDanFederico: The one real surprise of the LCS has to be the New York Yankees. Everyone realized the future was bright in the Bronx but not many believed they could make it all the way to the ALCS in the first year of their youth movement.
@DHealy22: The Dodgers’ bullpen was utterly dominant against the Cubs. L.A.’s relievers allowed five baserunners all series. Chicago’s relievers allowed five baserunners within their first eight batters of Game 1. Game 5 aside, these games were up for grabs in the late innings and the Dodgers’ pen came out on top every time. Getting beat by Kenley Jansen and the resurgent Brandon Morrow is one thing, but getting shut down by Tony Watson, Tony Cingrani and Ross Stripling has me questioning whether or not the Cubs will have the staying power many thought they would.
If the Dodgers win…
@khurramala: At least for the near-future, Los Angeles puts the “what if” bugaboo to rest.
Baseball is parity-driven, a truth that doesn’t match conventional wisdom on major North American sports. So, when a team is in the postseason discussion as consistently as the Dodgers have been over the last half-decade, you start to notice their misses. In the post-strike, three-division era (starting in 1995), there are just five instances of a team winning five or more consecutive division titles, this Dodgers run included. Los Angeles and the mid-’90s Cleveland Indians are the only teams without titles during their respective runs, and the Dodgers were the only team in that group without a World Series trip until this season. If they win it, they immortalize this special era.
@JPowellBtB: Big money reigns again and few are surprised. But to their credit, the Dodgers have been great at selecting talented young players and finally seem to have a manager who, despite his inexperience, is quickly figuring out how to manage those with both big egos and big contracts. Besides being able to afford any glaring holes in the roster, they deserve the credit they’ll soon be seeing pile up in droves, thanks to a historic season, endless persistence and keeping baseball timelessly entertaining.
@BSirvioBtB: It will be a lasting rebuke to and the nail in the coffin for the free-spending days gone by. Even with the seemingly limitless resources ownership has at their disposal, their most critical offensive components have been scrapheap finds (Justin Turner, Chris Taylor) and their own homegrown talent (Seager, Bellinger.)
@realDanFederico: If the Dodgers win, it would be great for baseball. No sport wants nothing more than big market teams being on top, and markets don’t get bigger than LA. Plus, this team has been on the cusp for a number of years now – it seems like they’re due.
@DHealy22: They cap off a historically great season and prove to themselves that they don’t have to break the bank to build a contender. While the team boasted the league’s highest payroll yet again, they are in the World Series because of the contributions of players making the league minimum, such as Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor.
The Dodgers will never have a problem spending top dollar for a player they want, but the success of Bellinger, Taylor and others will allow the team to spend more wisely.
If the Astros win…
@khurramala: There’s a lot a Houston win would mean to baseball and to the city of Houston, but on a personal level, it would mean Carlos Beltran gets that elusive ring he’s been chasing for 20 years, and I’d like to see that.
@JPowellBtB: They’ll FINALLY reap the benefits of escaping the NL Central and potentially get some redemption for their lackluster finish in 2005. The stamp has already been pressed in ink and is now just hovering over the page they turned just a few short years ago. They may be from a big market but given their savvy and limited payroll, could, like the Royals, make a statement that you don’t need big money to play big games — a statement that will help cement hope for fans of teams that fall UNDER the league average in salary.
@BSirvioBtB: Jose Altuve punches his ticket to the Hall of Fame, with at least a Mazeroski-type legend being written this October, but should get there on his own merits eventually anyway. This will just help shape the legacy he leaves behind. The man has erupted all season–a subplot somehow lost all summer long–with numbers that compare favorably with Roberto Alomar‘s or George Brett‘s best seasons with more pop (in more hitter-friendly confines, as well.)
Yep, he’s that good.
@realDanFederico: If the Astros win, it’ll make a feel-good story complete. On one hand, they’re representing a city that was devastated by hurricanes just a short time ago. They’ll also live up to the hype Sports Illustrated put on the organization’s shoulders in 2014, when they predicted the team would be champions by 2017.
@DHealy22: All the tanking was worth it. The team was in a dark place four years ago, but a championship, especially a team’s first, heals all wounds. The Astros’ scouting and development teams have done a fantastic job of turning the rewards for their extended ineptitude (George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman) in franchise cornerstones.
