The 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers was an all-time classic. From the looks of things, MLB fans may be in store for Round 2 come October.
Both teams have stampeded through their respective leagues, with the Dodgers leading all of baseball with a +172 run differential and the Astros just behind them at +147.
Armed with dominant (if not remodeled, in Houston's case) starting rotations and potent lineups, the Dodgers and Astros are almost certainly the two most well-rounded teams in baseball.
Of course, anything can happen in the bigs, from injuries to streaks and everything in between. Still, both teams are on pace to match up in the World Series for the second time in three years.
Does it not feel like we were just stressing the need for the Astros to add starting pitching? While Houston's 1-2 of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole was arguably the best duo in the league, the Astros lacked depth in their rotation. Even Wade Miley's peripherals seemed to necessitate the addition of at least one reliable arm at the deadline.
Well, the Astros turned the tables on the rest of the league by trading four of their top prospects in order to acquire Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke. Suddenly, Houston's top three starters evoked visions of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. But, sheesh, that was hardly enough …
Jeff Luhnow also acquired struggling starter Aaron Sanchez from the Toronto Blue Jays. The Astros have a history of unlocking pitching talent: Verlander and Cole are just two of the more recent and notable examples.
Indeed, in Sanchez's first start with his new team on Saturday, he threw six scoreless innings and struck out six as part of an effort that would result in a combined no-hitter. Not a bad first impression, huh?
Verlander's arrival propelled the Astros to new heights in 2017. If Saturday is any indication, Sanchez and Greinke could have the very same effect this season.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers' starting rotation has been their strength all year long. Only this year, another veteran has taken center stage.
In his sixth season with Los Angeles, Hyun-Jin Ryu leads the majors in ERA (1.53), ERA+ (272) and BB/9 (1.1) while also leading the National league in WHIP (0.936). Although he is more of a finesse guy, Ryu can throw every pitch to any quadrant of the strike zone, and he mixes speeds as good as any other pitcher in the game.
After getting off to a slow start in his sophomore season, Walker Buehler continues to show why he is a future ace. With a 3.22 ERA and 2.99 FIP, Buehler is in the top 15 in pitching fWAR, and he leads the majors in SO/W ratio (7.60).
When Clayton Kershaw is arguably the third-best starter on your team, you know that pitching is a definite strength. While he is hardly as dominant as he used to be, Kershaw still has a 2.85 ERA through his first 19 starts.
In essence, the Dodgers and Astros now boast the deepest and most effective starting rotations in baseball. In October, a good starting staff is all the more dangerous when you also have an offense that can put up a ton of runs.
Big boppers in the lineup
Consider this: the Dodgers and Astros rank first and second, respectively, in terms of positional fWAR. Both teams rank in the top four in terms of wRC+ and in the top five in terms of wOBA. When paired with the aforementioned quality of the pitching staffs, how can these two teams not be regarded as the favorites to reach the World Series?
Cody Bellinger is having an MVP-caliber season for the Dodgers, ranking second in baseball in both fWAR and wRC+ behind the otherworldly Mike Trout. Meanwhile, Max Muncy is quietly having another excellent season, and Justin Turner is as professional a hitter as any in the bigs.
Then there are youngsters like Alex Verdugo and Will Smith, who was recently promoted to be the team's starting catcher and responded by hitting a go-ahead grand slam against the San Diego Padres on Aug. 2. Both players represent this Dodgers team perfectly, a group that continues to get production from just about anyone written into the lineup card.
Houston has once again had to deal with injuries throughout this season, and yet they feel just as dangerous as ever. Alex Bregman has developed into the team's preeminent superstar despite a roster that also contains the likes of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer.
Speaking of Springer, he is having the best season of his career. He has already clubbed 25 homers while hitting close to .300 and running a .972 OPS. Despite playing in just 80 games this season, Springer still has the 15th-best fWAR in the league.
Altuve, the former American League MVP, was possibly the hottest hitter in baseball in July. He slashed .388/.434/.653 with six homers and homered in two of the first four games of August.
Correa returned on July 26 and has homered in three of his first nine games back. Yuli Gurriel is having the best season of his career, and Yordan Alvarez is still mashing.
Are there any weaknesses in this Astros lineup? Now that they are fully healthy, Houston probably has the scariest group of offensive weapons in the entire league.
Who else can compete?
In assessing the competitors for the Dodgers and Astros in the NL and AL, respectively, there are not too many squads who appear to have a reasonable shot at defeating either team in a playoff series.
The Atlanta Braves made sizable upgrades to their bullpen at the deadline, but do they have the rotational depth to challenge the Dodgers? The Chicago Cubs are as talented as any team in baseball, but offensive consistency and late-game bullpen woes have plagued them all season long.
In the American League, the Yankees have been a juggernaut. Yet, New York's starting rotation is a massive question mark, especially after failing to add an impact starter at the trade deadline. Could the Minnesota Twins or Cleveland Indians play spoiler to the Astros? Of course, anything is possible.
However, the bottom line is that no two teams are quite as complete as the Dodgers and Astros. Though the Dodgers need to get better performances from their bullpen while the Astros must stay healthy, the two teams look like they are on a collision course for the Fall Classic.