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Prolific Astros offense will be Dodgers’ toughest challenge yet

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Dodgers shut down a pair of good offenses in the Diamondbacks and Cubs en route to winning the National League pennant, but now they face the best offense in baseball in their World Series matchup against the Astros.

Houston led all of baseball by averaging 5.53 runs per game during the regular season, the most prolific scoring offense since the 2009 Yankees.

The Astros slugged .478 as a team, the best mark since the 2003 Red Sox. Houston scored 501 runs on the road in 2017 — 6.19 runs per game — the highest total since the 1999 Indians.

The Astros led the majors in doubles (346) and were second in home runs (238), and despite packing all that power they are not a free-swinging team. Houston was last in batting strikeouts (1,087), too.

Using weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which adjusts for home park and league, the Astros were head and shoulders above the rest of baseball this year at 121. Like OPS+, 100 is average here, and the higher the better. The Dodgers were fourth in baseball with a 104 wRC+ as a team, to put that in some context.

Best MLB offenses since 1903

Team Year wRC+ Result
Team Year wRC+ Result
Yankees 1927 126 won World Series
Yankees 1930 124 3rd place in AL
Yankees 1931 124 2nd place in AL
Astros 2017 121 in World Series
Reds 1976 120 won World Series
Brewers 1982 120 lost World Series
Red Sox 2003 120 lost ALCS
Ranked by wRC+ Source: FanGraphs

Dating back to 1903, the year of the first World Series, only three teams have posted a higher wRC+ than these Astros. All of them were Yankees teams in the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig era, in 1927, 1930 and 1931.

In the last 115 years, the Astros are one of just seven teams with a wRC+ of 120 or higher, and the first since the 2003 Red Sox. Four of the seven teams made the World Series. Two of them won it, and are considered among the very best teams of all-time — the 1927 Yankees and the 1976 Reds, in other words Murderers’ Row and The Big Red Machine.

Those seven teams combined for a .616 winning percentage, a 100-win pace over 162 games.

The culprits

The big names are all up the middle for the Astros, with MVP candidate Jose Altuve and star shortstop Carlos Correa forming the best double play combination in baseball. Altuve won his third batting title this year and surpassed 200 hits for a fourth time, while Correa hit .315/.391/550 with 24 home runs, and just turned 23 in September.

Center fielder George Springer hit .283/.367/.522 with a career-high 34 home runs.

That trio is joined by switch-hitting utility man extraordinaire Marwin Gonzalez, who hit .303/.377/.530 with 34 doubles and 23 home runs, all while playing at least 19 games at every infield position as well as left field.

Among the 216 major league hitters with at least 400 plate appearances in 2017, here are the Astros’ ranks in wRC+:

  • 5) Altuve: .346/.410/.547, 160 wRC+
  • 9) Correa: .315/.391/.550, 152 wRC+
  • 17) Gonzalez: .303/.377/.530, 144 wRC+
  • 23) Springer: .283/.367/.522, 140 wRC+
  • 43) Josh Reddick: .314/.363/.484, 127 wRC+
  • 53) Alex Bregman: .284/.352/.475, 122 wRC+
  • 65) Yuli Gurriel: .299/.332/.486, 118 wRC+

Catcher a Brian McCann, it should be noted, posted a 109 wRC+ in 399 plate appearances, which basically gives their regular lineup eight of the top 100 hitters in baseball. That’s deep.

The dry spell

Even with that ridiculously prolific lineup, Houston was effectively neutralized for the bulk of the ALCS against the Yankees. The Astros hit just .187/.271/.294 as a team in the last round, and averaged 2.86 runs per game.

“We’ve put a lot of energy and effort into the year, and you feel like it’s right there for you to take it,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said last week. “The Yankees have done a good job of neutralizing our lineup. They were trying to pick up not their own baggage, maybe the guy in front of them, maybe the guy in back of them, too.”

Eleven of Houston’s 20 runs came in the final two games, both wins at home to erase a 3-2 series deficit.

Dodgers pitchers held the Diamondbacks to just .189/.252/.421 in the NLDS, and limited the Cubs to .156/.193/.299 in the NLCS. Can they do it again in the World Series?

“We’ve got our work cut out,” manager Dave Roberts said.