MLB

Key takeaways for each potential World Series winner

Every MLB team has its own storyline, but that storyline is of course always a part of the larger MLB narrative. And while a seven-game series shouldn’t change the narrative and our understanding of the sport all that much, it inevitably does: It is the World Series, after all. The Nationals went from being the team that was always going to fall short to the swaggering champs, just like the Braves did; the Dodgers, alternately, will always feel like they’ve fallen short with just one title. (Though that one title did wonders for Clayton Kershaw.) Now that we know the two teams that are playing in the World Series, we have a pretty good idea, depending on who wins this series, what everyone will be talking about this offseason. Want to know what takeaways everyone will grab from each team winning the Series? Here are three talking points for each.

1. Justin Verlander secures his spot as the pitcher of his generation
There are obviously lots of contenders here, from Clayton Kershaw to Max Scherzer to even Jacob deGrom. But if Verlander wins a World Series ring — and if he’s his dominant self while doing so — he will be more decorated than all of them. Assuming he wins the American League Cy Young Award this year (which he’s favored to), a World Series would bring his career tally to:

• Three Cy Young Awards (and three second-place finishes)
• One MVP Award
• One Rookie of the Year Award
• The all-time postseason strikeout record
• Five World Series appearances
• One AL Championship Series MVP
• Two World Series wins

No other pitcher of his generation can match that. Not many pitchers from any generation can match that. Verlander will obviously be elected to the Hall of Fame. But another championship, especially if he’s in the middle of it, will bring him even further into the inner tier.

2. Dusty Baker ascends to deity status
There are only eight managers with more wins than Baker. (If he comes back next year with the Astros, he’ll almost certainly pass two of them — Bucky Harris and Joe McCarthy — and if Houston wins 102 games, he’ll pass Sparky Anderson, too.) All eight are in the Hall of Fame. The World Series title is the only thing Baker doesn’t have on his resume (as a manager, anyway; don’t forget his 1981 ring with the Dodgers as a player). A championship this year would be the most impressive thing he has done, which is saying something considering the success he had with the Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nationals. But guiding this franchise — which was being torn apart when he arrived — back to a World Series title would be his crowning achievement. Dusty is one of the most beloved figures in baseball, and even if you don’t like the Astros, it would be impossible not to rejoice for him. Few figures in sports deserve a title more.

3. The Astros are becoming a true dynasty — for real
Even if you think sign stealing was instrumental for the Astros in winning the 2017 World Series, they’ve now made five straight appearances in the ALCS since then, with three Fall Classic appearances. If they beat the Phillies, it will be Houston’s second championship. This is a very good team on its merits, even if you don’t consider that there are only five players (Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel and Alex Bregman) still around from the ’17 team. If the Astros pull this off, they will underline a fundamental truth about the last near-decade of baseball: This is what a dynasty today looks like.

1. Sometimes those big free agents are really worth it
OK, so you don’t have to be a genius to realize that Bryce Harper — who, like Verlander, is adding all sorts of pretty garnishes to his Hall of Fame resume this postseason, including the home run that will be on his highlight reel forever — is a good guy to have on your team. But for all the talk of “inefficient free-agent spending” in recent years, Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto and Kyle Schwarber are proof of the fundamental fact of free agency: Premium talent is hard to find and worth paying a premium for. Even signed through 2031, Harper is proving a bargain — a superstar player who elevates your entire franchise … heck, even if he can’t play the field for a season because of injury. You have to spend to get a guy like Harper (and those other big free agents), and the Phillies did that. They’re reaping every possible benefit.

2. Hold off on those openers, folks
Over the past few years, we’ve seen teams get a lot more creative in the postseason, using openers and other bullpen-game strategies to navigate the postseason. The Phillies couldn’t be any more different than, say, the Rays. They spend money on stars. They have generally set bullpen roles. The whole “Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling and pray for October rain” was supposed to have gone the way of the dodo in recent years, replaced by constant bullpen shuffling and openers and All Hands On Deck. Philadelphia, however, is riding two brilliant workhorse starting pitchers — Aaron Nola and Wheeler — much like the D-backs with Johnson and Schilling in 2001. The Phillies go into every series planning on having Nola and Wheeler win all their games, then figuring out the rest. They want those starting pitchers — those supposedly endangered starting pitchers — to go as deep into a game as they can. It’s paying off for them, even despite the condensed postseason schedule this year with fewer off-days.

3. Just get in the tournament
Heading into the postseason, if you were to have a big “who will win the World Series” draft of all the teams, wouldn’t Philadelphia have been last? Or at least close to it? This was a team that was stumbling down the stretch, with a superstar in Harper who not only had been miserable in September but seemingly couldn’t hit a fastball. Well, starting with the top of the ninth inning at Busch Stadium in the first game of the NL Wild Card Series, the Phillies have found their true selves, maximizing their entire roster and shaking up the whole baseball world. If they win the World Series, it will mark the second consecutive championship by a team with fewer than 90 wins. You just have to get in and hope it all comes together at the right time, like it has for Philadelphia. The tournament’s the goal. Every team will absorb this lesson. As they surely should.


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