World Series: 4 facts that make the Astros-Dodgers clash historic

With 10 teams now qualifying for Major League Baseball's playoffs - which were already very much a crapshoot - an argument can be made that sometimes, the best team doesn't win the World Series. 

That argument will be much harder to make this year. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers - winners of a major league-best 104 regular-season games, and seven of eight playoff contests - will take on the 101-win Houston Astros, who finished just a game behind the Cleveland Indians for the American League's best record.

And while Dodgers-Astros may lack the mass appeal and network ratings fireworks Dodgers-Yankees would have fetched, both clubs' impressive resumes are just one element that makes this matchup historic in its own right. 

A look at Dodgers-Astros matchup: 

100-win heavyweights

This is the first World Series pitting a pair of 100-win teams since 1970, when the Baltimore Orioles (108-54) beat the 102-win Cincinnati Reds in what could have been billed the Frank Robinson Bowl. 

 

And while the playoffs are ostensibly designed to punish wild-card teams and reward division winners, matching two behemoths in the World Series is still challenging. In 2014, the 88-win San Francisco Giants toppled the 89-win Kansas City Royals in a battle of wild card victors. 

This year, we'll see two teams who ran away with their divisions early. The Astros seized a 14-game lead by June 5, when they completed an 11-game winning streak and improved to 42-16. That huge advantage rendered injuries to ace Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Correa almost irrelevant. 

The Dodgers, of course, were a machine all the way through the summer, posting a 91-36 record (and a 21-game lead) by Aug. 25 before a mystifying 1-16 stretch that raised concerns. Most of those were allayed when the club swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS and dethroned the Chicago Cubs in a five-game ALCS. 

Yes, these are a pair of baseball behemoths.

Astros: Historic AL/NL double

In beating the Yankees in Saturday night's Game 7 of the ALCS, the Astros made history: They're the first team to advance to the World Series as members of both the National and American leagues. 

You can thank Bud Selig, Drayton McLane and Jim Crane for that fun fact. 

McLane was the Astros' owner when they claimed the 2005 NL wild card and made it all the way to the Fall Classic, surviving an Albert Pujols moon shot in Game 5 of the NLCS to win the pennant. They were swept in four games by the Chicago White Sox, however.

By 2011, McLane was ready to sell the team, and Houston businessman Jim Crane purchased it for $680 million. But MLB's approval of the sale was contingent on the Astros moving from the NL to the AL, creating two 15-team leagues. 

Crane agreed, but managed to strong-arm a discount out of the deal, as the sale price was cut to $615 million with the Astros suddenly in an AL West filled with undesirable start times for intra-division road games.

Six years later, the Astros are kings of the West - and the AL. 

Award tour

We won't know until November who wins the major awards voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. But suffice to say, many of them will be in this World Series. 

Astros hit machine Jose Altuve is a solid favorite to win the AL Most Valuable Player award. Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger is a shoo-in for NL Rookie of the Year after his 39 homers set a league rookie record. 

And Dodgers lefty ace Clayton Kershaw has a decent chance to wrest the NL Cy Young Award from Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer. 

The World Series hasn't featured an eventual MVP or Cy Young winner since 2012, when MVPs Buster Posey (San Francisco) and Miguel Cabrera (Detroit) collided. And Posey was the last Rookie of the Year to play in a Fall Classic, in the Giants' first World Series triumph in 2010.

Playoff history

Hard to remember now, but yes, these teams have met in the playoffs before (remember, the Astros used to be in the NL!)

In 1981, a 50-day players' strike wiped out nearly 40% of the season and baseball made a weird situation somehow worse by splitting the season in half and declaring the champs of each half meet in a division series. 

How bad did that work out? Well, the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals finished with the best overall records in the NL - and missed the playoffs. 

The Dodgers and Astros were the happy beneficiaries as the half-season champs of the NL West and met in a five-game series. It did not lack for big names or drama: Future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan started Games 1 and 5 for the Astros, while 1981 was the season of Fernandomania for the Dodgers.

Neither disappointed: Fernando Valenzuela, just 20, pitched a four-hitter on short rest in Game 4 to force the decisive Game 5. Ryan out-dueled Valenzuela in Game 1 only to be bested by Jerry Reuss in Game 5.

How much have times changed? Both teams each used just eight pitchers in the five-game series. This year, they combined to use 23 pitchers in their league championship series. 

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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