By Arnie Leshin
They are down to the Final Four in Major League baseball and the matchups look like a doozey.
In the American League, it’s the defending World Series champion Houston Astros meeting up with a Boston Red Sox team that won the most games, 108, which is why legendary Fenway Park will play host to Friday’s opening game. The Astros only won 100.
No matter the site, it could be the most high-powered postseason blast in baseball history. It might be the most high-powered clash, anyway. With all due respect to the New York Yankees’ 114 wins and hitting like the Bronx Bombers in the World Series against the San Diego Padres, it was a one-team assault, here we have two teams that flew past the 100-win mark.
Coming off last season’s run to its first-ever World Series championship, Houston rates as the experienced team in this one. It is just as good or maybe better. Veteran lefthander Justin Verlinder leads the Astros’ quality pitching staff, and that includes the bullpen. The can hit, they can field, and are a threat on the bases.
Plus that Minute Maid Park crowd can certainly spark the well-balanced Houston lineup. Its roster includes plenty of depth, with centerfield George Springer, third basemen Alex Bregman and a host of others leading the hit parade that can belt them into the stands, show patience at the plate, and hit and run.
The Red Sox last played in the World Series in 2011. They are at their best at good old Fenway Park with the huge green leftfield wall, the lower deck in right, and the rowdy fans.
Their manager was the bench coach for Houston last year and is familiar with it. With Boston, he has done a marvelous job in his first season as manager. He has a long-ball lineup, a threat in depth, left-handed Chris Sales to head the starting pitchers, and a quality bullpen maybe even ranking with the Astros’.
Over in the National League, the longtime power Los Angeles Dodgers will not open at home, but will be favored to shut down the surprise Milwaukee Brewers who have won 12 in a row after sweeping the Colorado Rockies in the best of five.
So unlike the division series, the favorites in both championship series matchups are the lower seeds. It’s no surprise that the Dodgers would be the choice over the Brewers, and probably not even that the Astros would be the pick over the winnings’ team in baseball that is a franchise record.
Speaking of hot, streaking Milwaukee hasn’t lost the middle game of a series since falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sweeps over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers led the way to a one-game tiebreaker over the Cubs in Chicago for the NL Central title, and that led to the three-game sweep over the also-surprising Rockies to equal an even dozen.
It also paved the way to the potential burger game. The prediction of 12-straight wins was made by Milwaukee’s restaurant owner George Webb, and initially made while the then-Brewers played in the city in the 1950s and 60s.
The reward was free burgers, and in 1987, the restaurants gave out nearly 170,000 burgers to people who waited in line for hours. This, after the prediction was eventually placed on the restaurannt napkins.
The ’87 freebies were gobbled up when the franchise won its only 12 in a row. Another one and it will equal that. Another one will also continue the streak.
The Dodgers have the post-season experience. They last won a World Series in 1988, but have still been a contender since that time. Last season, they lost the World Series in seven games versus the Astros. So there’s no doubt they stand in the way of the streaking Brewers.
In a third season under manager Greg Counsell, Milwaukee increased its win total from 73 to 86 and the current 96. It is the first managerial position for Counsell, but he’s proven he fills the role well. He has been through it all, playing in the 1997 World Series with the champion Florida Marlins, then was the 2001 NLCS MVP on the Arizona Diamondbacks that brought him his second world championship..
When he went 0-for-45 in 2011 at the age of 40, he replaced his baseball gear with a role in the Milwaukee front office. Not long after, he was chosen its manager. He felt the change was needed after batting .220 in 2008 and 2009, and falling to .178 in 2011. He first worked in the front office of the Brewers, than became their manager.
Dodgers’ manger Dave Roberts made his way in the game as a notorious base stealer. He often caught teams off guard, and several times he stole home plate. Now he’s in his third year as a manager, and successful in getting Los Angeles into the post season all three years.
The two NL teams split eight games in the regular season, but the last time they played, the Dodgers rolled up a 21-5 victory, but that was two months ago. That’s all history now as Milwaukee prepares to greet the boys from LA.