"It's all about matchups."
At least that's the reigning thought when it comes to sports, individual and team.
If matchups are meaningful in sports, than that must mean they are even more magnified in the postseason, where every matchup can mean the difference between winning a championship or going home empty-handed.
So with that in mind, if this weekend's series between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers was a potential World Series preview, then fans across Southern California should be both excited and concerned.
The highly anticipated matchup between the two teams with the best records in baseball lived up to its billing. All three games featured sellout crowds with the attendance surpassing 160,000 in total. Each game had a playoff atmosphere, was packed full of action, and contained a plethora of drama, but at the end of the day, it was predominantly one-sided.
The Bronx Bombers outscored the Dodgers 16-to-5 during the three-game series and hit nine home runs compared to just two for Los Angeles.
Many loyal Dodger fans will be clamoring for a rematch this October, mostly because of hype and history. However, the real rematch they should be rooting for is with the Houston Astros.
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To put it simply, the Yankees are a bad matchup for the Dodgers.
Much was made before the three-game series that both teams were so similar to each other. Not only did they have the best record in their respective leagues, but both teams hit homers and score a lot of runs, they have a mix of young players and veterans, their starting pitching is solid, their bullpens are admirable, and their bench is deep. All of these things are true, but if they are similar, then they are more of a mirror image, and a mirror tends to reveal in reverse.
For example, the Yankees top four home run hitters are all right-handed. It's a list that does not include Aaron Judge, Luke Voit, or Giancarlo Stanton. All of which are also right-handed. Their lineup is broadly blessed with a bevy of right-handed hitters, and they all have one thing in common: they crush left-handed pitching.
Overall, the Yankees offense is better against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching. Selectively, their right-handed hitters are significantly better against left-handed pitching than right-handed pitching.
The Yankees right-handed hitters are batting a combined .280 against left-handed pitching this season with a .501 slugging percentage. Against left-handed starters the numbers are even better: .287 BA with a .507 slugging percentage.
The Yankees have faced more right-handed pitchers this season than southpaws, and their splits are good against both, but when they face a right-hander, the drop-off is noteworthy: .271 BA with a .486 slugging percentage and .266 with a .481 against a right-handed starter.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, their starting rotation is stocked full of left-handed pitchers, and that plays right into the hands of New York.
Take this weekend's series for example: The Yankees faced two All-Star left-handed starters in Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw. They won both of those games, and by a combined score of 15-to-3.
Ryu is the frontrunner for the National League Cy Young Award, and he's been dominant at Dodger Stadium. Yet, the Yankees had no regard for those statistics when they scorched Ryu for a season-high seven runs on nine hits including three home runs in just 4 and 1/3 innings, the shortest (non injury) start of the season for Ryu.
Against Kershaw, things went a little differently. Kershaw arguably had his best start of the season, striking out 12 batters with no walks over seven innings. Nonetheless, he allowed three home runs as well, albeit all solo shots.
"I thought I threw the ball better. I felt really good. I thought everything was coming out decent. I made four mistakes and three of them went over the fence," said Kershaw after the loss. "That's no fun, and frustrating obviously."
Only four mistakes, and three of them were home runs. That's indicative of how good the Yankees are, specifically the right-handed power hitters like Judge, who hit just the second home run off a Kershaw curveball in two years.
So if Ryu and Kershaw can't beat the Yankees, especially in their own ballpark, who can? Walker Buehler maybe. Tony Gonsolin—a right-hander—got the job done, but it's doubtful he'll be in the starting rotation come the postseason. If Rich Hill's left arm is healthy, the postseason rotation will likely be Ryu, Kershaw, Hill and Buehler.
Offensively, the Yankees matchup well with the Dodgers potential postseason rotation, and many of you might be thinking L.A. can just outscore them with their own high-octane offense come October. Wrong.
As noted in the aforementioned mirror comparison, the Dodgers offense is almost a mirror-image of the Yankees. Yes, they too hit for power and slug, but the top three home run hitters on the Dodgers are all left-handed.
Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, and Joc Pederson round out the top three, and Justin Turner is the only right-handed hitter in the Dodgers lineup with over 20 homers on the year. After that, the Dodgers other top two hitters overall are Corey Seager and Alex Verdugo. They are also both left-handed.
The Dodgers have the depth to matchup with anyone, as they've proven over the past two NL-pennant winning seasons, but when you take a deeper look into the statistics, they are significantly worse against left-handed pitching than right-handed.
As a team, the Dodgers are batting .251 with a pedestrian slugging percentage of .445 against left-handed pitching. When you isolate those numbers just to the left-handed hitters we mentioned, they're batting .261 with a .457 slugging percentage.
Against a left-handed starter, the lefty hitters are even worse with a .245 average and a .441 slugging percentage.
However, when they face a right-hander, the numbers are significantly better: Dodgers' lefties are batting .276 with a .539 slugging percentage this season.
The Dodgers saw plenty of southpaws against the Yankees over the weekend. On Friday, they were puzzled by left-handed starter James Paxton. On Saturday, it was savvy veteran C.C. Sabathia who stymied them. They finally ran into a right-hander in Domingo German on Sunday, but after he exited in what was still a close game, he handed the ball off to left-handed relievers Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. The Dodgers failed to score the rest of the way.
In a seven-game series, they likely won't face Sabathia, but instead they would face another strong southpaw in J.A. Happ.
When asked about the matchups, specifically both lineups against the largely left-handed starting rotations of both teams, Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts said he liked the matchup between the teams overall, but admitted his team still has some work to do if they want to beat the Yankees in October.
"They outplayed us," said Roberts. "For us, our biggest takeaway was our at-bat quality. You have to give credit to the pitchers that pitched us well, but when you talk about having a plan and staying in the strike zone, it's on the hitter."
Roberts is right of course, but the numbers don’t lie, and they dictate that when the Dodgers' hitters face the Yankees left-handers, they are playing into their weaknesses, and not their strengths.
If you don't think matchups are important, then you should look at the last two World Series overall. The Dodgers matched up well with the Astros who predominantly had more right-handed starters and relievers than left. They were able to get to those pitchers and had leads late in the game in five out of seven games in the series. They arguably should have won that series and their first championship in 30 years. Instead they lost, and one matchup that was not in their favor might be to blame.
Yu Darvish dominated the Diamondbacks and Cubs in his first two postseason appearances with the Dodgers in 2017, but when he ran into a familiar foe in the World Series he was beaten like an old fashioned rug that needed the dust shaken out.
The first five years of Darvish's career began in the American League West, where he faced the Houston Astros 14 times, second most against any opponent. In those 14 games, they hit 10 homers and 12 doubles off Darvish, the second most by any team in his career thus far.
Needless to say, the matchup of Darvish vs. the familiar Astros lineup in Games 3 and 7, played into right into Houston's hands.
In 2018, the Boston Red Sox were not only the better team, but a bad matchup for the Dodgers. Similar to the Yankees, the Red Sox top three home run hitters were all right-handed (J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Xander Boegarts), and they were extremely effective against left-handed pitching.
As for Boston's starting pitchers? Chris Sale, David Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez were three left-handers that the Dodgers struggled against in the Fall Classic.
There's no guarantee that either the Dodgers or the Yankees advance to the World Series in 2019, but if they do, remember to take a look at the matchups, and be careful what you wish for.