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.
The big difference for the Dodgers is their bullpen is knockdown and Houston’s is not. That, to me, is going to be the difference in the series. I think the Dodgers are going to win this and they could win this going away ... It’s a question of depth. The Dodgers have proved in the playoffs how deep their lineup is. And they open at home, which is a huge benefit for them. Dave Roberts has done a great job; he communicates extremely well. Guys obviously love playing for him. He’s loyal to the right guys but he can get away with making moves that may not be terribly popular. You can always measure a manager by how they use their bullpen. Solid? Wow, they’ve been unbelievable. The power that’s in bullpens now is incredible. The Dodgers just kill you.
The Starting Pitchers
Clayton Kershaw, if he can command his fastball to both sides, and if he has an upper-level velocity fastball, which for him now is 92–93 mph—you combine that with his breaking ball command, both curve and slider, and he’s a package. Boy, he’s tough. He’s the best pitcher in baseball. I would take Kershaw 10 out of 10 times versus Max Scherzer. Previous years in the playoffs, he was worn down. He’s had plenty of rest this time. But that back still bothers him, there’s no question about that. It’s going to be an issue forever. If he thinks he’s the old Kershaw that can go nine innings, then it will affect him. But what he has to realize is that the Dodgers’ bullpen is unbelievable right now. Kershaw needs to accept the idea of pitching six innings, mentally, because he’s a nine-inning guy by nature. He’s like Justin Verlander in that way. If he commands that dominating curveball and has any kind of fastball command, it’s lights out for Houston … Rich Hill doesn’t throw that hard; in fact, his stuff is softer than Dallas Keuchel’s. But if he commands it, he can get away with it. This is a guy who was practically out of baseball and has come back and learned how to command that curveball to both sides of the plate. He uses his curveball like a fastball.
Alex Wood is like a miniaturized Chris Sale, he’s got a funky delivery. When he first came up, he didn’t throw that hard, then he got velocity. If the Dodgers are up 3–0 or 2–1, he’ll pitch that game. But if they’re down, Kershaw will ... Their best stuff pitcher is Yu Darvish. He’s benefited from that big ballpark, he trusts the defense behind him, and like all three of L.A.’s key starters he knows he only has to go five or six innings. Darvish is a power guy who can run his four-seamer up there in the high 90s. And he has learned to add and subtract on his fastball. I saw him in Japan years ago and he had 100 pitches—he threw everything, six or seven different pitches. When he can subtract pitches out of the program, he’s much better off. Darvish will go through the first 20 pitches or so finding out what’s working for him and what isn’t. As long as the catcher will keep him on point, he’s fine.
The Starting Lineup
They’re going to get their shortstop back, Corey Seager, who is arguably their best player, or one of them. If he comes back healthy, that’s a very deep, long Dodgers lineup. He’s just a good hitter, a capable defender and he works well with Justin Turner on the left side of the infield. It’s going to be interesting to see how healthy he is. I assume Houston will test him early to find out. The key will be how he reacts to breaking stuff ... I would catch Austin Barnes every game. I’m not a Yasmani Grandal fan at all. Barnes catches everything, and he can throw. Grandal became a regular catcher when the computer guys came up with this pitch-framing bulls---. They said “Oh, he’s a great pitch framer.” So what? The best catcher in the league is in Kansas City and he can’t frame worth a damn, but he’s still the best. That’s such a bogus stat for me. It’s just one of a lot of different measurement tools. It’s like teams that use a stopwatch for running speed; well, that’s a tool, that’s all it is. Pitch framing is a tool. Austin Barnes can catch. Grandal is in there for offense, period. Other than Keuchel, the Astros don’t have any lefties, which helps the Dodgers, because what Grandal can do is he can hit the ball out of the ballpark. He can hit, he’s just not a very good catcher.
Turner is an absolute different animal now than he was with the Mets. He’s completely remade his stride, his timing is impeccable now. He was always a good high-ball and inner-half hitter, now he covers everything pretty well. He still looks for certain pitches, but he squares up baseballs extremely well and he’s a clutch performer. Some of the analytics stuff is very useful and for him, this launch angle stuff, it works. Certain styles work for certain players, and Turner has found something that works for him. Don’t try to emulate Turner, because you can’t. He has always been an excellent fastball hitter. Verlander and Keuchel will try to get him out with breaking stuff down and away, and force him to try to hook it versus hit it hard. I think he will adjust to it—he’ll get his hits. But I don’t know if he’s going to adjust to hit for power.
Cody Bellinger is one of the kings of launch angle. He has crafted his swing much like Turner crafted his swing on the other side. Is Bellinger easy to pitch to if you’ve got stuff? Yes, he is. But if you throw it thigh-down, he’s another guy who’s going to take it out of the ballpark on you. Bellinger is a dead low-ball hitter and he’s got big power. If you can command a fastball up in the zone to him, you can get him. But you better have it up there and it better be hard … Logan Forsythe has been quiet, but he’s a solid professional type of hitter. He hits certain guys. He’ll struggle with power stuff, both fastball and breaking ball.
This is the best I’ve ever seen Yasiel Puig. First of all, he’s under better personal control. He’s not chasing all over the place, he’s not trying to hit the glamorous home run anymore. He’s maturing—he’s probably up to an 18-year-old now. You can still get him into swing mode, but it’s harder. He used to come up to the plate in swing mode. He’s a much more professional hitter now. I think that trip to the minors did more for him than anything … I saw Chris Taylor as an infielder in Seattle. That’s one of the storylines of this series: the remake of players. Turner, Puig, Taylor. These guys are all much different players than they were when they first came to the big leagues. To their credit. In Seattle, Taylor was supposed to be a make contact, move runners along, hit-and-run type, and now he’s a power hitter. He’s another guy who’s gotten on the idea of 'where do I want the barrel to be in the strike zone on contact?' And for him to make that conversion from an infielder to an outfielder and be that successful at it and get those kinds of reads—that catch he made in centerfield the other day was great.
Kenta Maeda can really pitch. He trusts his fastball and he knows that he doesn’t have to pace himself—he’s only going to be out there for an inning or two, so he can let it all hang out. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with him next year. He certainly has starter stuff … Brandon Morrow is on a hot streak right now, and he’s always had a great arm. He’s throwing harder, he’s commanding his fastball, he’s commanding his emotions. He’s a guy who used to make mistakes in the strike zone. He doesn’t make many any more ... Of course, the guy at the end, Kenley Jansen, is the best in the business. He can also go two innings, and do it a lot. He’s a bull. He’s strong. He’s built like a catcher, which is what he was.
Chase Utley, for his career, is one of the best low-ball hitters ever. But he’s 100 years old, he just doesn’t have the ability to get to it any more. He’s a real professional, though. He knows how to win. He contributes a great deal to that team. ... I’m happy for Andre Ethier. He’s a professional, he knows his role, like Utley. They’re key members on the Dodgers' bench because they’ve been through it, they’re content in their roles and they’re both incredible team players ... Joc Pederson is an easy guy to pitch to and he shouldn’t see the field in this Series ... it’s a good bench and it’s a professional bench. Charlie Culberson has been in the right place, right time, coming through. He’s a good athlete. This team has a lot of good athletes. In fact, this is one of the most athletic World Series in a while.
If Grandal catches, I’d run on him like crazy. But other than that, I think the Dodgers don’t have holes. They’re the most complete team I’ve seen in the World Series in a while. Their pitching staff is deep, their lineup is deep. For Houston to have a shot, they have to win one of the first two games in Dodger Stadium.