The 2017 World Series needs little additional advertising; the first matchup between 100-win teams since 1970 should sell itself. If that signifier of baseball quality doesn’t work, then the star-studded Astros and Dodgers rosters should do the trick. As Michael Baumann and Ben Lindbergh discussed on Monday’s Ringer MLB Show, this series pits the two best pitchers of the past decade, the two best shortstops right now, two of the most fun and lovable players in the sport, and even MLB’s two best utility players. The two lineups and pitching staffs are talented and deep, and any of several handfuls of players could emerge as the one who swings the series. So let’s rank the likelihood that each of the 50 players on the World Series roster does so, taking into account both predicted playing time and talent level.
Before beginning, it’s important to note that baseball, of all sports, is particularly suited to make this effort look foolish. When Rodger Sherman conducted this exercise for The Ringer before the 2017 NBA Finals, he found that LeBron James was the most likely player to swing that series, and, while the top of this ranking might register a similar lack of suspense, baseball is a more democratic sport than basketball. James and Kobe Bryant have combined to win half of the past decade’s NBA Finals MVP awards, but World Series MVPs in that same span include an equal mix of obvious candidates (Cole Hamels, David Ortiz, Madison Bumgarner) and unexpected heroes (Hideki Matsui, Giants-era Edgar Rentería, David Freese). So just because, say, Josh Reddick ranks 28th on this list, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if he hits .455 and homers four times as Houston wins its first title.
Tier XIII: It’s a Little Unclear Why the Astros Are Carrying Three Catchers
50. Astros C Juan Centeno
Centeno wins the 2016 Michael Martínez Award for the most anticlimactic player who could possibly step to the plate in the World Series’ biggest moment.
Tier XII: The Lesser Relievers
49. Dodgers P Brandon McCarthy
48. Dodgers P Ross Stripling
47. Astros P Luke Gregerson
46. Dodgers P Josh Fields
McCarthy, Stripling, and Gregerson are the series’ long or mop-up relievers, while Fields has faced four batters in three appearances in the playoffs. Kenta Maeda, Brandon Morrow, and Kenley Jansen should get all of the high-leverage bullpen outs for L.A.
45. Dodgers P Tony Cingrani
44. Dodgers P Tony Watson
Besides Derek Fisher, who walked in his lone plate appearance, the Astros’ top seven hitters by playoff OPS are right-handed, and nos. 8 (Carlos Beltrán) and 10 (Marwin González) are both switch hitters. L.A. skipper Dave Roberts successfully used his LOOGYs in short, specifically selected situations through the NL playoffs, but trade deadline acquisitions Cingrani and Watson might not receive many opportunities against Houston’s imbalanced lineup.
43. Astros P Francisco Liriano
Houston’s nominal LOOGY, meanwhile, faces a trickier proposition because of both his recent form and the Dodgers’ more platoon-optimized order. Houston’s only lefty pitcher other than Dallas Keuchel has appeared in three playoff games. Two were essentially mop-up duty, with Houston either ahead or behind by at least five runs in the eighth inning, and the third saw Liriano immediately allow a two-run homer to same-handed hitter Rafael Devers upon entering.
Even if manager A.J. Hinch decides he can trust Liriano after that spotty performance, he will confront a strategic dilemma. If Roberts sandwiches Justin Turner between Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger in L.A.’s lineup, Liriano either will face only one of the Dodgers’ two dangerous lefties or will have to survive pitching to Turner, who hit .380/.477/.704 against southpaws this year.
Tier XI: Someone Will Become a Pinch-Hit or Platoon Hero
42. Astros OF Derek Fisher
41. Astros OF Cameron Maybin
40. Astros DH Carlos Beltrán
Excepting DH, the Astros have started the same eight position players in the same defensive alignment in 10 of 11 postseason games. Hinch sticks with his main group, regardless of opposing-pitcher handedness. Fisher and Maybin could become valuable late-game bench threats, though—Fisher to pinch-hit against righties, Maybin to pinch-hit against lefties and pinch-run. Beltrán, meanwhile, might start only one game in this series because of both the absence of a DH slot in Dodger Stadium and the heavy lefty presence in the Dodgers’ rotation, but the 40-year-old October legend might have another big hit or two left in his bat.
