It's time for my annual column looking ahead to potential World Series showdowns. We've been blessed in recent years not just with some great matchups in the Fall Classic, but some classic World Series, as well: the small-market Royals winning in 2015; the Cubs ending their curse in 2016 with a dramatic Game 7 win; the Astros winning their first title in 2017 in a colossal showdown against the Dodgers; and the Red Sox impressively steamrollering through the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers to take the title last year.
We still have a few playoff spots to decide, but let's break things down:
The powerhouse showdowns
With apologies to the Braves, we have three great teams in 2019:
Astros: 98-53, plus-255 run differential
Yankees: 98-53, plus-188 run differential
Dodgers: 97-54, plus-240 run differential
The Braves have been spectacular in the second half, but their run differential for the season is still just plus-106. They are a very good team, certainly capable of winning it all and maybe peaking at the right time, but they haven't dominated on the same level all season as these three teams. So ...
Yankees versus Dodgers: I know many fans would throw up at this World Series of two teams with pockets deeper than the Mariana Trench. I get that, but come on, this would be a classic matchup for two historic franchises that have met 11 times in the World Series, although not since 1981. Plus, there would be so much on the line that would ramp up the intensity in this one. The Yankees haven't been to the World Series since 2009, a relative eternity for this franchise. The Dodgers are still seeking their first World Series title since 1988, having lost the past two, and will enter the postseason on the heels of their seventh straight division title.
Plus, who doesn't want to see flashbacks of Reggie Jackson's three home runs in Game 6 in 1977:
Astros versus Dodgers: A rematch of the great seven-game duel in 2017. The Astros, of course, have that recent championship, but a second title would affirm their run as one of the greatest of all time. This will be their third consecutive 100-win season, and all three have come with huge run differentials:
2017: 101-61, plus-196
2018: 103-59, plus-263
2019: 105-57, plus-273 (on pace)
That's a remarkable run. In the 162-game era (since 1961), the only franchises to win 100 games three years in a row are the 2002-2004 Yankees, 1997-1999 Braves and 1969-1971 Orioles. Those three teams won just one World Series in the years in question (the 1970 Orioles). Winning a championship is hard even if you're a great team! The Astros have the opportunity to cement their legacy, and given the one-two punch of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, plus third wheel Zack Greinke, this might be their best team yet.
The Dodgers have won those seven division titles in a row, but I would argue they've had a truly great team in just two of those seasons: 2017, when they won 104 games; and this season, when they will again soar past 100 wins. In some years, they took advantage of a weak division. Last year, they needed a tiebreaker game over the Rockies to win the division. As with the Astros, this is L.A.'s best team in this run, with a deep rotation and a powerful lineup. The scary thing is this string of dominance isn't about to end, not with future stars such as Gavin Lux and Will Smith just getting their feet wet in the majors.
If we get this matchup, it could very well come down to Kenley Jansen, who ran into some trouble the last time these teams met in October:
The rematch of the best World Series ever
Twins versus Braves: Back in 1991, the Twins and Braves both went from last place to first place and won their league championship series, then met in the most exciting World Series ever played. Yes, I'm going to recap this because you need to know what happened in 1991 and look up the games on YouTube:
Game 1: Twins 5, Braves 2. Jack Morris goes seven-plus innings for the win.
Game 2: Twins 3, Braves 2. Scott Leius homers off Tom Glavine in the bottom of the eighth to give the Twins the win.
Game 3: Braves 5, Twins 4 (12 innings). The Twins tie it on Chili Davis' two-run homer in the eighth, but the Braves finally win on Mark Lemke's walk-off single.
Game 4: Braves 3, Twins 2. Lemke triples in the bottom of the ninth and scores the walk-off run on a sacrifice fly.
Game 5: Braves 14, Twins 5. The one blowout as David Justice drives in five runs.
Game 6: Twins 4, Braves 3 (11 innings). The Kirby Puckett Game. He goes 3-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs, makes a leaping catch against the fence and belts the walk-off home run off Charlie Leibrandt:
Game 7: Twins 1, Braves 0 (10 innings). Morris goes the distance, and Gene Larkin finally knocks in Dan Gladden with the winning run.
Five one-run games, all won in the final at-bat; four walk-off wins; three extra-inning games; and two classic contests in Games 6 and 7. Best World Series ever.
The 2019 rematch wouldn't feature teams that have gone from worst to first, but they are two exciting teams, with the Twins bashing all those home runs and the Braves featuring three potential 40-homer guys of their own in Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson. The Braves haven't been to a World Series in 20 years; this will be their 11th playoff appearance since then. The Twins haven't reached the World Series since that 1991 title, with seven empty playoff runs since.
These are the matchups that Fox executives don't want, but there are some fun storylines here:
Twins versus Brewers: Upper Midwest mayhem! The old American League matchup would be a fun showdown, as the Brewers seek their first World Series title. Plus, we would get the governors of the two states betting soybeans and cheese.
Indians versus Brewers: Combined seasons without a World Series title: 109. Who would you root for?
Indians versus Cubs: The Cubs beat Cleveland in 2016 to end their curse. It would be sweet revenge for the Indians to beat Chicago and win their first title since 1948. Or maybe sweet revenge for the Cubs to silence all their critics who have pounced on them throughout 2019.
