You knew a World Series this compelling had to run the table. The fact that the Astros and Dodgers will need a Game 7 to determine a champion is this postseason's greatest non-surprise, not to mention a treat for all of us who’ve been riding shotgun on this super-power match-up.
Consider it a gift. Now get ready for the most important game of the season.
All the variables and intangibles go straight out the window tonight: the algorithm boils down to simple execution and grace under pressure. Players from both teams will arrive at the ballpark knowing they have a chance to create a lifetime legacy: hero or goat.
We’ll see what the fates have in store, but either way, it’s been worth watching from the start. And what a finish.
Here are five scenarios/questions to consider, starting with Yu Darvish’s first pitch.
1. Does Darvish rise to the occasion?
Of course no one expects Darvish to go 7-8 innings, but he needs to at least establish that he’s in control and unafraid. His collapse in Game 3 was epic: six runs in 1.2 innings, the worst performance of the right-hander’s career, calling into questioning whether he could handle an assignment this big.
Darvish will have a shot at redemption, and to be fair he sounded confident and composed in Monday’s off-day press conference. Still, it’s one thing to keep it together in front of the media, quite another to have George Springer staring you down from 60 feet, six inches.
2. Can anyone stop Springer?
If it feels like the heavy-hitting center fielder has kept the Astros afloat in this Series, it’s because he has, almost single-handedly. Springer is batting .375 with a .958 slugging percentage, which is more than impressive, and it could forge a reputation as the next Mr. October.
Springer blasted his fifth HR of the Series on Tuesday night against Rich Hill and has otherwise totaled 14 hard-hit balls (exit velocity exceeding 95-mph). Jose Altuve has 11; no one else is close.
3. Will pitching finally dominate at the moment of truth?
It was trending that way in Game 6 in the Dodgers’ crisp 3-1 victory. But after that run-scoring orgy in Game 5, who knows? Overall, this Series has been an advertisement of long ball power.
The Dodgers and Astros have combined for 24 HRs, surpassing the previous mark of 21 set in 2002 by the Angels and Giants (in seven games, no less). Pitchers from both teams openly accused MLB of doctoring the baseball to create a slick, harder-to-grip surface, which made it harder to throw a proper slider.
True or not, the home runs have been flying and at the most critical time, too: 16 of the 24 blasts have either tied the score or put a team ahead. That’s why it’s been impossible to turn off the TV set.
4. Will Clayton Kershaw be a factor?
That’s an easy one: of course Kershaw will take the ball. The only question is how soon he makes his appearance. Remember: in Game 7, the all-hands-on-deck edict blurs the lines between starters and relievers, so Kershaw is already slated to emerge from the bullpen.
A lot depends on Darvish and how much Kershaw has on just two days’ rest. The left-hander said, “I'll be ready to go with whatever they need" and proved the point by warming up during Game 6. Manager Dave Roberts resisted the urge to use his ace, figuring the Dodgers need to beat the Astros twice; Kershaw would be that much more effective with an additional day of recovery.
5. Can the Astros’ bullpen be trusted?
Uh, no. That’s why manager A.J. Hinch is looking for at least six innings from Lance McCullers Jr. with plans to go straight to his starters to finish out. That means Charlie Morton (three days’ rest) and Dallas Keuchel (two).
Unlike the Dodgers, who have the formidable Kenley Jansen for the ninth inning, the Astros’ closer, Ken Giles, looks like a broken man and won’t get anywhere near the mound in a close game. But Morton and Keuchel might be enough. We’ll soon find out.