Chicago Cubs (92-70) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58)
In sports, they often say that in order to be a champion, you have to beat the champion. That's the opportunity presented to the Dodgers, who haven't been to a World Series since they won it in 1988.
Current Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts knows a thing or two about winning a World Series after a long drought, having done so as a player with the Boston Red Sox in 2004. He faces one of the kings of ending draughts in manager Joe Maddon, who led the 2016 Cubs to their first World Series victory since 1908.
These two teams squared off in the National League Championship Series a year ago, and the Cubs were able to get past the Dodgers in large part because Los Angeles had to fight so hard to get past the Washington Nationals in their National League Division Series that they were unable to have a rested Clayton Kershaw ready to roll.
This time, the Dodgers are the rested ones after sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS.
The Dodgers also have right-hander Yu Darvish, who they acquired last offseason and gives their rotation a potent one-two punch. Conversely, the Cubs may have to start either right-hander John Lackey or left-hander Jose Quintana in the opener at Dodger Stadium Oct. 14.
The teams met much earlier in the season, beginning with a three-game series April 10-13 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs only scored seven run runs in the series but were able to win two of three, as the Dodgers scored four runs total. But about six weeks later in Chicago, the Dodgers outscored the Cubs, 18-4, as they swept the three-game series with the help of two shutouts. The Dodgers didn't start Kershaw, lefty Alex Wood or right-hander Brandon McCarthy in either of those shutouts, either.
The Cubs got off to a slow start in 2017, but they turned it on quickly to win the NL East with 92 victories. The Dodgers, on the other hand, went on an other-worldly 81-24 (.771) from April 27-Aug. 25.
The cold, hard facts show why the Dodgers were so much better than the Cubs in 2017. The Cubs scored 822 runs and allowed 695. The Dodgers scored 52 fewer runs than the Cubs (770), but they allowed 115 less (580). Dodgers pitchers held opponents to a .228 batting average and a .290 OBP, while Cubs pitchers held opposing batters to a .238 average and .315 OBP.
Offensively, the Cubs batted .255 and had a .338 OBP with 223 home runs. The Cubs stole 62 bases and allowed opponents to steal 101. Don't think for a minute that aggressive Dodgers manager Roberts won't notice that small factoid.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers batted just .249 as a team and had a .334 OBP, but they clobbered 312 home runs. The Dodgers stole 77 bases and allowed just 68 against them.
For a large swath of the summer, the Dodgers were, by far, the best team in baseball. They had a stumble in September when they lost 11 straight, but that was perhaps born out of boredom with the long season. The way they re-engaged and dominated the Diamondbacks in the NLDS makes me feel that they are fully focused on winning Los Angeles' first baseball championship in nearly 30 years.
The pick here is the energized Dodgers over the frazzled Cubs in five games.