Are the two most deserving teams here?
@khurramala: You could make the case that somewhere between four and eight of the teams in the 2017 playoffs would have been deserved World Series participants. And the larger your list gets, the likelier it is that one of these two squads had to get through deserving contenders to get here, increasing their own theoretical deserving quotient. In any case, Los Angeles spent a large chunk of this year as the best team in baseball and Houston spent a large chunk as the best team in the American League. They should definitely be here.
@JPowellBtB: It’s hard to say because these teams come from two different walks — one with around $250 million, the other with around $150. Getting here on the latter seems far more deserving. The Dodgers have played great this season, financial considerations removed, so on that level, yes. And both have been equally entertaining, so at least I can commit to saying yes on two levels. I can’t say I didn’t want to see Cleveland here after an incredible second half — they deserved more but in the end, only shorted themselves.
@BSirvioBtB: Yes. There are no accidents here.
@realDanFederico: It’s hard to deny that both the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers are deserving of their World Series bids. They both had tremendous regular seasons while overcoming some adversity, made the necessary moves to fortify their rosters and are playing great baseball at the right time.
@DHealy22: Yes. The Dodgers and Astros have dealt with adversity, whether it be the Dodgers’ odd losing streak or the Astros’ players losing faith in the front office in August, and have come back as stronger teams. The Dodgers earned their berth through pure dominance. The Astros got pushed to the brink, but fought their way to this stage. It’s not often the two best teams match up in the World Series, but that’s what we have here.
Who ya got: Astros v. Dodgers
@khurramala: Two of the best offenses in baseball and two of the six-best pitching rotations in baseball square off in a heavyweight tilt. Make no mistake: these two teams aren’t flukes, and are strong enough to be outright favorites in many of the recent World Series matchups outside their own.
Neither the Red Sox nor the Yankees could effectively suppress Altuve and Correa over a series. Houston’s middle-infield tandem accounted for just under 40% of the runs and just over 40% of the RBIs the team produced in the American League playoffs, and were responsible for one of every three hits the Astros recorded over 11 games. That shutdown task falls to Clayton Kershaw and company, who certainly have the name recognition and the pedigree, and what they did to a normally potent (but admittedly scuffling) Chicago Cubs offense over five games pumps up their recent-history bona fides. Whether they can get leads over to Kenley Jansen remains to be seen, but their offense can swing with the best of their class (which, it turns out, is the Astros), and if they can pull out at least one swing-for-swing style game against Houston’s frontline pitching, the Dodgers should end a title drought just before it turns 30. Dodgers in 6.
@JPowellBtB: It is incredibly hard to bet against a Dodgers team that boasts strengths at every turn, but for the sake of seeing what the Astros can do given just one pitch, I’ll take the latter in a series that should go a minimum of six games. Houston in 7.
@BSirvioBtB: The Dodgers handed it to the defending champion Chicago Cubs, restoring order to the universe. They did so handily, with lock-down pitching and offense from all over the lineup card. This is a very, very good team, and I really should pick them. The Astros’ offense is explosive and the starting pitching is there. There are bullpen issues, sure, but if they’re not trucked out all the time, do they matter?
The Dodgers have shown they can defend home and take it to opponents in hostile ballparks. The Astros struggled mightily at Yankee Stadium, a field that plays remarkably similar to the Juice Box; enough of a difference-maker to tip the scales toward the Dodgers. The World Series champs will be the Dodgers in 6. The real winners of this World Series will be you and me.
@realDanFederico: Like each round before this, the World Series will be a true dogfight. But the Dodgers seem to have everything clicking right now, while the Astros are still looking for answers at some positions. Dodgers in 6.
@DHealy22: Heading into this series, the Dodgers don’t seem to have any noticeable flaws. The same can’t be said about the Astros, whose bullpen was further exposed in their series with the Yankees. Manager A.J. Hinch will have to get creative late in games.
The Astros’ offense will recover from a lackluster performance in the ALCS, but it won’t be enough. Dodgers in 6.
Dan Federico, Jonathan Powell and Brent Sirvio are co-founders of, and Khurram Kalim and Dillon Healy are staff writers for, Bronx to Bushville.