The Los Angeles Dodgers won their first National League pennant since 1988 by blowing out the Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night (GameTracker). The challenge now for the Dodgers, who have lost just one game over their first two series, is if they can keep it going and take the World Series trophy to Los Angeles.
Of course, the Dodgers' opponents will have something to say about that. We won't know who the Dodgers will be combating until Friday at the earliest, that's when the New York Yankees and Houston Astros will square off in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees have overcome a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead as the series returns to Texas.
With time to pass, let's ask the question: which team would the Dodgers prefer to meet?
Why the Dodgers would prefer the Astros?
Let's start with recency bias. During the regular season, the Astros were considered the third-best team in the majors, behind the Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians, each of whom won more than 100 games. Between the best lineup in baseball (one heavy on power and light on strikeouts), a rotation headed by two aces, and a progressive manager like A.J. Hinch, the Astros seemed darn-near unbeatable. That remained true until the last three games, when Houston has faltered -- to the extent that one more less will send the Astros home for winter.
Beyond that, there are a few other reasons why the Dodgers might want to see the Astros come-from-behind and top the Yankees.
For instance, the Astros were actually worse than the Yankees during the regular season according to Baseball Prospectus' third-order wins metric -- a measure that weighs underlying metrics, such as strength of schedule. Believe that or not, that's up to you. What's not up for debate is how poor the Astros are at stopping the opposition's running game. Houston threw out a majors-worst 12 percent of prospective thieves during the regular season. The Dodgers don't run a ton, but they have three players who had double-digit steals -- and they could take more risks knowing how disadvantaged the Astros are in that capacity. The Astros would also seem to have the weaker of the two bullpens left in the AL.
Also, this is not at all predictive, but the Dodgers are probably tired of seeing the Yankees in the World Series. The two have met 11 times -- and the Yankees have won eight of those Series.
Why the Dodgers would prefer the Yankees?
For starters, the Yankees have to be exhausted or near it. Consider that the Yankees partook in the AL Wild Card Game, then went the distance in the AL Division Series, and could well play six or seven in the ALCS round. The Yankees will enter the World Series with at least 12 postseason games under their belt -- the Dodgers, conversely, have played eight postseason games.
Statistically, the Yankees are a good matchup for the Dodgers for reasons that relate to Los Angeles' pitching staff. While both the Astros and Yankees were good against righties during the regular season (they ranked no. 1 and 2 in OPS), the Astros were significantly better against left-handed pitchers. Houston had an .814 OPS, as compared to New York's .757 mark. The Dodgers, obviously enough, have three left-handed starters, in Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Alex Wood -- plus the potential to run out Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson, and Luis Avilan in relief.
The other big reason the Dodgers would prefer the Yankees' lineup? Los Angeles loves to pitch up in the zone with its fastballs. The Astros posted the sixth-highest slugging percentage against fastballs up in or above the zone during the regular season. The Yankees, conversely, ranked 18th, per Baseball Savant.
Based on the information above, we have to rule that the Dodgers are most likely hoping to meet the Yankees in the World Series. To be clear: That's not an attack on the Yankees, or a way of dismissing their chances of winning the whole thing. Just a comment based on how well the Dodgers pitchers stylistically seem to match up against the Yankees hitters. Will those advantages on paper actually play out on the field? We'll find out soon enough -- provided, that is, the Yankees take care of business.