Every year before the MLB season begins, SI asks rival scouts to size up and break down each team's rosters anonymously and freely. This year, we did the same for the two World Series teams. Here's one scout's take on the strengths and weaknesses of the Dodgers as they seek their first World Series title since 1988.
Houston won the ALCS because they used starters in their bullpen. They didn’t use relievers. It’s not sustainable. I don’t know what they’re gonna do, I really don’t. I’m not going to be terribly shocked ifDallas Keuchel pitches three times, or Justin Verlander does … Houston has struggled on the road, obviously. They’re more comfortable in their ballpark, which is a hitter’s paradise.
The Starting Pitchers
We’ve got two types of breaking balls in this series for Houston: They’ve got Verlander, who has power offspeed stuff, and Keuchel, who relies on command of his backdoor stuff to righthanders. Keuchel is successful because he is a little Jamie Moyer-esque, in that he is very willing to pitch in without plus velocity. He knows that teams that win pitch on the inner half, the inner third. When he had a bad year last year, he couldn’t command the corners, which led to a bad year because his stuff is relatively ordinary. This year Keuchel can command down and in with everything—with his breaking stuff, with his changeup, with his fastball. And that screws up a lot of low-ball hitters, because you can entice them off the plate … Verlander is obviously their best pitcher. He’s got a hard fastball, he’s got a power curveball, and he commands them both. And he has that old-school mentality of “I’m going nine.” He’s John Smoltz, he’s Curt Schilling, he’s Nolan Ryan. I think there’s some fatigue factor, but I don’t think it’ll be much. He’s a pro. Getting Verlander won the pennant for Houston. There’s no question about that.
The Starting Lineup
The Astros are a very young club and they swing a lot. José Altuve swings at everything. I think the Astros will look up in the zone and cherry-pick up in the zone, look for something thigh-up. But that’s hard to do. Houston likes to swing, they really do. The Dodgers' pitchers will try to entice the Astros off the plate, then they’ll come in with high fastballs and breaking stuff in the dirt and down. Kershaw will show what the Dodgers' approach is going to be to everybody. What Kershaw does the first time through the lineup is basically how the Dodgers are going to pitch to Houston … I’m very happy for Brian McCann. I think the best description of Mac is he knows what he can’t hit. And he sets pitchers up, he knows what he wants to hit and what counts he wants. He’s become a little bit more of a power hitter in Houston because it’s more inviting, but his nature is gap-to-gap. He’s an an average catcher with a below-average arm. The Dodgers can run on him.
I think Yulieski Gurriel could be Houston’s best hitter against the Dodgers. He swings at strikes, he’s a good hitter. They have talented hitters on Houston—George Springer’s got ability, but you can get Springer to expand the strike zone a lot. Carlos Correa’s the same way. Correa is a good hitter, he’s a good player. But Correa will expand the strike zone, too. If Houston can not expand the strike zone, they will have a better shot at beating L.A. That’s about mindset ... Altuve is a great fastball hitter. There’s no reason to throw him a fastball, none, except as a mix pitch. Especially high fastballs. He’s as good a high fastball hitter as there is in the league right now. Defensively, Altuve can get to everything. It looks funny because he’s diving for it a lot of times because he’s not very big. But he’s so athletic that he can bounce up and make plays ... Practically the entire Houston infield are amazing athletes. Alex Bregman is a young kid with good skills, but he’s still learning how to play. He made a good throw to the plate the other night and he’s going to milk that for a couple years, probably. He’s an alright third baseman, he’s O.K. The Dodgers can take advantage of his inexperience.
Marwin González has made himself into a super-utility guy and had a really good year. Mistake hitter. He had issues coming up, he wasn’t supposed to be a regular, ever. He just kept on coming on and getting better and getting better ... This slump is in Josh Reddick’s head, big time. It’s going to be tough for him to break out of it. He’s guessing now at the plate and if he guesses right—even the hit he got in Game 7 was to left field. He’s such a good defender that you have to play him. You just hope that he starts to get a little hot. Springer is another very athletic guy. If he will swing at strikes, he’ll have an impact on the series. If he starts expanding the strike zone, then we’ve got a problem. Dodgers will do whatever they can to get him to do that. They’ll throw fastballs up and breaking stuff and changeups down. But I expect George to have a good series because he’s a great athlete and a good kid, too
If Evan Gattis does any catching, they’re in trouble. He’s worse than [Dodgers catcher Yasmani] Grandal. He’s a low-fastball hitter. He’s in there to run into a hanging slider or an average fastball because he doesn’t cope with high fastballs up in the zone at all, if they have velocity. Kershaw will get him to swing at backdoor breaking balls and high fastballs, and then come in with a slider at his feet ... Carlos Beltrán doesn’t have much left, but he’s like [Chase] Utley. Guys with not much left in the tank physically, but good leaders. If you look, all the players will come to Beltran for advice and to talk to after their at-bats … Cameron Maybin is an extra guy. Just a guy on the roster. He won’t see the field much, nor should he.
That bullpen, though. They’re going to have to use their actual bullpen this time, and I don’t trust Ken Giles. When you look at Giles versus Jansen, I mean, come on. Giles throws harder but that’s about it. To attack Giles, you wait for a mistake, but he’ll make more mistakes than Jansen by far ... Chris Devenski was terrible in the playoffs, and it’s as much mental as anything else. You could see it in his face. It was sad to see. Even with Giles—if you look at the faces of all those relievers, they weren’t scared, but they were tentative. That’s going to be the big difference for Houston. They got into the World Series not because the relievers helped them into the World Series but because they converted starters, and the starters took them into the World Series. Can they keep doing that? I wouldn’t think so, but they may have to.
For Houston to win, they have to win one of the first two games in L.A. and they have to hit breaking stuff. If they don’t hit breaking ball strikes, they are cooked.