The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers have emerged as the cream of the MLB crop in the first half of the season. Is a Fall Classic meeting inevitable?
One of the greatest things about baseball is its unpredictability. Each year before the start of the MLB season, the vaunted experts and fans themselves make predictions of division winners, Wild Card teams and even potential World Series matchups. Occasionally things will play out the way most suspected, i.e. last year’s preseason favorites the Chicago Cubs lifting the hardware at season’s end. But more often than not, we’re proven wrong.
However, is the 2017 campaign marching toward a similar sense of inevitability? The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros may not have been the most talked about teams in their respective leagues during the spring. The Boston Red Sox made a lot of offseason noise, and the Cubs and Cleveland Indians were expected to defend their pennants vigorously.
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Though matters have improved gradually for those clubs since tepid starts, the Dodgers and Astros have pretty much left everyone else in the dust as the calendar nears July and the season’s midpoint. They are currently the only two squads to have cracked the 50-win mark; Houston owns an MLB-best 52-25 record, and L.A. – winner of nine of its last 10 – isn’t far behind at 51-27.
The Astros and Dodgers have the statistical clout to back up their lofty places in the standings as well. L.A. leads baseball with an impressive +134 run differential, while Houston comes in at +119. The Arizona Diamondbacks (+114) are the only other team right now with a differential of at least +100. These teams aren’t sneaking by with close victories. They’re simply dominating their opponents.
Both clubs are remarkably well-rounded, finding themselves near the top of the league in terms of pitching and offense. The Astros rank second in MLB in runs scored with 424, and the Dodgers are fourth with 406. Houston leads the pack with a .827 team OPS, while the Dodgers place fourth at .785.
Over on the mound, Dodgers starting pitchers register at second in the league with a 3.54 ERA. The Astros rotation follows in third with a 3.69 mark. L.A.’s bullpen holds the game’s second-best ERA at 2.53, while Houston relievers have been less elite but still more than respectable down at 10th with a 3.91 ERA.
Moving beyond the numbers, these teams boast some of baseball’s most talented and exciting players. Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel (though he’s been on the shelf for a bit) are among the game’s very best pitchers. Who wouldn’t want to see a Fall Classic battle between those two aces?
There is practically an embarrassment of riches of young stars between these clubs, too. The Dodgers will likely have two consecutive NL Rookies of the Year in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. The latter leads the Senior Circuit with 24 home runs, and he missed almost the entire first month of the season.
As clearly the two best teams in Major League Baseball at the moment, are we destined to see the Astros and Dodgers meet in the World Series? If the season ended today, they would certainly have to be the heavy favorites. However, we have just over three months left to play and a lot can change in that span. L.A. and Houston don’t seem liable to collapse, but some of their rivals could begin to make compelling cases of their own.
The Nationals have 45 wins, and if they can get their bullpen situation sorted out they should be a tough out in October. Despite the Dodgers’ torrid play of late, the Diamondbacks and Rockies remain hot on their trail in the NL West. Perhaps they will continue to surprise.
In the American League, the aforementioned Indians and Red Sox are still well put-together squads that appear to be hitting their strides. We all saw what the Tribe accomplished last year. The Yankees also looked very formidable until their recent slide. Do they continue to trend downward, or will they restore their winning ways?
The postseason often comes down to the team that enters with the most momentum. The Dodgers and Astros have plenty to spare right now. Who knows if they will in fact make it to the top of the mountain, but you have to like their chances.