Sports

It’s Yankees-Dodgers time! Key questions for a potential World Series preview

Could this weekend’s showdown in the Bronx be a World Series preview?

The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers have the star power — and the early success — that puts them squarely among the favorites in their respective leagues.

It’s been (mostly) good news for each team so far, but with that comes a lot of pressure. ESPN MLB experts on each coast — Jorge Castillo in New York and Alden Gonzalez in Los Angeles — tackle the state of their local team and project ahead to October.


On a scale of 1-10, how much pressure is each team under to make a World Series run this season — and why?

Castillo on Yankees: It’s always championship-or-bust for the Yankees, but the expectations this season are particularly lofty. It’s been 15 years since the Yankees last won a World Series. That, in the Bronx, is a drought of catastrophic proportions. Yankees brass, feeling the heat after a disastrous 2023 season, traded for Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo going into their walk years. You don’t make those moves unless you’re going for it. Soto and Verdugo are part of an impending group of likely free agents that also includes Gleyber Torres, Clay Holmes and Anthony Rizzo (club option for 2025). This group will have just one shot together. And yet I still don’t think the Yankees face as much pressure as the Dodgers. So let’s go with a 9.5.

Gonzalez on Dodgers: That’s easy: 10. This Dodgers era has carried World Series expectations with it on an annual basis, but club officials, coaches and players would all have to admit that it’s at an entirely new level this year. It’s what happens when you sign the two best free agents and splurge more than $1 billion in one offseason. It’s what happens when you’ve followed back-to-back 100-plus-win seasons with division series eliminations. It’s what happens when you’re trying to shed the label of a team that dominates in the summer and chokes in the fall. The Dodgers won 1,031 regular-season games from 2013 to 2023, 91 more than the second-best Yankees. But all they have to show for it is one championship, captured in a pandemic-shortened season. They need to do better.


How much pressure is each manager facing?

Castillo on Aaron Boone: Fairly or not, the fanbase was itching for Boone’s dismissal after last season’s injury-riddled debacle. The Yankees chose to run it back with one guaranteed year left on Boone’s contract, and he’s responded so far by leading the Yankees to the best record in the American League. The Yankees look like a juggernaut under Boone in his seventh season at the helm. But the pressure will remain on Boone as long as his job security is in flux. Maybe a deep October run will be enough for the Yankees to give him a new contract or exercise the club option for the 2025 season in his current deal. Maybe he needs to lead the club to the World Series for the first time. Maybe he needs to win championship No. 28 for the franchise. For now, he’s a lame duck and the pressure is on.

Gonzalez on Dave Roberts: Any blame for the failures of prior Octobers seems to fall squarely on Roberts’ lap, most of it centered on late-game bullpen decisions that cost key games. A lot of that is probably unfair. We live in a time when games are carefully scripted and front office involvement is prevalent, and so it’s hard to know where a manager’s feel ends and an executive’s calculation begins. But this is the job of the manager, now more than ever — to be the de facto spokesperson for a team and, when needed, absorb blame. Roberts has done a lot of that while putting together a .629 winning percentage through nine seasons in L.A. His contract runs through 2025. But if the Dodgers fall short of expectations again in October, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he took the fall.


On David Schoenfield’s offseason report card, the Dodgers got an A++ and the Yankees got a B. How would you grade their winter work now?

Castillo on Yankees: This is an easy A. Let’s start with Brian Cashman’s biggest offseason move: Soto’s impact cannot be overstated. He’s putting together the best season of a career that was already on a Hall of Fame track. But The Soto Effect goes beyond the numbers. His amazingly consistent ability to make pitchers work is a constant challenge. His swagger and intensity have been infectious. He and Aaron Judge are the best one-two punch in baseball. Verdugo has been a consistent producer out of the cleanup spot and is playing an elite left field after seamlessly fitting into the clubhouse. Marcus Stroman — signed to a two-year, $37 million contract — is outperforming his deal, posting a 3.16 ERA through 13 starts. Cashman couldn’t seal the deal with Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Blake Snell, but the Yankees’ rotation has been just fine — even without Gerrit Cole.

Gonzalez on Dodgers: I’m going to mark them down to a B, because while Shohei Ohtani, Tyler Glasnow and Yamamoto have been great, and any holes they have in the bottom of their lineup or in the back of their bullpen can be shored up before the trade deadline, the Dodgers seemed woefully — shockingly — unprepared at shortstop. And so when Gavin Lux, coming off an ACL tear, began to show a propensity for errant throws, they were essentially forced to scramble, converting Mookie Betts to shortstop at a time when he was already converting from right field to second base. Betts is handling arguably the most physically demanding position — one he hadn’t really played since high school. He has worked extremely hard to figure it out. Few players would even attempt to do what he’s doing. But it was shocking to see the Dodgers get caught flat-footed at such an important position ahead of such an important season.


What has surprised you most about each team so far this season?

Castillo on Yankees: The starting rotation being this good without Cole. Yankees starters rank second in ERA, first in strikeouts per nine innings, and third in innings pitched across the majors. Stroman has a 3.16 ERA and a top-10 groundball rate. Nestor Cortés (3.73 ERA) and Carlos Rodón (3.08 ERA) are enjoying encouraging bounce-back seasons. Clarke Schmidt was on track for a breakout season, with a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts before going on the injured list with a right lat strain last week. But the club’s ace has been 26-year-old rookie Luis Gil. The right-hander is the first Yankee to ever log at least six innings and allow one run or fewer over seven straight starts. He’s held the opponents to three or fewer hits in 10 of his 12 outings. His 1.82 ERA ranks second in the majors. His strikeout rate is sixth. He’s on track to start the All-Star Game for the American League. Oh, and Cole, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, began his rehab assignment Tuesday by throwing 3⅓ scoreless innings and could make his season debut by the end of the month.

