We know, it’s been a long baseball season. After 162 games (the Los Angeles Dodgers played 163!), there were several rounds of playoffs to follow. And now, after all that, we’re finally at the World Series. It’s entirely possible you’re not a fan of the Boston Red Sox or the Dodgers (or a fan of baseball for that matter), and life has so many distractions these days. A lot happens in baseball in seven months (yes, it’s been seven months since opening day), so you’re forgiven for not being up to speed.
Here’s a cheat sheet to help you sound like the authoritative baseball fan you’ve always wanted to sound like.
Boston Red Sox
They won a lot of games.
The Red Sox won 108 games in the regular season, which is the most Boston has ever won. It is also the fourth time they have won at least 100 games. In two of those three other seasons, the Red Sox went on to win the World Series. In 1912 they won 105 of 152 games, in 1915 they won 101 of 151 games and in 1946 they won 104 out of 154 games. Only the 1946 team, with Ted Williams, failed to win the World Series.
You will hear a lot about Chris Sale.
Chris Sale is Boston’s top starting pitcher, their ace, but he developed a shoulder injury late in the season and barely pitched over the final two months. He made one start in August and four in September. But the velocity on his pitches declined noticeably and he never pitched past the fifth inning in any of those five games.
It was a subject of great debate in Boston. Did Sale have a serious injury, or were the Red Sox pampering him, dialing back his workload intentionally because he had a history of fading late in the season? He pitched in Game 1 against the Astros, and the next day developed a nasty stomach virus that landed him in the hospital overnight. He did not pitch again against Houston.
Sale was said to have lost weight, which is alarming because he was already a skinny dude. Still, he is the likely starter for Game 1, but what will he have for that game? It’s a burning question for the Red Sox. Then again, every time an obstacle appears, Boston seems to win anyway.
Manager Alex Cora loves to take risks.
Cora — who, by the way, played for the Dodgers for seven seasons — is a rookie manager who has been very aggressive in his decision-making. He has treated early games in each series as must-win propositions, and it has worked out well.
While managers have long used their best starting pitchers in relief, it is usually in elimination games or extra innings. Cora does it all the time. The reason for the tactic is that Boston’s bullpen is its weakest link, but Cora has managed around it.
You want some inside baseball bona fides? Here.
Craig Kimbrel, Boston’s shaky closer, was tipping his pitches in the postseason. That means he was doing something that tipped off the other team as to what pitch he was about to throw. Whatever the cause, he did not pitch well at all in the postseason, and it always happened late in the games, so most of your colleagues were asleep at the time. Cora said Kimbrel was inadvertently signaling the upcoming pitch with the position of his glove before he threw it. When his glove was high, it was a straight fastball. When the glove was low, it was a slider or curve. That would theoretically give the batter a huge advantage. Cora said a friend in baseball noticed it while watching on television and texted the manager before Game 5 of the ALCS against Houston. So watch Kimbrel, glove and all.
Babe Ruth bonus.
This is the 100th anniversary of the Red Sox’s third and last World Series title with Babe Ruth. It is also the first time the Dodgers and Red Sox have met in the World Series since 1916. Ruth pitched a 14-inning complete-game victory in Game 2, which the Red Sox won on their way to the title. But about a year after the 1918 World Series, Red Sox owner and theatrical producer Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees in order to raise money to produce the musical, “No, No, Nanette.” That transaction was said to be a disaster for Boston baseball, but it gave the world “Tea For Two” and the Yankees a legend.
Los Angeles Dodgers
They have a great pitcher with an uneven postseason history.
Clayton Kershaw, the finest starting pitcher on the Dodgers’ staff — and perhaps the best of his generation — has had an up-and-down postseason history. Kershaw, who has spent his entire 11-year career with the Dodgers, is a seven-time All-Star and a three-time Cy Young Award winner. He is incredibly popular in Los Angeles and has adorable children, who sometimes join him for postgame news conferences.
But as dominant as he is in the regular season, with a career 2.39 earned-run average, he has struggled to a 9-8 career record in the playoffs with a bloated 4.09 ERA. His 2018 postseason has been another mixed bag. For example, he was brilliant in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, throwing eight shutout innings in a win against the Atlanta Braves. But then, against the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Championship Series, he was inconsistent: one rocky start, one good start, and then an inning of flawless relief in Game 7 to seal the pennant.
Kershaw will likely start Game 1 against the Red Sox, but his future is uncertain: Kershaw can opt out of his contract this offseason and become a free agent.
It’s been 30 years since they won it all.
The Dodgers have not won a World Series since 1988, back when Kirk Gibson was hobbling around the base paths and Orel Hershiser was one of the game’s most feared pitchers. But they came tantalizingly close last year, losing in seven games to the Houston Astros.
That the Dodgers are back in the World Series is not a surprise — they had the third-highest player payroll in the majors this season — but they did not make things easy on themselves. Or maybe they just had a flair for the dramatic. They scuffled to a 16-26 start, coped with a batch of injuries, then swept the San Francisco Giants in their final series of the regular season to force an extra game against the Colorado Rockies for the division title. So a seven-game series against the Brewers in the NLCS was about as predictable as LA traffic.
The least boring player in baseball is a Dodger.
After appearing in 26 games, Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ All-Star shortstop, underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. It was a huge blow for the team, which sought help at the trade deadline by acquiring Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. Machado, who is due for free agency, is known in baseball jargon as a “rental” — in other words, his time in Los Angeles might be short. But it has not been boring.
In the NLCS, Machado really irritated the Brewers and their fans with some truly obnoxious base running. (He also managed to tick off Jim Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher who now works as a broadcaster for the Orioles.) But Machado has nine RBIs in the postseason.
Look, boldface names!
The Dodgers have a very crowded and star-powered owners’ box. Guggenheim Baseball Management, a group led by billionaire Mark Walter, bought the team in 2012. Magic Johnson, president of the Los Angeles Lakers, is a partner, and Billie Jean King, the tennis great, joined the ownership group in September along with her partner, Ilana Kloss.
Of course, the stands are well-stocked with celebrities. Ashton Kutcher, Will Ferrell, Jennifer Lopez and assorted Lakers have been spotted at games. (The Red Sox will always have Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg.)
Justin Turner is playoff superhero with a gnarly beard.
Justin Turner, the Dodgers’ starting third baseman, is, by any measure, a solid hitter. In 10 big-league seasons, Turner has hit .292 with a .366 on-base percentage and .463 slugging percentage. But something interesting seems to happen to this guy in the playoffs — he becomes an outsize version of himself, hitting .310 with a .425 on-base percentage and a .516 slugging percentage. The Brewers felt his familiar postseason wrath in Game 2 of the NLCS, when he smashed a two-run, go-ahead homer that lifted the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory.
Oh, and here’s something else worth noting: Turner once played for the New York Mets, who declined to offer him a contract after the 2013 season. (He also has a really fun beard.)