39. Dodgers SS Charlie Culberson
38. Dodgers 2B Chase Utley
37. Dodgers OF Joc Pederson
36. Dodgers C Yasmani Grandal
35. Dodgers 2B Logan Forsythe
34. Dodgers UT Kike Hernández
33. Dodgers OF Andre Ethier
All the Dodgers in this group rank ahead of all the Astros because they could start at points in this series, too, given Roberts’s penchant for platooning. The only issue for, say, Hernández, who clubbed three homers in the NLCS clincher, is that only one of Houston’s starters is left-handed, which could limit his playing time. Still, he’s available off the bench if he doesn’t start, so in addition to L.A.’s bullpen advantage—discussed more below—it has a late-game substitution advantage, with a deeper and more diverse assortment of players to plug in depending on the situation.
Tier X: They Won’t Pitch More Than Five Innings in a Game
32. Dodgers P Alex Wood
31. Astros P Charlie Morton
That two pitchers of this quality are on the back half of the list shows how talented each World Series roster is. Wood went just 4 2/3 innings in his lone 2017 playoff start while Morton’s most recent outing—when he threw five shutout innings in Game 7 of the ALCS—was his first time making it out of the fifth in three postseason attempts this year. Both pitchers could very well twirl a shutout for half a game, but their managers would be thrilled to see them make it that far, before their scary times-through-the-order penalties come into effect.
Tier IX: Freese Won a Series Basically on His Own, So It Could Happen
30. Astros C Brian McCann
29. Astros UT Marwin González
28. Astros OF Josh Reddick
Even if Reddick doesn’t hit .455 with four homers, he should at the very least bat less like he did against New York (one hit in 25 at-bats) and more like he did against Boston (.375 average, including the series-winning hit off Craig Kimbrel). He tops this trio of Astro starters who both haven’t consistently performed this month and will bat at the back of Houston’s lineup against L.A.’s lefties. Any one of them has the potential to break out over a short stretch, but they’re more likely to cede the spotlight to their top-of-the-order teammates.
27. Dodgers C Austin Barnes
Although Barnes appeared mostly in part-time duty this year, he was the best-hitting catcher in baseball, with the same wRC+ as Paul Goldschmidt, and he doubled as the best pitch framer on a rate basis. By Baseball Prospectus’s version of WAR, which accounts for framing in its catcher valuations, Barnes was more valuable than Bryce Harper and George Springer this year, despite starting just 53 games. He has become the Dodgers’ primary catcher in the playoffs, and, while he still might split time with Grandal in the World Series, he’s liable to produce at the plate—in more ways than one—when he’s on the lineup card.
Tier VIII: Does Hinch Trust His Middle Relievers?
26. Astros P Collin McHugh
25. Astros P Chris Devenski
24. Astros P Joe Musgrove
23. Astros P Brad Peacock
22. Astros P Will Harris
Hinch seems to have lost all faith in his bullpen, which enjoyed a strong regular season but has struggled this month. In the ALCS, Houston’s short-stint relievers—in other words, not counting McHugh or Lance McCullers, who both went four innings in a game—posted an 8.38 ERA. That’s utility-player-forced-into-relief-in-an-August-blowout territory.
Musgrove has allowed runs in consecutive outings for the first time since becoming a reliever midway through the season. Both Peacock and Harris allowed Aaron Judge homers. And Devenski, who earned Andrew Miller comparisons early in the season, has been the worst of the bunch this month, offering a drastic continuation of his second-half slide.
Devenski’s 2017 Splits
|Split||Games||Outs Per Game||ERA||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate|
|Split||Games||Outs Per Game||ERA||Strikeout Rate||Walk Rate|
|Through July 5||34||4.6||2.09||36.9%||6.7%|
|Since July 5||33||2.9||4.50||22.6%||10.9%|
Maybe McHugh will adopt a short-stint role as he’s not needed in the rotation, or maybe one of the others in this group will show that his ALCS struggles were a fluke. But unless Keuchel and Justin Verlander embrace a 2001 Diamondbacks mentality by taking over the whole series and all its innings themselves, some combination of relievers will have to secure important outs in the series. It’s anyone’s guess—Hinch’s most of all—whether they’ll be able to do so.
