Astros-Dodgers is a Feel-Good World Series
Everybody loves a World Series underdog but sometimes, it feels good to get things right, just as much as it feels good to see a surprise shock us all.
Baseball, and sports writ large, derives a significant amount of entertainment value from its unpredictability. A Cinderella run to the World Series can captivate a nationwide audience. The sudden blossoming of unexpected superstars, like Aaron Judge this year, are sights to behold. The insane swings experienced by teams like the Indians and Dodgers this year are impossible to anticipate and breathtakingly exciting.
The World Series this year, however, isn’t particularly unexpected. There is no Cinderella here, no team that came out of nowhere. Instead, we have teams that have been juggernauts all year meeting at the peaks of their powers.
It’s not an understatement to say that this Astros’ pennant has long been foretold. Over three years ago, as Houston was fresh off what was essentially a tanking period, Sports Illustrated ran what is now a famous cover, one that foretold of an Astros’ title in 2017.
— Ben Reiter (@BenReiter) October 22, 2017
The coming of the Dodgers has been long anticipated as well. No, there’s no Sports Illustrated cover from years ago that claimed them as future champions, but after the sale of the team out of the hands of the McCourts led to an unprecedented cash investment in club, which in turn led to a remaking of the front office with a modern, analytical bent, it’s long been asked when the Dodgers would emerge as a superpower.
Right on time, both of these superpowers have emerged, just as we all expected. We spent years talking up the enviable homegrown talent the Astros were cultivating, with Carlos Correa and George Springer and Jose Altuve and the like, and now they are the foundation of a 101-win American League pennant winner.
The Dodgers have been successful over the past few years, but the team never coalesced into a giant until now. Sure, a number of 90-win seasons and a fistful of NL West titles was good, but the Dodgers never quite matched the expectations of their sky-high $250 million payroll. They did this year, with a 104-win squad that steamrolled opponents for most of the year.
Surely, some will complain that this was too easy to foresee. What’s the fun in watching a movie if you already know the ending? If we can see three years in advance which teams will be taking home pennants, then what’s the point?
Yet that’s not the way to look at this World Series. In a sport, and a world, that is at times chaotic, seemingly random, there’s a comfort in knowing that maybe, just maybe, everything isn’t a total crap-shoot. In fact, this World Series, one that smashes together two favorites, one that pits Goliath vs. Goliath, may just be a feel-good story.
Stay with me here. Feel-good stories in sports typically are reserved for huge underdogs, or teams and athletes that had to surmount harrowing odds across their journey to glory. They are not typically reserved for championship bouts in which two big market teams with star-studded rosters clash, but maybe they should.
Think about it. This is a rare World Series where we can actually say with some fortitude that the best teams have been rewarded with a chance at the title. Last year’s Cubs were an excellent team, but they met a Cleveland team that was undermanned after injuries ravaged their starting rotation. The 2014 World Series featured a pair of Wild Card squads. Three Giants teams in five years won titles more because they played great at the right time, and less because they were the best (the Giants averaged 91 wins during their championship years).
Instead of a matchup of teams that got hot at the right time, we’re seeing a matchup of teams that were hot all year, by virtue of simply being the best. The Dodgers won the most games in baseball. The Astros won nearly as many, and outscored their opponents by nearly 200 runs. Perhaps you could argue the Indians were as good as either team, but it’s not outlandish to say the teams that have made it to the finish are the teams that deserve to be here.
“Deserve” is a loaded term when it comes to sports, and rightfully so. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of what it means to deserve to win. The team that won the most? The team that scored the most runs overall? The team that played the hardest? Yet when we look at these World Series teams, it’s clear that at the very least, their success this year is a deserved result of a long, thoughtful process that yielded a pair of great teams.
When the Astros tanked six years ago, it was easy to say they had lost their way. But the organization stuck to their plan, focusing on avoiding big free agent mistakes, allocating their resources efficiently in the draft, and developing their young talent. Those principles have yielded a team loaded with great young players that will be a threat to come out of the AL for years to come.
So too have the Dodgers established themselves as a team on the cutting-edge. They’ve been on the front-lines of various progressive strategies when it comes to bullpen management and starter usage, and have focused on maximizing their efforts in every area, whether it’s the free agent market, the draft, international signings, and on. Just like the Astros, they’ve stuck to a solid, long-term plan, and deserve the success they’ve found.
This isn’t to say either organization is anywhere near perfect. The Astros did not come off well in low-balling first round pick Brady Aiken a couple years ago, or in seemingly sending Springer down to the minors in 2014 because he didn’t accept a team-friendly extension.
Even so, it is refreshing to see two teams reach the summit after carefully planning for years to do just that. It’s comforting to be able to look at teams like the Astros and Dodgers a few years back, recognize what they were building, and being able to say with confidence that what they’re doing will work. Sometimes, it feels good to get things right, just as much as it feels good to see a surprise underdog shock us all.
No, this matchup of heavyweights won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if the first two games of the series are any indication, just because there’s no underdog doesn’t mean the games can’t be absolutely scintillating. Instead, we are getting strength vs. strength, superpower vs. superpower. If that doesn’t make you feel warm inside, that’s just fine, but maybe it should comfort you to know that in this case, we all just might have known what we were talking about for once.