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Hoonhout: The Dodgers and their depth pose a real threat to the Red Sox

| Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Don’t get me wrong — what the Boston Red Sox have done this postseason is impressive.

While they were the best team in the Majors this year, the Sox had their work cut out for them to get back to World Series for the first time since 2013, facing not one, but two 100-win teams on their way to the promised land. First, it was hated rivals, the New York Yankees. There were many who thought this series was a coin flip — but after a 16-1 win in the Bronx in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead, things were practically done and dusted.

Next up, however, was perhaps an even tougher test: the defending champion Houston Astros, a club that didn’t just have the best pitching staff in baseball this year; Houston gave up 534 runs, the lowest in the AL since 1973, and had the second-best strikeouts per nine innings in history. Five games later, the Sox had scored 29 runs over five games, and had booked their trip to the World Series.

Now, Boston faces its final test to become only the fifth team in the wild-card era to have the best regular-season record and end up as world champions (although two happen to be former Red Sox teams). While the Los Angeles Dodgers may be plus-130 underdogs in Vegas, and the club’s 92 wins pale in comparison to the 108 that Boston accrued, don’t be surprised to see the parade in L.A. this year. Here’s why:

Thanks to their depth, the Dodgers are much better — and scarier — than their record indicates.

While L.A. won 104 games in 2017, the club didn’t regress this year. There were losses in the offseason, for sure, and while it took time for the Dodgers to find their groove, the pieces have come together. Put quite frankly, this team is loaded.

The depth is astounding. Manager Dave Roberts has a roster that has multiple starting-caliber players at every position. Roberts is the master of platoon-baseball, and in this modern game of matchups, that matters. With astute deadline acquisitions to bolster the options offensively, including the capture of Manny Machado, Los Angeles led the National League in runs scored per game and had a run differential closer to that of a 100-win team.

While Boston certainly has the talent to match, the Dodgers have come a long way since the lefty-fragile lineup of past postseason rosters, especially with the resurgence of Matt Kemp and the addition of David Freese. Now, when Alex Cora starts southpaws Chris Sale and David Price, L.A. has the pieces to put together a lineup that doesn’t fall flat on its face.

In the NLCS, the Brewers tried to throw off the multi-headed monster by going to the bullpen early and often. But in Game 7, it came back to bite them when first Cody Bellinger and then Yasiel Puig gave the Dodgers five runs with two hits. Los Angeles set a franchise record with 234 home runs this year and set a NL record with seven players hitting 20 or more — led by the emergence of Max Muncy, who clobbered 35 home runs in perhaps the biggest surprise of the season.

In the bullpen, after struggling earlier this year, LA has found its groove.

While it may be a luxury, the tweaking has worked. Walker Buehler looks to be a future ace with what he’s done in October, and that’s meant that Alex Wood, who led the team in starts this year, is now in the bullpen, along with former-starter-turned-setup-man Kenta Maeda. In fact, Ross Stripling, who made the All Star team earlier this year, hasn’t started a game this postseason.

Then, of course, we have Clayton Kershaw. As he starts to enter the beginning of the end, the ace has seemingly shaken the monkey off his back and seems to have the potential to deliver a performance just as good as what is expected in the regular season. And with Rich Hill — who has a career 1.65 ERA at Fenway — and Hyun-Jin Ryu having a stellar year, there’s no reason why the Dodgers shouldn’t feel like underdogs.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby served as Managing Editor in the 2018-2019 term.

Contact Tobias