The 113th World Series comes down to one final clash between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros — a Game 7, winner-take-all affair.
The game: 8:20 p.m. ET at Dodger Stadium. Series tied 3-3.
The starters: The Astros’ Lance McCullers (1-0, 2.95 ERA in playoffs) vs. the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish (2-1, 4.15 ERA), a rematch of Game 3.
McCullers allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings, but wasn’t overly dominant as he picked up the win in Houston. He allowed leadoff walks in both the second and sixth innings — and both of those runners came around to score.
The Dodgers will try to be patient with McCullers, force him to throw his outstanding curve ball for strikes and look to put the ball in play. McCullers had just three strikeouts in the game, all by Cody Bellinger.
Darvish is coming off the shortest start of his career after only getting five outs in Game 3. He couldn’t command his slider and allowed five consecutive batters to reach base to start the second inning. The first of those was a home run by Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, which led to the offensive gesture in the dugout that got Gurriel suspended for five games next season.
The fans at Dodger Stadium booed Gurriel loudly during every at-bat in Game 6. It should be even louder with Darvish on the mound.
Available arms: In a must-win situation Tuesday night, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts turned once again to his most trusted relievers. Unlike in Game 2, the strategy worked to perfection as Brandon Morrow, Kenta Maeda, Tony Watson and Kenley Jansen held the Astros scoreless for the final 4 1/3 innings.
Morrow has pitched in every game of the World Series, and after throwing 14 pitches in Game 6 should be available for a high-leverage inning. Jansen should as well. Despite going two innings to get the save, he threw only 19 pitches.
The wild card in the Dodger bullpen is ace lefty Clayton Kershaw. He’s had two days of rest since starting Game 5 and with the World Series on the line, it’s hard not to see him making an appearance if the game is close.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch seemed to concede the ninth inning of Game 6, bringing in little-used relievers Luke Gregerson and Francisco Liriano to get the final outs. That will give him an array of options in relief tonight, including Game 5 starter Dallas Keuchel, Game 4 starter Charlie Morton and former starter Brad Peacock, who pitched 3 2/3 hitless innings to save Game 3 for McCullers.
Astros relievers have been shaky in the World Series (a combined 5.24 ERA) so it wouldn’t be a surprise for Hinch to turn to his starters first when it’s time for McCullers to come out.
The lineups: Look for the Dodgers to start Joc Pederson in left field against the right-handed McCullers. After being left off the roster for the NLCS, Pederson has been the hitting star for Los Angeles in the World Series. He provided an important insurance run in Game 6 with a home run, his team-leading third of the series, and all five of his hits have gone for extra bases.
The Astros will likely go with the same basic lineup they’ve had all series. The top of the order — George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa — has done the most damage in the postseason. However, the bottom of the order did the damage to Darvish in Game 3.
On the bench: Dodgers utilityman Kike Hernandez could be an important weapon for Roberts to deploy against a left-handed pitcher (Keuchel?) late in the game. He hit .270/.367/.579 against lefties during the regular season — and is 4-for-12 with two homers and a double vs. southpaws this postseason.
With outfielder Andre Ethier, infielders Chase Utley and Charlie Culberson, and catcher Yasmani Grandal, L.A. also has the ability to double-switch more easily than Houston does.
The Astros are carrying three catchers, so Hinch has the flexibility to use speedster Derek Fisher as a pinch-runner for Brian McCann late in the game, the way he did in Game 5 when Fisher scored the winning run. Otherwise, the Astros will stick with their starters for the entire game if at all possible.
The intangibles: The Dodgers won 104 games during the regular season just so they could play this game at home. The largest stadium in the major leagues will be filled to capacity for a World Series Game 7 for the first time in its history.
If history is any indication, teams who’ve come home trailing in a best-of-seven series and have forced a Game 7 are 14-2 since 1985.
The result: With nearly every member of their respective pitching staffs available, both managers will be ready to pull their starters at the first sign of trouble.
Darvish is a fly-ball pitcher who allowed 1.3 home runs per nine innings in the regular season. Meanwhile, McCullers was adept at preventing homers — giving up an average of just 0.6 per nine.
The Astros will need to score quickly against Darvish to silence the crowd, and their top-ranked offense should find a way to break through in the first four innings. The Dodgers will try to make McCullers work hard by being extremely selective at the plate.
The battle of bullpens could begin as early as the fifth, with Brandon Morrow appearing for a seventh time in the series. Kershaw’s ability to silence the Astros offense for a couple innings will be key.
The Dodgers’ ability to scratch out a couple late runs against the Astros bullpen could be the difference. And L.A. will have Jansen ready to close out one of the best World Series of all time.
Prediction: Dodgers 6, Astros 5.
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