Gonzalez on Dodgers: The top half of the Dodgers’ lineup has been as advertised, with Betts, Ohtani, Freddie Freeman and Will Smith combining for a .306/.390/.525 slash line. But the bottom half has been worse than anyone could have imagined. Lux, James Outman and Enrique Hernandez have all struggled. Chris Taylor, slashing an abhorrent .095/.198/.107, has been unplayable. The Nos. 1 to 5 hitters in the Dodgers’ lineup lead the majors in OPS; the Nos. 6 to 9 hitters rank 24th. Lately, with Max Muncy on the injured list and Betts and Ohtani in mini-slumps, the Dodgers have struggled to generate runs because they don’t possess the lineup depth we thought they would.


Make the case for each team’s dynamic duo being best in baseball right now.

Castillo on Judge/Soto: The leaderboard makes the case for them. Pick your stat, almost any stat. WAR? Which version do you prefer? Judge is first in bWAR across the majors, Soto is fifth. They’re tied for first in fWAR. They also occupy the top two spots in wRC+, OPS+, on-base percentage and OPS. They are, at the moment, the two best hitters on the planet. Betts’ transition to shortstop is wildly impressive and unprecedented, but so is a 6-foot-7, 282-pounder playing center field every day. Soto, meanwhile, has been solid in his return to right field, though Yankees fans are holding their breath after he left the game during Thursday night’s rain delay with forearm discomfort. Yes, Ohtani is an elite runner and he can pitch, but he’s not pitching this season. He’s a DH right now. And if this is about right now, the answer is easy.

Gonzalez on Betts/Ohtani: It’s hard to match up with what Judge and Soto are doing offensively right now, but Betts and Ohtani might be the two best all-around players in the game. On top of being elite hitters, they’re both dynamic baserunners. One (Ohtani) also happens to be a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, even if offseason elbow surgery has put a pause on that for a year. The other (Betts) is a six-time Gold Glove outfielder who is somehow handling himself pretty well at shortstop this season. Judge and Soto have combined for 68 FanGraphs wins above replacement since 2018, which is incredible. Betts and Ohtani? 74.


Both teams are missing aces. What’s the latest on Clayton Kershaw‘s and Cole’s road back to the mound? And could we — gasp — see Ohtani pitch this year?

Castillo on Cole: Cole looked very sharp in his first rehab start Tuesday with Double-A Somerset. He gave up two singles, didn’t issue a walk, and struck out five. He said his fastball was clocked between 94 and 97 mph. Most importantly, he felt healthy and said he had more in the tank after throwing his 45 pitches. Boone this week said Cole will make at least “a couple more” rehab starts before making his season debut. The good thing for the Yankees is there’s no rush. Schmidt recently went on the injured list, denting their depth a bit, but owning the best record in the AL affords the Yankees the luxury to be as patient as they need to be with their prized ace.

Gonzalez on Kershaw/Ohtani: Let’s get this out of the way: No, Ohtani will not be pitching this season. Roberts has been asked a handful of times, as Ohtani has navigated his throwing progression, and Roberts has consistently said he can’t picture that happening. Frankly, there shouldn’t be any need for it. It’s already hard enough to be a two-way player, let alone one coming off a second UCL repair. The Dodgers have way too much invested in Ohtani to rush him through that.

As for Kershaw — he should be back at some point after the All-Star break. And though a timetable hasn’t been provided, we can now start to map one out. He threw a one-inning simulated game from Dodger Stadium over the weekend and the plan is for him to basically tack on an inning every week, treating this basically like spring training. If no setbacks occur, that puts Kershaw at the six-inning mark right around the first week of July. So, perhaps shortly after the All-Star break? We’ll see. The Dodgers certainly won’t rush this, either.


What does each team need to do from here to make an L.A. vs. N.Y. World Series happen?

Castillo on Yankees: Stay healthy, ensure Cole is ready for October, and maybe acquire a hard-throwing reliever or two for the back end of the bullpen. The Yankees don’t have much starting pitching depth beyond Cole and the six pitchers who have started games for them this season. And as good as the rotation has been, Cole is one of the best pitchers in the world, the kind of starter you need to advance deep into October. If you want to nitpick further, the Yankees’ bullpen is tied for 21st in strikeout rate. Strikeouts are the best outs, especially late in games. Adding a strikeout artist or two would help. Otherwise, just stay healthy. This is a veteran team with a checkered recent injury history. If the Yankees stay healthy, they have the talent to win it all.

Gonzalez on Dodgers: The Dodgers went into last year’s playoffs with an unstable rotation, a precursor to a stunning sweep at the hands of the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks. With Glasnow and Yamamoto, that won’t be the case this season. But someone else — whether it’s Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Bobby Miller, James Paxton or Gavin Stone, who has been outstanding in his first full season — will have to step up in October. The Dodgers’ front office will also have to make moves to shore up the back end of the bullpen and the bottom of the lineup next month. If they can find a full-time shortstop to ease some of the burden off Betts, even better. But what they really need to do is come through when it matters. The Dodgers went 9-for-51 with runners in scoring position the last two postseasons. That can’t happen again.

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