Twins versus Cardinals: Jack Flaherty facing that Twins lineup? Thank you very much. This could be one of those classic Cardinals World Series seasons. They won at least 100 games in 2004, 2005 and 2015 and won 97 in 2013 (tied for most in the majors) and didn't win the World Series any of those years. They had 90 wins in 2011 and 83 in 2006 and won it both of those seasons.
Indians versus Cardinals: Frankly, I love any matchup between two of the original 16 franchises. It would be a miracle for the Tribe to get here: They have to get to the wild-card game, then they have to win that, then they would have to beat the Astros or Yankees in the division series, then probably the Astros or Yankees in the American League Championship Series, then they'd have to beat the Cardinals in the World Series. That would be some story.
Six other intriguing showdowns
Yankees versus Cubs: There's no denying the TV ratings would be good for this one. In fact, which matchups would draw the highest ratings? Two things help drive up the ratings: big markets and a longer series (more people watch as the series goes six and seven games). The 2016 World Series between the Cubs and Indians averaged 22.8 million viewers, the most since 2004 (Red Sox-Cardinals). Both of those series, of course, had extenuating circumstances, with the Cubs and Red Sox trying to end long World Series droughts. The six highest-rated World Series since 2000:
2004: Red Sox-Cardinals (25.4 million)
2001: Diamondbacks-Yankees (24.5 million)
2016: Cubs-Indians (22.8 million)
2003: Marlins-Yankees (20.1 million)
2009: Yankees-Phillies (19.3 million)
2017: Astros-Dodgers (18.9 million)
We don't have a Cubs/Red Sox storyline this year (not to dismiss the droughts of the Indians or Brewers), but we do have the potential of the Yankees facing the Dodgers or Cubs. I think those two would easily draw the highest ratings, given the national appeal of the Yankees and the market sizes of Los Angeles and Chicago. I think the Braves, with a large regional following and making their first World Series appearance in 20 years, would also rank high. You could argue that the Yankees against any National League team would draw the top ratings, although Houston is a large market with some of the biggest names in baseball, and the 2017 World Series drew excellent ratings. I would guess the highest ratings would be:
I'm assuming the Mets and Phillies won't make it, although I don't think any World Series with either of those two would crack the top seven. The Yankees-Mets in 2000 had lower ratings than the Yankees-Braves in 1999, for example. It's also worth noting that good series in the earlier rounds also can help the ratings -- excitement helps build momentum. So, a Twins-Braves World Series could earn good ratings if the previous rounds had a lot of drama.
By the way, we have ratings back to 1984. The 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox has the highest average rating with 36.4 million viewers (a different time in television). Game 7 in 1986 drew an estimated 55 million to 60 million viewers; but Game 7 in 2016 did draw an estimated 40 million views -- an unbelievable number in today's saturated TV market.
Yankees versus Cardinals: This is either the "Love Them" or the "You're Sick of Them" series. On the positive side, we have two tradition-rich franchises with passionate fan bases, classic uniforms and likable teams. That's right, the Yankees are likable in 2019. I mean, just look at the surprising production from players such as Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu. And did I mention that Brett Gardner has career highs in home runs and slugging percentage, and New York is going to hit 300 home runs even though Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have combined for just 24 and some guy named Mike Ford has 11 home runs in 129 at-bats and ... *&%@)($! Yankees.
Rays versus Dodgers: Could you imagine the Dodgers getting to a third straight World Series and then losing to the Rays? The franchise Andrew Friedman dumped in order to take over baseball operations for the Dodgers? I'm not saying I'm rooting for this to happen. OK, I am. And I like the Dodgers! It would suck to see Clayton Kershaw lose another World Series. But hope and faith are good things, and a small-market franchise beating the big, bad Dodgers would give us some of that.
A's versus Dodgers: Actually, losing to the A's might be even more painful for Dodgers fans. Plus, we would get plenty of Kirk Gibson replays from 1988. Surprise! I'm not going to show that highlight. Here's Joe Ferguson with a laser throw from the 1974 World Series between the A's and Dodgers:
Astros versus Nationals: It has been the Year of the Home Run, but this series would be a nice reminder that there's still some really good starting pitching out there, with Verlander, Cole and Greinke facing off against Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.
Yankees versus Mets: Maybe next year, Mets fans.
The five best matchups
This is personal preference only. My favorite team (the Mariners) has never even reached the World Series, so this doesn't mean I don't like your team. Really, all I root for is seven games, dramatic moments and heroic home runs. I like the best teams to make it or I like the teams with the longest droughts to make it. So here are my top five, with the rule that I could pick a team in only one matchup:
1. Astros versus Dodgers. In my mind, the two best teams in baseball, the two teams I've most enjoyed watching in 2019 and a series full of great storylines, from the Astros trying for a second title in three seasons to Kershaw trying to finally get a ring.
2. Twins versus Braves. Two very good teams with high-powered offenses that haven't been to the World Series in a long time.
3. Yankees versus Cubs. I'm a sucker for old-school matchups, and it would be fun to see the Yankees' pitching staff maneuver through that Cubs lineup.
4. Indians versus Brewers. This one's an extreme long shot, but the two clubs with the longest droughts squaring off means at least one fan base gets to finally celebrate.
5. A's versus Nationals. Can Billy Beane finally win a World Series? Can the Expos/Nationals finally get to one?
Shoot, I left out the Rays. I love the Rays. How about Rays-Cardinals in the Tommy Pham Bowl?