Tier VII: We Know Dave Roberts Trusts His
21. Dodgers P Kenta Maeda
Maeda’s move from rotation to bullpen for the playoffs couldn’t have gone better. His fastball is up three ticks in relief, and he started the playoffs with five consecutive appearances of at least one inning and zero base runners allowed. No other pitcher in postseason history has matched that feat. Maeda’s playoff stats remain pure: 15 batters faced, seven strikeouts, 0.00 ERA, .000/.000/.000 opponent slash line.
20. Dodgers P Brandon Morrow
Morrow has thus far lagged behind Maeda’s extreme standard, but not by much. He’s allowed one run in 8 1/3 innings and a .111/.143/.222 slash line in October while setting up Jansen, and he’s pitched more than an inning three times in Dodgers wins. At least one game in this series will come down to Maeda and/or Morrow facing the Springer–José Altuve–Carlos Correa trio in a key moment, and the two relievers have shown they are up to that matchup.
Tier VI: Three-Quarters of the Dodgers Starters Are Left-Handed
19. Astros C/DH Evan Gattis
18. Astros 1B Yulieski Gurriel
How effectively L.A.’s staff handles Houston’s historically great offense could well decide the series. Even the casual fan knows about the top of the Astros’ lineup, but it’s the depth pieces who really help Houston thrive. Gurriel and Gattis rank third and fourth, respectively, in playoff OPS for Houston, and each contributed timely hits in the Game 6 and 7 wins against the Yankees.
With the Dodgers starting southpaws in games 1, 2, and 4 at a minimum, Houston’s lineup, which already skews to the right-handed side, will bunch even further in that direction. In Game 7 of the ALCS against CC Sabathia, the Astros’ first six hitters were righties. But they’ll face a worthy opponent in L.A.: Besides the Dodgers, only Cleveland’s left-handed pitchers did a better job limiting righty bats this year, and that’s because more than half of Cleveland’s innings in that split came from Andrew Miller.
Tier V: Find Your Sleeper MVP Candidates Here
17. Astros 3B Alex Bregman
Bregman bats second against lefties, whom he clobbered with a .331/.404/.570 showing this year. He hasn’t hit much in the playoffs thus far, but his hits have come in important moments—such as his game-tying homer against Chris Sale in the ALDS clincher—and his defense at third base has been stellar and provided the key play of Game 7 of the ALCS.
16. Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig
Puig thus far in the 2017 playoffs: .414/.514/.655, two walks per strikeout, one run per 5.8 plate appearances, one magnificent home-plate celebration.
Manny Ramírez in his World Series–winning 2007 playoff run: .348/.508/.652, 1.8 walks per strikeout, one run per 5.7 plate appearances, one magnificent home-plate celebration.
15. Astros OF George Springer
While Altuve and Correa have both led Houston’s offense at various points in the playoffs, the third member of Houston’s vaunted top-of-the-lineup trio has been suspiciously quiet of late. Against New York, Springer slashed just .115/.233/.115, didn’t drive in a run, and scored just once. He’s too good a hitter, though, to stay slumping for long; in the regular season, he ranked second among center fielders in homers and runs and third in RBI, and he’s one hanging Clayton Kershaw curveball away from starting the World Series with a bang.
14. Dodgers OF Chris Taylor
Like Springer, Taylor is a leadoff hitter and center fielder who can contribute with a home run, dash around the bases, or web gem. However, unlike Springer, who is a former first-round pick and consensus top-25 prospect, Taylor is a former stalled prospect and Mariners cast-off, who this spring joined the list of people who experienced rejuvenation in the Los Angeles sun.
Most recently, he won co-MVP honors with Turner in the NLCS, after bashing Cubs pitching with a .316/.458/.789 line. His bat is his newest calling card, and his defensive flexibility—he started at least 10 games at center field, left field, second base, and shortstop this year—affords Roberts extra strategic potential late in games. And by the first inning Tuesday night, he will have collected more World Series plate appearances by himself than the Mariners will have in their franchise’s history.
Tier IV: By How Much Will the Dodgers Win the Closer Battle?
13. Astros P Ken Giles
12. Dodgers P Kenley Jansen
Nobody could have seen Giles’s October struggles coming. Houston’s closer allowed five runs in his last 38 games in the regular season, then allowed five runs in his first four games of the playoffs. And Giles has labored this month, too, needing 20.5 pitches per inning compared with just 15.2 pitches per inning in the regular season.
