(Reuters) - The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros took turns this season carrying the title as “baseball’s best team” and so it seems only fitting they will clash this week in Major League Baseball’s World Series.
The Dodgers led the majors with 104 wins this season and are 7-1 so far this postseason while the Astros had 101 wins before going 7-4 in the playoffs to reach the Fall Classic, which begins Tuesday in Los Angeles.
Both teams boast solid young cores, impact players, potent offenses and deep starting rotations but the Dodgers possess a considerable edge in the bullpen, and that could prove to be the difference in the best-of-seven series.
“Quality ballclub,” Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who will oppose fellow former Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in Game One, said of the Dodgers.
“They led the major leagues in wins for a reason. They won a lot of games in a row in the middle part of the season. They’re not to be taken lightly, but we’re not to be either.”
Both franchises have endured lengthy droughts in terms of reaching the World Series, creating a much-welcome fresh feel for the best-of-seven clash.
Houston, who have not reached the World Series since 2005, are seeking their first championship in franchise history while Los Angeles have not been this far since winning their sixth title in 1988.
The Astros were the talk of MLB after posting a 42-16 record through June 5. But as they started to lose steam it was the Dodgers who rolled off the best 50-game stretch that baseball has had in more than a century by going 43-7.
Those impressive stretches helped set up a World Series that will feature two 100-plus win teams from the regular season for the first time since 1970.
When the championship series opens on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium it may be the hottest World Series game of all-time with temperatures expected to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37°C).
The Dodgers are favorites to triumph over the Astros, who were in the National League until 2013.
The teams have a long history after playing in the NL West division for several decades, including during the 1970s when the Dodgers were a dominant team that drove the Astros, and the rest of the league for that matter, mad.
The Astros’ offensive engine is powered by Jose Altuve, who was pivotal in his team’s American League Championship Series win over the New York Yankees in seven games to reach the World Series.
The diminutive second baseman always seemed to be right in the middle of things whenever something turned out well for the Astros, whether it was a sterling defensive play or key hit that sparked a game-changing inning.
With Keuchel and Game Two starter Justin Verlander heading the Astros’ rotation, Houston may find themselves in control when the series shifts to Houston on Friday.
A World Series title would cap a remarkable turnaround for the Astros franchise since they are only four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013.
Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, who joined the Dodgers on July 31, bolsters what was already a solid rotation while the bullpen has been lights-out in the playoffs after being the National League’s best unit in the regular season.
The team are also getting plenty of run support from high-powered by Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig and Cody Bellinger, who is widely considered a lock to win NL Rookie of the Year honors after his 39 homers set a league rookie record.
But despite entering the World Series as the favorite to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy at some point over the next nine days, the Dodgers are not about to get complacent.
“They are a talented group, the best in the American League all year,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
“The starting pitching, with their one-two combo (Keuchel and Verlander). They’ve got very talented athletes, they can slug you and they can pitch. They are the class of the American League.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Gene Cherry