Boston's deep lineup produces runs
OK, I get it. Felix Doubront and John Lackey aren't exactly Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Heck, Jon Lester isn't even the equal of Hyun-Jim Ryu. Shane Victorino versus Yasiel Puig? Please. Stop now. The Red Sox are not a better postseason bet than the Dodgers.
Or are they?
For one thing, forget that old axiom that pitching wins championships. I mean, of course it does, but so do hitting and defense. You still have to outscore your opponents the last time I checked, and that's something the Red Sox can do. They lead the major leagues in runs scored -- the only teams within even 50 runs of them are the Tigers and Cardinals. The Dodgers don't lead their own division in runs.
Sure, the Dodgers haven't had Puig and Hanley Ramirez all season. Well, the Red Sox might have their own secret weapon in Will Middlebrooks, who's hitting .441 since his latest recall from the minors. He's been in Boston for only 11 games but he's received five unintentional walks; if this new-and-improved plate discipline is for real, the Red Sox's offense just got a whole lot better.
Here's the key thing to remember: You do need a good offense to win the World Series. But what about the Giants, you say? Last year's Giants DID have a good offense; it was just masked by their home park. The Giants led the National League in runs scored on the road. Overall, the Giants ranked sixth in runs and sixth in runs allowed -- factor in the ballpark and their offense was better than their pitching.
The 2011 Cardinals? First in the NL in runs, ninth in runs allowed. Their World Series opponent, the Rangers? Third in the AL in runs, fifth in runs allowed. The 2010 Giants were more pitching-oriented, but none of their starters had an ERA under 3.00 that year. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 with Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton but not with Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.
As for the pitching, let's see -- everybody praises Tampa Bay's pitching, right? The Red Sox have allowed only 30 more runs than the Rays. It's a better staff than you think, especially with the addition of Jake Peavy. Yes, a healthy Clay Buchholz would be nice, but the Red Sox can still win it all without him.
Rotation gives L.A. edge
As the final month of the season approaches, the Los Angeles Dodgers have their share of concerns, just like any other team.
Matt Kemp is making painstakingly slow progress in his recovery from an ankle sprain. The Dodgers can ill afford another injury to shortstop Hanley Ramirez after going 23-29 during his two disabled list visits. And as columnists nationwide have pointed out in recent weeks, someone needs to rein in Yasiel Puig before he causes damage running into: (A) a teammate, (B) a wall, (C) a beer vendor or (D) Nancy Bea Hefley on the Dodger Stadium organ.
But after 45 victories in a span of 55 games, dissecting Los Angeles' vulnerabilities is sort of like criticizing Clayton Kershaw because his last name isn't "Koufax."
The Dodgers have been the best team in baseball by a wide margin going back to June 22, when they found their stride and made the transition from excessively hyped to ridiculously good. That 45-10 assault makes for an .818 winning percentage over a period of two months and a day, and the Dodgers recently added a flourish with 15 straight wins on the road.
If there's one overriding reason to think the Dodgers will play deep into the postseason, it's the pitching. Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu rank among the top 10 in the National League in ERA, and Ricky Nolasco, who starts the opener of a weekend series against Boston on Friday, is 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA since arriving from Miami. Cull the rosters of every other playoff contender, and Detroit might have the only rotation that compares. Given the Dodgers' sizable lead in the NL West, manager Don Mattingly should also have the luxury of monitoring his pitchers' workloads and setting up his postseason rotation to maximum effect.
The Dodgers are ninth in Baseball Prospectus' team defensive efficiency rankings, so they make the plays as a rule. They rank sixth in the NL in runs and only 13th in homers, so they're not excessively reliant on the long ball. And the bullpen has been quietly outstanding for the past two months, with closer Kenley Jansen and his 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings (and 0.82 WHIP) leading the way.
The Dodgers are known for their star power and gargantuan payroll, but any roster that has room for a Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Uribe, Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis doesn't lack for the "grit" factor. Mattingly and his players navigated some trying times in April and May before busting open the division race and establishing themselves as a baseball force. Get used to the Dodgers: You'll probably be seeing a lot of them in October.