Jansen, meanwhile, has experienced a smooth and stress-free playoff run. In eight innings, he’s allowed just two hits and an unearned run while striking out 12, and, although he hasn’t needed to pitch more than 1 2/3 innings in a single outing yet, he’s able to go longer while retaining his effectiveness. Jansen winning this matchup wouldn’t be a surprise, but Giles could at least close the gap and bolster the back of Houston’s suddenly motley bullpen.
Tier III: They’d Be the Ace on Most Other Teams
11. Astros P Lance McCullers
10. Dodgers P Yu Darvish
9. Dodgers P Rich Hill
8. Astros P Dallas Keuchel
A potential Darvish-McCullers marquee in Game 3 would pair two pitchers capable of either allowing five runs in three innings or—the more likely and fun option—striking out a dozen hitters. If Hill steals a game from Verlander or Keuchel steals one from Kershaw, his team would gain a huge, unexpected advantage, and both lefties are more than capable. Keuchel doesn’t match up particularly well against L.A.’s patient lineup, but he’s been a strong playoff performer in his career and could easily remind viewers that he’s won a Cy Young, too.
Tier II: They Might Hit Seven Home Runs Apiece
7. Dodgers 1B Cody Bellinger
If Bellinger stands on tiptoe and really stretches, he might be able to touch the first row of Minute Maid Park’s right-field seats from the batter’s box. He was going to enjoy an easy target whether Houston or New York advanced, and now he’s clear to take aim while facing the Astros’ predominantly righty pitchers.
6. Dodgers SS Corey Seager
5. Astros SS Carlos Correa
The two star shortstops are hard to distinguish from one another: They’re both 23, they both won recent Rookie of the Year honors, and they have the same career wRC+ of 135 (or 35 percent better than league average). That latter mark places them in a tie for the fourth-best-hitting shortstop ever to collect at least 1,000 plate appearances; the top five includes two Pirates who played before integration (Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan), Alex Rodriguez, and Seager and Correa. Or is it Correa and Seager?
The Dodgers so swiftly dispatched the Cubs that it was easy to forget their best position player and no. 2 hitter was out with a back injury, but his return for the World Series moves the needle a few points in L.A.’s direction. Correa could easily swing it back toward Houston with a few swings of his own, though, as few players in the majors terrorize pitchers when locked in quite like the Astros’ cleanup man. (Correa will be the first shortstop to hit cleanup in a World Series lineup since 1944.) His plate coverage is as expansive as anyone’s, and he has the power to lash extra-base hits to all fields. Kershaw or Jansen versus Correa with a game on the line is a baseball fan’s dream.
4. Dodgers 3B Justin Turner
Of the more than 300 players with at least 100 career postseason plate appearances, Turner has the highest OBP (.481) and third-highest OPS (1.113), trailing only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the latter statistic. Clutchness might be a myth, but Turner is the closest outlier the sport has to proving the phenomenon exists. He’s already exhibited a flair for the dramatic in these playoffs, with a mighty walk-off homer against the Cubs on the anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s famous blast, and he’s the most fearsome hitter in a lineup that includes Seager and Bellinger.
3. Astros 2B José Altuve
Actually, Kershaw or Jansen versus Altuve with a game on the line is a baseball fan’s dream. The shortest player in the sport might be its most fun, and after he led the Astros’ charge in their ALDS win and stirred their ALCS comeback, his natural next step is to dazzle in the World Series. He’s hitting an absurd .400/.500/.775 in the playoffs and leads all players in runs (10), hits (16), and homers (5), but his impact is most acutely felt in the videos of his comprehensive contributions. The easiest World Series prediction is that Altuve will appear in the most highlight clips of any player.
Tier I: It’s Finally Their Time
2. Astros P Justin Verlander
1. Dodgers P Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw gets the slight nod here because he’s pitching Game 1 and is more likely to start twice and be ready to relieve in a potential Game 7 than his Houston counterpart. But together, the two aces are the main story line heading into the fall classic, and the ideal outcome is that they trade off pitching masterpieces in a deep series. Michael Baumann wrote an excellent piece for The Ringer on Monday about their respective journeys to this moment, and his final line emphasizes the stakes for the two of them: Finally, one of the two defining aces of this generation will hoist a well-earned, and long-coming, trophy. Odds are he’ll nab an MVP prize, too.