- From slick World Series baseballs to Clayton Kershaw's L.A. finale to 1988, these are the storylines to keep an eye out for in the 2018 World Series.
The nine-month grind of a baseball season doesn’t lend itself to small sample sizes, yet no chapter of the calendar invites a microscopic view of the game like the World Series. Bloop singles, blown saves and ground balls can live forever.
While we don't know how exactly the action on the field will unfold, there are still plenty of narratives to unearth. So as the Red Sox and Dodgers commence the 114th edition of the Fall Classic, these are the nine people, places and things that will define the series.
1. Supervillian and impending free agent Manny Machado
Whatever Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado does in this series—anything between winning the World Series or losing it—he'll be scrutinized like no other. His relationship with the Red Sox is already acrimonious, dating back to an aggressive slide last year that still hampers injured second baseman Dustin Pedroia. It's safe to say Machado’s bizarre kicking incident with Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar in the NLCS further enhanced Machado's profile as he and the Dodgers prepare for the World Series to begin in Fenway Park on Tuesday.
What's more (and there always seems to be more with Machado), is a potentially historic payday waiting for him at the end of this series. One team is going to break the bank for him. It doesn't matter if it's more money or less than Bryce Harper, the 26-year-old Machado will make hundreds of millions this offseason. You better believe the key players planning to bid for his series are watching closely.
2. World Series baseballs
You didn't forget about this story, did you? SI's Tom Verducci filed a special report from last year's Fall Classic with numerous on-the-record quotes from players, coaches and officials commenting on the slickness of the baseballs being used in the World Series. A record 25 homers were hit between the Dodgers and Astros. That was only the bookend to a 2017 season that saw a spike in offense and led many to believe the composition of the baseball had been altered.
Fast forward a year, and the conversation seems to have died down publicly about the object at the center of a zillion-dollar industry. Yet it might only take a few power-packed games to revive the narrative once again. Keep your eyes peeled for unusual amounts of offense, even from the teams that led their league in run scoring.
3. David Price makes the biggest start of his career
Take a drink every time the TV broadcast references David Price's poor postseason history and you might not make it until the end of the game (these things last four-plus hours now, you know). The microscope will also be on Chris Sale, who's ebbing velocity and stomach illness have kept him in headlines this month, but Price may very well be the linchpin to Boston's pitching staff.
The narrative on the lefthander is starting to shift as the Red Sox won both of his starts against the Astros in the ALCS, with six shutout innings in Game 5 translating to the best playoff start of his career. The boo birds may still be waiting for Price if he implodes in the World Series, but he also has the greatest platform to rewrite his October story.
4. The managerial ties between Alex Cora and Dave Roberts
First, a brilliant idea:
Mentioned this in passing last night. But it really would be cool if Dave Roberts threw out a first pitch at Fenway and Alex Cora caught it.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) October 21, 2018
Roberts is an ex-Sox player the fan love, a very respected man in the game and Cora's former teammate.
Be a great sign of sportsmanship.
There's plenty to unpeel with these managers, starting with the memory of their time as teammates. SI's Gabriel Baumgaertner dug up Alex Cora's 18-pitch at-bat that ended in a homer from 2004. Who was among the giddiest Dodgers that spilled onto the field? Roberts, of course, who pumped both fists in the air as Cora began his parade around the bases.
Then there's a note from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, highlighting Cora and Roberts as the first minority managers to square off in the World Series.
Beneath the surface is a continuation of an ongoing storyline as it relates to managers: experience is more irrelevant than ever. The Red Sox won 108 games with Cora as a first-year manager while the Dodgers own division titles in all three of Roberts's seasons at the helm. It should be an entertaining series to watch these two skippers. except when they're traveling...
5. The well-worn path from the dugout to the pitcher's mound
Pitching changes! Everyone's favorite subject. If it were the Brewers and A's pairing up in the Fall Classic, this would be the storyline to follow. It would be Openers and One-Batter Starters galore. That shouldn't be the case in this series, but we've seen enough postseason baseball this month to surmise that Cora and Roberts won't hold a long leash with their starters. In our World Series forecasts, Jon Tayler's "bold prediction" stated that no starter would make it six innings. Every letter of that statement should be bold, and in any other year it would be, yet it would hardly be stunning if that were the case.
The Red Sox employ an unorthodox group of relievers (and Rick Porcello) that's been surprisingly reliable, with closer Craig Kimbrel somehow emerging as the biggest question mark. The Dodgers have seen remarkable stuff from Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen out of their relief corps. Pitching changes and bullpens factor in the postseason equation more than ever. Don't expect that to change over these final games.
6. Clayton Kershaw's finale in L.A.?
Even if you can't envision Clayton Kershaw leaving the Dodgers, the fact remains that he can opt out of the final two years (and roughly $70 million) of his contract after this season. The case of Will He or Won't He will be heavily discussed from now until a decision is made. The guess here is that he remains with L.A. after this season. It could be that he opts out and re-signs, extends his contract without opting out or just chooses not to opt out. Regardless of opinion, the start he presumably will make in Game 4 or 5 of this series could be Kershaw's last in Dodger Stadium wearing the home uniform. You might need to read that again.
It's hard to fathom, as it is with any player and team that are synonymous with each other like Kershaw and the Dodgers are. But it's the truth.
7. The end of baseball's timeless event
This may come as a relief to some fans while it's sure to strike the baseball traditionalist to their core: the 2018 World Series may be the last without a pitch clock. Rob Manfred has made no secret about his desire to speed up pace of play, pace of action, pace of anything. Speed is the memo, and a pitch clock seems to be the consensus on the surest way to achieve that. Manfred backed down from his initial desire to install a pitch clock this season, but it appears inevitable that MLB will circle back around to their pace of play initiatives this offseason.
It's no sure thing that the commissioner will get his way, but appreciate the rhythms of the game while you still can without a countdown timer showing up on your television screen.
8. Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium
You couldn't ask for a better backdrop to the World Series. Two of Major League Baseball's oldest ballparks will play host to the biggest games of the season, and it's hard not to wish this was the case every year. Both venues have provided the stage for some of the game's most memorable moments, including Carlton Fisk's Wave-It-Fair Walk-Off in the '75 Series, Kirk Gibson's One-Legged Miracle and Bucky Bleepin' Dent, not to mention a combined 26 no-hitters, 21 World Series and five All-Star Games.
If nothing else this week, soak up basehits clanging off the Green Monster and scenic shots of the sun setting on Chavez Ravine.
9. The Dodgers' 30-Year Drought
Expect to hear a lot about 1988 this series. Gas was cheap, movies were better, Twitter didn't exist, and oh yeah, Kirk Gibson. It's been 30 years since he launched a Dennis Eckersley slider into the rightfield seats for an improbable pinch-hit walk-off homer in Game 1 of the '88 Fall Classic. The Dodgers have done plenty of winning since collecting their rings 30 years ago—most recently winning the last six NL West titles—yet only have last year's pennant to show for it. A loss in this World Series wouldn't put L.A. on the same level as the Braves, who won the NL East 11 straight years and only won it all in 1995, but even the possibility of association should make Dodgers fans shudder a little.