The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros will be competing in the 2017 version of the World Series, which begins tonight. This much we know. We also know, or can at least reasonably assume that this wasn’t the matchup that the powers-that-be at MLB headquarters likely wanted. That dream matchup, of course, was the Dodgers versus the New York Yankees, cross-town rivals from the old days, and teams who claim the two largest markets in the United States as home. Alas, that ratings dream died at the hands of Brian McCann, buried under the weight of 24 Lance McCullers curveballs.
And that’s fine, only the weak care about ratings and this matchup should be compelling enough for the average suit or fan anyway. To wit, here’s a quick FAQ primer to bring you up to speed:
Are Houston and Los Angeles big cities?
Yes, they are. Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States; Houston is the fourth. And give Houston a few decades and it will overtake Chicago for that third spot.
The last time there was a World Series between two cities with at least one million residents within city limits was 2009, when the Yankees beat the Phillies.
I’m an Astros fan and I’d like to attend Game 1 in Los Angeles tonight. Should I drive?
No. Los Angeles and Houston are really far apart! Showing my ignorance here, I’ve never been to Houston – a knock on me and not Houston, to be sure. And like any other good Midwesterner who grew up on the east side of the Mississippi, I just sort of assumed that driving from Houston to Phoenix to Los Angeles wasn’t much different that say trekking to New York City from DC and stopping in Philadelphia along the way to grab some lunch. I’m exaggerating a bit but Houston was always very “west” to me and therefore occupied the same part of the world as Los Angeles.
Well, that’s entirely wrong. Houston is in the Central Time Zone for a reason, and the Astros used to play in the NL Central for a reason – albeit not a great one which is partly why they’re now in the AL. Whatever the case, Houston is VERY far from Los Angeles – 1,546 miles if you drive it. It’s nearly the same distance from Houston to New York City. In fact, Houston is almost on the same longitudinal line as Kansas City. Who knew? Maybe you did. I didn’t. Why is this relevant? It probably isn’t.
Didn’t the Astros used to be in the NL?
As mentioned above, the Astros were indeed once an NL team (winning the pennant in 2005), before switching in 2013 to help even out the leagues to 15 teams each. In 1998, the expansion Devil Rays and Diamondbacks were added to the AL and NL, respectively, and the Brewers switched from the AL to the NL, resulting in 14 AL teams and 16 NL teams (the imbalance being to avoid daily interleague play, which has since become a part of the schedule).
For a while, the Astros and Dodgers were actually divisional rivals in the old NL West until MLB added Central divisions in 1994. In 1981, the two met in the postseason, thanks to a midseason strike which resulted in playoff berths for the first- and second-half division winners. In ’89, the two played a 22-inning game which ended with an Astro line drive off the glove of pitcher Fernando Valenzuela–who was playing first base.
Have Los Angeles and Houston ever squared off in a major sporting event before?
Not according to my research (as is customary, my research methods are flawed at best). The biggest event I could come up with was when Lew Alcindor’s UCLA squad took on Elvin Hayes and the Houston Cougars on January 20, 1968, at the Astrodome. At the time, this college basketball game was dubbed “The Game of the Century,” a bold proclamation with 32 years remaining on schedule, and one that apparently is applied quite liberally to college football games. A chess match even got this billing once. Nevertheless, Houston beat UCLA that night 71-69.
The only other thing that pops in my head in a “Houston vs. Los Angeles” sort of way was when Ralph Sampson hit that weird, turn-around one-timer at the buzzer to send the Rockets past the Lakers and into the 1986 NBA Finals. Check it out for yourself and see if you can determine why Michael Cooper appears to be smiling at the 00:19 mark, I’ve always wanted to know.
[Alex is forgiven for overlooking the the Houston Oilers and Los Angeles Chargers facing off in the first ever AFL Championship game on January 1, 1961 (before the Super Bowl was a thing). The attendance at Jeppesen Stadium in Houston was 32,163, a higher figure than most LA Chargers home games in 2017. Next season, the Chargers would move to San Diego and stay there until this year. It remains unclear whether Los Angeles ever really wanted the Chargers in the first place, and it’s an open question whether pre-Super Bowl football is Actually Notable in this context. – ed.]
So the Dodgers and Astros made the World Series, that means they must be pretty good, right?
Two 100-win teams in World Series for the first time since 1970!
— Kenny Albert (@KennyAlbert) October 22, 2017
Have the Dodgers and Astros had a lot of postseason success in their history?
Absolutely. The two organizations have combined for 23 pennants and six World Series titles. How could fans of either team be against that?
Do the Astros or Dodgers have any likeable, championship-starved players?
They do. At the onset of the postseason, Craig Edwards of FanGraphs wrote a helpful column on players worth cheering for, sorted by those without titles and carrying the highest career fWAR. Astros and Dodgers claim for four of the top six players – Carlos Beltran (1st), Curtis Granderson (3rd), Adrian Gonzalez (5th), Brian McCann (6th). Together, they combine for 32,727 plate appearances and 187.4 fWAR. Add in Beltran’s recent efforts to help his native Puerto Rico and he’s an easy, obvious player to get behind.
But who in all honesty is likely to win?
Anything can happen in a best of seven series, of course, but the smart money is probably on the Dodgers. They’re better rested, they’ve only lost a single game thus far in the postseason, they call the best pitcher in the world one of their own, and one of their best offensive threats, Corey Seager, is set to return to the roster following an injury that kept him out of the NLCS. So my heart is with Beltran and the Astros but my head is telling me the Dodgers in six.
In short, that’s the story. These are two very good teams from two very large cities, which are separated by a lot of miles and the world is lacking a Houston vs. New York sports chapter. Now let’s all tune in tonight.
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