Clayton Kershaw spun his magic in Game 1 with the first 11-strikeout game in the World Series since Randy Johnson in 2001. Chris Taylor and Justin Turner continued as the dynamic duo at the top of the lineup, hitting the two home runs that powered the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory over the Astros on Tuesday night. Nobody melted in the 103-degree heat and it might actually have helped on Turner's home run, which just cleared the fence in left-center.
The most important thing of the day: Justin Verlander is going for the Astros. Since joining the team, he has started eight games and won them all. He pitched once in relief in the division series and he won that game as well. He has a 1.23 ERA, has allowed a .171 average and his swing-and-miss rate of 29 percent since joining the Astros is higher than it was during his 2011 Cy Young and MVP season. In other words, he's pitching the best baseball of his career.
Verlander is also 0-3 in his three previous World Series starts, two coming in 2006 and one in 2012. He seems ready for this moment. "From the moment I was traded, I had pressure on myself, and I think a lot of other people put pressure on me to help this team get to where we're at now," he said Monday. "I don't shy away from those, but I understand why I was brought here. It's very fulfilling when you have that pressure to succeed and you have a good game or multiple good games."
World Series Game 2: Astros at Dodgers
The stakes: The Game 1 winner has won the World Series 64 percent of the time, and teams that win the opener in the wild-card era are an even more impressive 18-4. So the Astros don't have to win, but maybe they have to win. "I anticipated the whole must-win question," manager A.J. Hinch said after their Game 1 loss. "But every game is sort of a must-win. I wanted to get out of here with a sweep, and now that's not going to happen. ... When we wake up tomorrow morning, we'll have breakfast and get here early, and we have a very good chance to win because Justin Verlander is on the mound."
If the Astros win: They go home happy with a split and the pitching matchups in Games 3 and 4 look pretty even with Yu Darvish and Alex Wood probably facing, in some order, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. Then if you can split those two games, it's back to Dallas Keuchel and a guaranteed Verlander start in Game 6. So, yes, it's fair to say this series now hinges to a large extent on Verlander's right arm.
If the Dodgers win: Given the way the Astros have leaned on Verlander in the postseason, you get the feeling a loss would be a crushing blow to the Astros' psyche. The Dodgers would then be 9-1 in the postseason and the Astros would have to beat them four times in five games. Good luck.
One key stat to know: The Astros had one of the greatest offenses of all time during the regular season. As Brad Doolittle wrote in a series preview, they put up a wRC+ of 121, meaning they were 21 percent better than average, which ranked in the 99.8th percentile ever. But now they are hitting .235/.309/.391 in the postseason. Look, Kershaw is Kershaw, and they faced some good pitching in earlier rounds, but this team is about its offense and the offense has to do some damage.
The biggest culprits: Marwin Gonzalez, who led the team in RBIs, is hitting .150/.227/.200; Brian McCann is hitting .143/.250/.200; Josh Reddick is hitting .182 without an extra-base hit; George Springer is at .213/.302/.319. There's nothing out of character going on here as the Astros' swing rates, miss rates and chase rates are essentially identical to their regular-season rates. Their strikeout rate is a little higher, 20 percent compared with 17.3 percent, which does account for 12 additional strikeouts over their total of 435 plate appearances -- one per game -- but it doesn't seem as if they're being too aggressive or anything like that. In other words, maybe the bats are due to break out.
The matchup that matters most: Verlander versus Chris Taylor and Justin Turner. Right? They accounted for all three of the Dodgers' runs in Game 1, have hit seven of the Dodgers' 15 postseason home runs and have playoff OBPs of .419 for Taylor and .476 for Turner. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts loves what Taylor has done from the leadoff spot: "He can grind you for 10 pitches in an at-bat. He can earn a walk, he can slug you, he can steal a base. And I think that just to have the discipline that he's had all year to stay in the strike zone, and when a pitcher makes a mistake he makes you pay."
Let's focus on this aspect: If you're going to hit Verlander, your best chance is probably to get his fastball before he drops in that hammer curve or wipeout slider. His fastball has averaged 96 mph in the postseason, after averaging 95.2 in the regular season. Turner hit .315/.407/.425 against fastballs clocked at 95-plus; Taylor hit .365/.420/.541.
The prediction: Verlander continues his unbeatable ways with the Astros. He goes seven innings while the offense gets back on track with some early runs off Hill. Astros 5, Dodgers 2