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12 burning questions for the 2018 World Series

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 World Series will feature a showdown between two of baseball’s most historic franchises — the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox. As we look toward this Fall Classic, some questions come to mind. How they’re answered will go a long way in telling us who wins.

Starters Clayton Kershaw and David Price both have a chance to erase some bad memories, but they’re not the only ones. Closers Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen can each do the same. On offense, questions revolve around Manny Machado, Cody Bellinger, and just how the Red Sox will get all of their best hitters in the lineup without the DH.

As the Dodgers and Red Sox head into the 2018 World Series, these are the burning questions that will need to be answered.

1. Is Clayton Kershaw finally ready to get the monkey off of his back?

Kershaw is an undoubted Hall of Famer and will rightfully be recognized as one of baseball’s all-time great pitchers. The World Series title is the one glaring omission from his resume. And while Kershaw has had his big postseason moments, he’s also had some notable playoff struggles, including in 2018. If he goes out and delivers two strong outings and helps the Dodgers win a World Series, the notion that he can’t thrive in October goes down the toilet. But if he struggles even once, especially if it helps contribute to a series loss, that narrative only gets louder.

2. How will the Red Sox solve the DH dilemma in Los Angeles?

While Boston DH, J.D. Martinez, can play the outfield, making that happen in Games 3-5 will be easier said than done. With Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and of course, Mookie Betts all healthy, there’s no real natural outfield option for the Red Sox to bench. One suggested idea has been that Betts might play second base, a position he has some, but little experience at. Martinez could conceivably also play some at first base. But this will definitely be an inconvenience for Boston. Should the Dodgers manage even a split at Fenway Park in Games 1 and 2, they’ll make Boston’s decision even more pressing.

3. Which Cody Bellinger shows up for the Dodgers?

Bellinger was simply awful through Los Angeles’ first seven postseason games in 2018. Starting with the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves and running through Game 3 of the NLCS, Bellinger was hitting .048/.200/.048 in the postseason. But from Games 4-7 against Milwaukee, Bellinger hit .267/.313/.533. That included what proved to be the game-winning home run in Game 7. Bellinger is going to strike out and he probably won’t have a terribly high average or OBP. But if he’s driving the ball like we saw in the final four games of the NLCS, the Dodgers will have an incredibly dangerous hitter.

4. Can the Red Sox trust Craig Kimbrel?

Normally one of the game’s best closers, Kimbrel has struggled mightily in the playoffs. In 6.1 innings over five appearances, Kimbrel has allowed five earned runs, six hits, and walked six men. That’s a 7.11 ERA and 1.89 WHIP. If you’re looking for positives, Kimbrel was relatively clean in his last ALCS appearance, issuing only one walk while striking out two in Game 5. But are we going to look back at that as the outlier, or has Kimbrel really turned a corner? The answer to that question will tell us a lot about who wins this World Series.

5. Did the Dodgers learn from the 2017 experience?

Seven Los Angeles players appeared in all seven games in last year’s World Series. Five of them (Bellinger, Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, and Austin Barnes) are on this year’s roster. Collectively, that quintet hit .169/.248/.354 with five home runs and 36 strikeouts. As a team, the Dodgers hit .205/.290/.393 with 10 homers and 65 strikeouts in the 2017 Fall Classic. There’s no doubt that Los Angeles can hit the long ball. But winning this World Series could come down to scoring runs without the home run. If that’s the case, the Dodgers will need to be much better in 2018 than they were in 2017.

6. How long can Chris Sale go?

It’s not that Sale has been ineffective since the end of July. Including the playoffs, he’s posted a 2.96 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. The problem is that, thanks to injuries and now illness, Sale hasn’t reached even six innings since the end of July. In fact, he’s only even reached five innings twice. Even if Sale pitches well, the Red Sox bullpen is going to get tested if he’s not even getting through six innings. And while it held up relatively well in the ALCS, the bullpen isn’t exactly a strength of this team. Sale getting deeper into games would definitely buoy Boston’s chances.

7. Is Manny Machado locked in? 

Machado has been kind of the opposite of Bellinger through this postseason. For the first seven games, he was locked in, hitting .286/.333/.679 with three home runs and two doubles. But Machado has slumped over the last four games, hitting .188/.278/.188 without a single extra-base hit. Now, like Kimbrel with Boston, there’s a sliver of good news. Machado was 2-for-4 in Game 7 of the NLCS. But is that the sign of him coming out of a slump? Or, is that just a small oasis in a bigger desert? The Dodgers need it to be the former. It’s hard to imagine Los Angeles winning if Machado is slumping.

8. Can Red Sox break curse of clinching first?

It would seem like clinching early would be an advantage. You can set your rotation however you want. Any players dealing with minor injuries get a little extra time to heal up. That can’t be a bad thing, right? Well, every World Series champ from the 2009 New York Yankees to the 2017 Houston Astros (both teams inclusive) was the second team to win its LCS. Is that just a freak thing? Or, is there really something to baseball players being used to playing every day and getting out of rhythm? You can decide for yourself. But it’s awfully challenging to ignore the results of nine straight Fall Classics.

9. Is Kenley Jansen fully over last year’s frustrating series?

Jansen posted a 3.12 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in the 2017 World Series. While those numbers aren’t terrible, consider this: Jansen had a 1.32 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in the regular season and a 0.00 ERA and 0.38 WHIP in the playoffs entering the Fall Classic. More pressing, he blew a Game 2 save (an eventual Dodger loss) and took the loss in Game 5. So, Jansen played a prominent role in Los Angeles losing each of the two swing games of that series. Jansen finished the 2018 regular season on a down note but seems to have righted the ship in the playoffs. Now he needs to put the World Series demons behind him.

10. Did David Price turn a postseason corner?

Entering the ALCS, Price had a career 5.28 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in the postseason. And this was over 75 innings, making it awfully hard to dismiss as a small sample size. But in the ALCS, Price posted a 3.38 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Price was especially dominant in the Game 5 clincher, allowing no runs over six innings with only three hits, no walks, and nine strikeouts. Much like Kershaw, Price can erase his negative postseason narrative if he pitches well and Boston wins. But if he reverts back to his pre-ALCS struggles, that chatter will only get louder.

11. Which manager will pull the right strings?

During the regular season, the impact of a manager can be overrated. Over 162 games, the talent on the field will carry the day. But in the playoffs, it’s a much different story. The moves made — and not made — by managers often decide who wins. Oftentimes, it’s the use of the bullpen. Other key decisions will include when to pinch hit. Also, who will Dave Roberts will DH in Boston? How Alex Cora will solve the aforementioned DH issue in Los Angeles? If a team runs away with the series, the manager’s moves may not feel too relevant. But if it’s close, every move will go under the microscope.

12. Who wins the 2018 World Series?

Ultimately, predicting this World Series comes down to one thing. It’s awfully hard to see the Dodgers winning if they don’t win Kershaw’s starts. But even if that happens, it’s not terribly hard to imagine the Boston winning anyway. The Red Sox won 108 games in the regular season. In the postseason, Boston has played the 100-win Yankees and the defending champion 103-win Astros. The Red Sox not only won both series, but posted a combined 7-2 record. That’s dominance. It’s hard to predict that this team will now lose four of the next seven games.

Prediction: Red Sox in 6