I might as well see this “wild card” thing through to...the...end.
Two of baseball’s most storied franchises are set to begin the 114th version of the World Series on Tuesday evening. The Boston Red Sox, who won a MLB-best 108 games during the regular season, conceded just two games total to a pair of 100-win teams (Yankees & Astros) in the ALDS and ALCS.
The Dodgers, who won 92 games en route to their sixth straight NL West crown, lost one game to the Braves in the NLDS before prevailing over the Brewers in a dramatic seven game NLCS.
The last time these two franchises squared off was an interleague match on August 7, 2016. Starting pitchers David Price and Brandon McCarthy both walked five, Howie Kendrick led off for the Dodgers and Bryan Holaday was the behind the dish for Boston.
Things are much different now, both teams possessing an array of offensive weapons and a couple go-to arms.
Rookie manager Alex Cora and Dave Roberts are both certainly modern-day managers. The depth of both rosters has resulted in a platoon-heavy setup, inviting a lot of substitutions. The shuffled line-ups are emulated with constant pitching changes, both managers constantly pulling different strings on different nights.
So, of all the fascinating names on hand (and ones I haven’t previously used), who are some of the most intriguing former prospects in the upcoming Fall Classic?
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
10 years ago, Xander Bogaerts would be one of the faces of baseball. As a force from the historically offensively challenged shortstop position, this is simply commonplace nowadays.
The slick-fielding, power-hitting Bogaerts doesn’t get enough love for having always been a top prospect. He topped John’s 2012 Red Sox list, albeit one without much star power. By 2013, he was absolutely for real.
He made his MBL debut that year and ended up jumping veteran Stephen Drew and fellow rookie Jose Iglesias to become the Red Sox starting shortstop during their 2013 World Series run.
Quite impressive for a 20-year old.
He hit .320 and won a Silver Slugger award in 2014 and 2015, as well as earning All-Star honors in the latter. He hit 21 home runs in 2016 and is coming off a career-high 23,
He also drove in 103 runs, fifth in the American League and 11 more than the next-best shortstop Francisco Lindor. One of many shortstops who gets a lot more attention than the X-Man. (Maybe the poor X-Men movies have something to do with that.)
Bogaerts’ career numbers are spectacular. A .288 hitter with an .883 OPS and 14.8 WAR, including a 3.8 clip this year. Somehow, he only turned 25 this month.
Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers
The adventures behind the plate of Yasmani Grandal have been no fun for the Dodgers this postseason. The usually steady defender had two errors and two passed balls in Game 1 of the NLCS, opening the door for the Dodgers 2017 playoff catcher Austin Barnes to reclaim the position.
Barnes jumped the free-swinging Grandal last year and has done so again this year, starting games four through seven of the NLCS. Sure, it’s mostly because of Grandal’s woes, but Barnes certainly hopes to have his special October moment this week.
A ninth-rounder by the Marlins in 2011, he was dealt along with teammate Kiké Hernandez in 2014 for Dee Gordon. (L.A. also received Andrew Heaney and flipped him to the Angeles for the previously mentioned Howie Kendrick. How do you like that symmetry?)
A catcher and infielder at Arizona State, mostly at second base but also playing some third, Dave Roberts loves to shuffle him around, and Barnes’ flexibility has helped him stay at the big league level despite subpar offensive production.
Nathan Eovaldi, Boston Red Sox
Acquired for lefty pitching prospect Jalen Beeks at the trade deadline, Nathan Eovaldi has been much more than advertised for the Bo Sox.
Originally selected in the 2008 11th round by the Dodgers, Eovaldi’s visited many old friends this postseason.
In the ALDS, he faced off against his former team, the Yankees. In the ALCS, he went back home to Houston, born in the suburb Alvin just outside the city. Now, in the World Series, he will pitch against his first team, the one that drafted him.
Eovaldi has had two Tommy John operations, in high school and then in 2016, causing him to miss the entire 2017 season. He’s come out the other end just like select others who have gone under this particular knife, throwing significantly harder.
The Dodgers used his prospects to acquire Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins (man, those teams deal a lot) in 2012. The Yankees dealt for him in 2014 and released him after his second TJ surgery in 2016.
Coming off the injury, he inked a speculative one-year deal with Tampa Bay, the meaningful kicker a team option for year two. It was unlikely he’d pitch in 2017, so this was basically a cheap flier for 2018.
He returned to pitch 111.1 innings and punch out a career-high 8.4 K/9 with the Rays this season before being dealt in-division to the Sox.
He’s been filthy since and, even with another former Ray David Price finally shedding some postseason demons, Eovaldi currently looks like the Red Sox second-best starter behind ace Chris sale.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers
Another multi-surgery survivor throwing as well as he ever has, the veteran from South Korea Hyun-Jin Ryu has had shoulder and elbow operations since signing with the Dodgers in 2012.
He debut at age 26 in 2013 and was brilliant in nearly 200 innings for L.A. He finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting, also competing internally with another international signing, Yasiel Puig.
Ryu missed all of 2015 and pitched just 4.2 innings in 2016. Some thought his MLB time was up, about to hit 30 with two surgeries to his name.
Instead, the command-focused lefty pitched 126.2 very effective innings in 2017. Not a lot of work, but considering his past, it was very encouraging.
Unfortunately, injuries battled him again in 2018. But when he pitched, he was fantastic. He won seven of 15 starts with a sub-2.00 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. Like Eovaldi —and the rest of baseball —he’s benefited from the launch angle revolution and posted a career-high 9.7 K/9, 1.5 strikeouts higher than his previous best.
A true wild card when he signed, Ryu’s career numbers are stellar, his shortage of face time in the past couple seasons to blame for the lack of recognition. He started Game 1 of the NLDS and might get the ball in Game 1 of the World Series Tuesday.
He’s obviously not Clayton Kershaw, but the Dodgers are rolling him out right now as their number two.
And hopefully not a factor
Umpires, officials and referees across all sports have incredibly difficult jobs. While baseball is usually slow and steady, it features a lot of calls that need to be made with instant judgement.
Balls and strikes come to mind, as so do out/safe calls.
A home run should not suffer from the same process. But in Game 4 of the ALCS, Joe West and his crew tragically blew the Jose Altuve-Mookie Betts home run interference ruling.
Did it change the outcome of the series? Who knows. But, as it would happen, the Astros lost the game by the two runs they would have had on the first-inning home run. Things certainly would have had run a different course had the homer counted, but there’s no doubt the call was blown.
I pray that the World Series can be decided fully by the players and coaches, not the umpires. Maybe 99 percent players and coaches. Like I said, officiating is difficult.