There is nothing to fear in the Boston Red Sox camp heading into this World Series.
Don’t take that as a prediction or a presumption to fire up the duck boats. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a legitimate opponent with loads of late October experience.
They hit the accelerator at precisely the right time this season, even if it didn’t spare them a one-game playoff to win the National League West or a seventh game to secure their championship series. They have fewer lineup holes and deeper pitching than the 2004 and 2013 St. Louis Cardinals and the 2007 Colorado Rockies combined.
All that aside, the Sox have done a magical job blocking out externals and minding their own business. If they keep doing that, the team that went 108-54 in the regular season and 7-2 in the American League playoffs is untouchable.
Remember all that when the Dodgers win one of the first two games in Fenway Park, because it’s bound to happen.
Clayton Kershaw certainly is capable of a gem, which of course in this day and age means six strong innings with enough run support to bullpen-proof it. Flaunting seven guys on the roster north of 20 home runs, Los Angeles has the power to launch an unwelcome guest or two into the monster seats.
We’ve seen this movie before. Boston just keeps grinding out at-bats and patching it together with pitching and defense. You can’t rattle this team sufficiently to summon the kind of streak required to win a best-of-seven series.
There’s a train of thought that the Sox overachieved slightly and the Dodgers underachieved substantially for the six months leading up to this bi-coastal battle. Rather than weigh that as a factor that could make this series a grind, see it as another reason to feel comfortable with the Sox.
This team has an “it” factor, one responsible for that wide separation from the pack all season long. It has been even more pronounced in the playoffs, contrary to our tendency to dwell on the speed bumps and assume this stuff is easy.
Even the elements that raised our blood pressure turned out just fine.
We worried the starting rotation looked spotty after Chris Sale. Then the Sox basically won the ALCS without him.
David Price made us wonder if it was legal to trade someone to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp during the playoffs. Then he spent six innings burying three years of dead weight and becoming a folk hero.
Infield defense was a red flag, particularly at the corners. Then it was a non-factor, even a strength at times.
Jackie Bradley Jr. left a gaping hole in the lineup. Then you needed an abacus to count his RBIs.
The manager was a rookie who had the potential to be in over his head. Then Alex Cora pulled all the right strings, balancing his gut with the time-tested book and the new statistical realities and exhibiting veteran skill.
Craig Kimbrel’s bout with Mark Wohlers Disease (or is it Daniel Bard Syndrome?) threatened to put us all in therapy. Then he pitched a hitless, scoreless ninth inning to close out Houston. And in this new economy of closers becoming starters and aces turning into closers, it’s not the same life-or-death proposition as in 1986.
The rest of the bullpen was a liability. Then Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly and Ryan Brasier were lights-out, with occasional help from Sale, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez in spots.
Yes, the Dodgers are worthy of respect, if not fear. They are the National League equivalent of the Yankees. Their lineup would make them a nightmare fantasy opponent. In real time, it gives them a puncher’s chance, but it also makes them vulnerable to attack at a time of year when the ability to nibble the corners traditionally trumps launch angle.
Get past Kershaw and the Dodgers’ arms don’t evoke fear. Walker Buehler (who grew up 15 minutes from where I live) is going to be a star but served up a couple of meatballs to Milwaukee. Rich Hill? Well, he’s better than Wade Miley, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen — literally.
Be the consistent, businesslike, tidy, deep, likable bunch that strung together walks, singles and doubles down the line all season long, and Boston will be champions for the fourth time this century.
Prediction? OK, fine: Sox in six, ending on either a bases-loaded strikeout by Kimbrel, a ranging grab by Andrew Benintendi or a walk-off bomb by an unsung acquisition such as Steve Pearce or Ian Kinsler.
A team that followed the script to a tee all season long isn’t about to deviate from it now.
— Kalle Oakes spent 27 years in the Sun Journal sports department. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Keep in touch with him by email at [email protected]oo.com or on Twitter @oaksie72.