MILWAUKEE -- The 114th World Series matchup is all lined up, and for the first time it features a Boston vs. Los Angeles battle.
The two cities have long been rivals on the hardwood, with the NBA Finals showcasing numerous Celtics vs. Lakers clashes. However, the NHL has never featured a Bruins-Kings meeting for the Stanley Cup, nor have the Patriots faced the Los Angeles-based Rams in the Super Bowl -- although that could change this season.
You'll be hearing another round of Babe Ruth references the next few days because he starred in the one previous meeting between the Dodgers and Red Sox in the Fall Classic. The Dodgers were in Brooklyn then, and in 1916, when the meeting with Boston took place, they were known as the Robins. The Babe won Game 2 of that World Series, throwing a 14-inning complete game in a 2-1 Red Sox victory. The last 13 of those innings were zeros, the start of a 29-inning scoreless streak for Ruth in World Series play.
Another note: The Brooklyn games were played at Ebbets Field, but the Boston games were played at Braves Field, then a larger venue than Fenway. So the Dodgers franchise has never made an appearance at Fenway Park in October.
Nevertheless, if there isn't a lot of World Series history between the teams, it sure as heck feels historic. And perhaps the most unusual historical aspect is that this hasn't happened before. The wild-card era is in its 25th year, so that's 50 seasons combined for the Red Sox and Dodgers. Together, they've put up 42 winning seasons, 25 playoff appearances, six pennants and three titles (all won by the Red Sox).
Despite the consistent success, sky-high payrolls, the market glitz and the grand old ballparks, this our first real taste of the Red Sox vs. the Dodgers on baseball's biggest stage. It should be a fitting new chapter in the baseball history book.
Some key matchups to watch:
Clayton Kershaw vs. Chris Sale
What a way to get things started. Boston manager Alex Cora has already declared that Sale will get the Game 1 nod, and while we're awaiting official word from Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, expect him to go with Kershaw, the Dodgers' longtime ace. After beating Milwaukee in Game 5 on Wednesday, Kershaw would be working on five days' rest. Sale, on the other hand, hasn't pitched since Oct. 13 because of the stomach ailment that befell him during the American League Championship Series.
Since Sale became a starting pitcher with the White Sox in 2012, here are the WAR leaders for pitchers, according to FanGraphs: 1. Kershaw (43.8 fWAR), 2. Max Scherzer (41.2), 3. Sale (40.1). The No. 4 pitcher -- Corey Kluber -- is nearly six fWAR behind Sale.
Because Scherzer, like Kershaw, is in the National League, you couldn't construct a more pedigreed World Series pitching matchup out of active players. And it's a pairing we may get more than once. The aces have combined for a 2.86 ERA over 28? innings this postseason.
Kershaw has pitched in 29 different ballparks during his storied career, but never at Fenway. However, this will not be the first time Kershaw and Sale have faced each other. The only other time it happened, we didn't yet know what Sale would become. On June 15, 2012, they met in a White Sox-Dodgers interleague game at Dodger Stadium, won 7-6 by L.A. Neither starter factored into the decision.
Craig Kimbrel vs. Kenley Jansen
Jansen got the save in that Sale-Kershaw meeting so long ago. He and Kimbrel both won reliever of the year honors last season, with Jansen taking the NL version (the Trevor Hoffman Award) and Kimbrel the AL's (the Mariano Rivera Award).
There are a lot of similarities. Both have relied on transcendent pitches. Kimbrel has always leaned on his great fastball, though his curve has become more prevalent as he has aged. For Jansen, it's nearly all about his cutter. Both are 30 years old and started their big league careers in 2010. Since then:
It's a funny thing, calling the meeting of great closers a matchup. For one thing, one closer almost never bats against another. In fact, it's not all that common for two closers to pitch in the same game. If one guy has a save opportunity, then the other one doesn't. There are exceptions, but that's the way the role is designed.
The final similarity between Kimbrel and Jansen is that neither has had his best season in 2018. Both have looked downright shaky at times. This postseason, so far, Jansen has looked like his old self. In fact, he led all players during the NLCS in win probability added (WPA).
Kimbrel, as has been widely discussed, has been shaky this October, allowing runs in five straight outings at one point. With a razor-thin margin between two high-powered teams, neither club can afford to have its relief ace struggle in the biggest series of the year.
Dodgers right-handed hitters vs. the Green Monster
We know how the Dodgers like to hit the ball in the air, so that big fence in left field at Fenway Park will look quite alluring. The Dodgers ranked ninth this season with 148 pulled fly balls hit by righty batters. Just over 40 percent of right-handed pulled fly balls left the yard this season; at Fenway, that mark is 51.3 percent.
Two of L.A.'s individual righties ranked in the top 12 in number of pulled flies: Manny Machado (sixth) and Brian Dozier (12th). Because both were traded to the Dodgers during the 2018 season from American League teams, they also happen to be the only current Dodgers with much of a track record at Fenway. Dozier has four homers there, but just a .661 OPS over 110 plate appearances.
No other current Dodgers have homered at Fenway, Well, except for ...
Manny Machado vs. the Fenway welcome wagon
Machado has crushed eight homers at Fenway during his career, though his overall percentages there are just so-so. However, his track record at Fenway is about a lot more than hitting bombs. With a little help from ESPN Stats & Information, let's work in reverse order:
April 23, 2017: Boston reliever Matt Barnes is ejected for throwing at Machado, with a pitch that sailed in the direction of the slugger's head.
April 21, 2017: Machado slides into Dustin Pedroia with his cleats up, injuring the knee of Boston's beloved second baseman. Pedroia will miss the Series this year because of his chronic knee trouble.
June 2, 2016: Machado slides past second base under the feet of Xander Bogaerts, breaking up a double play. The Red Sox are not happy.
Given the renewed perception of Machado's villainy, this should be fun.
J.D. Martinez vs. the National League
In every World Series, the American League entrant is tasked with figuring out whom to play in the NL venue, sans the designated hitter. It's a tougher chore for some teams than others, but it'll be particularly tough for the Red Sox.
As we know, Boston has a tremendous outfield that features three players capable of playing plus defense in center field -- Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and AL MVP favorite Mookie Betts. Bradley had the worst hitting season among them overall, but was much improved over the second half of the season and won MVP honors in Boston's American League Championship Series win over the Houston Astros.
Martinez is one of the most feared batsmen in the league and you figure Cora somehow needs to start him at Dodger Stadium. But how? Do you try him at first base, a position he has never played at the big league level? Do you move Betts, a former infielder who can do it all but is so, so special playing the outfield?
Fortunately for Cora, all of his options are good ones. Martinez, by the way, has homered five times in nine career games at Dodger Stadium. He hit four of them last season after being traded to the Diamondbacks. In fact, he hit them all in the same game, a 13-0 Arizona rout on Sept. 4, 2017.