This should be one of the most intriguing World Series matchups of the wild-card era: Two great teams, two long droughts, one story that will get a dramatic conclusion.
So which team are you rooting for?
You have to root for the Houston Astros.
They had a dominant season with 101 wins, and they did it with style, enthusiasm and a whole bunch of offense. They were a great team that then added Justin Verlander just in time to make them even greater and more exciting. With the city of Houston still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, the Astros have provided some much-needed joy to the community and to a fan base that deserves this moment.
Those fans have suffered as much as any group in the majors. There was the crushing loss to the Royals in 2015, a playoff appearance that followed a three-year stretch from to 2011 to 2013 in which the Astros lost 106, 107 and 111 games. During the great run of the Jeff Bagwell-Craig Biggio teams from 1997 to 2005, they made six postseason appearances, reaching the franchise's lone World Series in 2005, but went without a title. Longtime fans will remember the crushing playoff defeats in 1980 and 1986.
You have to root for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They had the best regular season for the franchise since it moved to L.A. in 1958, winning 104 games and somehow finishing with the best record in the majors despite losing 16 of 17 games late in the season. In the tumultuous world of the MLB playoffs, the best team doesn't always make the World Series. Of the 23 teams in the wild-card era before 2017 to win 100 games, only three of them won the World Series, so it's energizing to have our first matchup of 100-win teams since 1970, when the Orioles beat the Reds. This year's champ will be a great team, not merely a good team that got hot in October.
Dodgers fans have a reputation for showing up late and leaving early, but Dodger Stadium still feels like a time machine back to the 1960s, and the fans pack it every season. And yes, Dodgers fans have suffered a bit as well. They've gone 29 years without a World Series title, and this is their 11th playoff appearance since that drought began -- no team has ever made that many postseason trips without winning a World Series.
You have to root for Clayton Kershaw.
He's the best pitcher of his generation, with a left arm from the gods and a delivery from a video game with some bad code. He's married to his high school girlfriend and his foundation has done charity work in Zambia, Dallas and Los Angeles. His teammates admire him. Opponents respect him. He owns five ERA titles, three Cy Young Awards and an MVP. What he doesn't own is a World Series ring. When he steps to the mound in Game 1 to throw the first pitch of the 2017 World Series, it will be his first in the Fall Classic.
"I know how hard it is to get there," he said after winning the clinching game in the National League Championship Series. "So I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."
At times, it has almost seemed he has wanted this too much, that the burden of carrying the Dodgers to the World Series has been an unfair request we've all made on Kershaw. He is intelligent and engaged. As my friend Eric put it the other day, "He lives in the real world," meaning he is aware of that burden and the expectations. That's why finally getting here may actually be a relief for him. Players often say they feel more pressure in getting to the World Series than playing in the World Series itself. With that goal achieved, maybe Kershaw relaxes and pitches two of the best games of his career and puts that final exclamation point on his legacy.
You have to root for Jose Altuve.
You probably already do root for him. If he's not the most exciting player in baseball, he's on the short list. He's certainly one of the most improbable superstars in the game's history, the little guy with the big game, the bigger heart and the clutch hits. He homered in Games 6 and 7 of the American League Championship Series, showcasing why he's the likely MVP in the AL. As my friend Anna wrote on Facebook, "I'm happy for Jose Altuve, who epitomizes all that's great about baseball -- and who owned his greatness on the big stage."
Altuve's story is an inspiration for all athletes. As a 16-year-old in Venezuela, he attended an Astros tryout camp and was cut, and told not to come back the next day. He showed up anyway and the Astros eventually signed him for $15,000, coffee money for a big league team, but still an unusual bonus for a 5-foot-5 teenager.
While Altuve was an unlikely star due to his size, Turner and Keuchel became stars despite the perception they had borderline major league talent. Turner was let go by the Orioles and Mets before signing with the Dodgers, retooling his swing and developing from journeyman infielder to All-Star third baseman.
Keuchel was a seventh-round pick, a lefty with sub-optimal velocity who got hammered his first two seasons in the majors before fine-tuning his ability to pitch at the knees and the corners, to cut and sink the baseball, and he turned into a Cy Young winner. The showdowns between these two will go a long way to determining who wins this World Series -- and help decide, once and for all, who has the most impressive beard in the majors.
You have to root for Rich Hill.
Talk about a story of perseverance. From 2008 to 2014, he appeared in the majors each season, but posted a 5.41 ERA over 153 innings. He was granted free agency from seven different teams, released three times and, in the summer of 2015, found himself pitching for the Long Island Ducks. Now 37 years old, he'll be starting Game 2 of the World Series.
This is a common thread for several key players on these rosters, players once viewed as afterthoughts now playing key roles on World Series teams. Astros catcher/DH Evan Gattis had walked away from baseball in 2006, found himself begging for food money in New York City and battled depression before giving baseball another try. The Dodgers acquired Chris Taylor from the Mariners and, like Turner, he transformed his swing and went from Triple-A infielder in April to starting center fielder by the end of May, one of the more remarkable in-season transitions we've seen. Dodgers setup guy Brandon Morrow was once a promising starter before becoming plagued by injuries for several seasons. He began the season in the minors and ended it with the lowest slugging percentage allowed of any major league reliever.
You have to root for A.J. Hinch and Dave Roberts.
Even the managers have their own stories of determination. Dave Roberts didn't really get his first chance in the majors until he was 30 years old and yet carved out a 10-year career. He played his college ball at UCLA and is managing his hometown team. His players call him Doc and love his toughness and energy. A.J. Hinch was a top prospect who struggled to hit in the majors, got a managerial gig at 35 and was let go after 212 games. The Astros gave him a second chance, and he has guided the team to two playoff appearances in three seasons.
Of course, there is plenty of star power here to root for as well, with Carlos Correa and George Springer and Corey Seager and Dodgers youngster Cody Bellinger, he of the laser-quick swing that connected for 39 home runs, a National League record for rookies. Kenley Jansen, he of the Mariano-like cutter, is a former minor league catcher and now the best closer in the game. Yu Darvish is here, and an entire nation of fans back home in Japan will be watching his exploits.
Maybe you're rooting for the Astros, just for another appearance from Josh Reddick's special underwear. And whether or not you are for or against Yasiel Puig, you can't keep your eyes off him, and I keep imagining what would happen if he hits a walk-off home run in Game 7.
So which team are you rooting for?