Your guide to World Series Game 5: Battle of aces in a pivotal matchup

HOUSTON — Welcome to the most important game of the baseball season! They’re all important in the World Series! We’re tied up through four games, we have a great pitching matchup for Game 5, the drama is increasing in intensity and Houston Astros fans are hoping they can cheer their team to one more home victory in this 2017 season. Pull up a seat and enjoy the action.

The most important thing of the day: The Astros are hitting .226 in the World Series. The Dodgers are hitting .176. Their strikeout rates haven’t really been excessive, and they’ve certainly hit some home runs. The issue for both teams has been a low batting average on balls in play:

So don’t expect a lot of hits in this game, especially given the starting pitchers. If there are runs in this game, they could come against the bullpens — at least Houston’s bullpen. Check out the postseason numbers:

  • Astros starters: 85⅓ IP, 3.27 ERA, 7 HR

  • Astros relievers: 46⅔ IP, 5.21 ERA, 11 HR

And those relief numbers include the good outings from Lance McCullers Jr. in the Championship Series and Brad Peacock in Game 3 of the World Series. One thing you can bet on is that you won’t see Astros closer Ken Giles in Game 5 after he was torched again and has now allowed runs in six of his seven postseason appearances.

Manager A.J. Hinch might have to count on Peacock as a relief option just two days after he threw 53 pitches and maybe Will Harris to close out a lead. It’ll be interesting to see whether Collin McHugh will get an opportunity. He has pitched just once in the postseason, but it was four hitless innings against the Yankees in the ALCS.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts doesn’t have the same worry as Hinch. Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson and Kenta Maeda all continue to pitch well. Closer Kenley Jansen, however, has looked human by serving up home runs in Games 2 and 4.

World Series Game 5: Dodgers at Astros

Clayton Kershaw (18-4, 2.31) vs. Dallas Keuchel (14-5, 2.90), 8 p.m. ET (Fox)

The stakes: These two lefties are the same age, born just a couple of months apart in 1988. Keuchel is from Tulsa, and Kershaw is from Dallas. Kershaw reached the majors before Keuchel was even drafted by the Astros out of the University of Arkansas. Kershaw has the golden arm, while Keuchel has made it by sinking the ball, painting the corners and outsmarting hitters.

This will be just the sixth time since 2000 that pitchers who had already won Cy Young Awards will match up in the World Series:

2017: Kershaw-Keuchel (Game 1)
2012: Barry Zito-Justin Verlander
2010: Tim Lincecum-Cliff Lee (twice)
2009: CC Sabathia-Lee

The stakes? Putting your team 27 outs away from a World Series title.

If the Astros win: Verlander is standing in reserve for Game 6, with a likely McCullers-Charlie Morton combo in Game 7 and some Peacock mixed in somewhere. In other words, even with going to L.A., you have to like the Astros’ chances to take one of those two games given the starting-pitcher matchups.

If the Dodgers win: Simple. Do you want to be down 3-2 staring at Verlander? No, you do not.

One key stat to know: Keuchel loves pitching at Minute Maid Park. He had a 2.26 ERA at home with a .187 average allowed compared to 3.53 on the road with a .245 average. In about the same number of innings, he allowed just four home runs at home and 11 on the road. This isn’t just a one-year thing. Going back to his Cy Young season in 2015, he has a 2.25 ERA at home and 4.25 on the road, with an OPS allowed 175 points lower.

The first thought: Keuchel keeps the ball on ground, and maybe the groundskeepers make sure that the grass doesn’t get cut the morning he pitches. He does allow a lower average on grounders at home — .180 vs. .237 away — but most of his run prevention at home comes on fly balls. Some of that is he pitches well to the park: Minute Maid is pinched down the lines but fair to the alleys and center, and Keuchel does a good job of limiting pull fly balls. But he also just allows less hard contact. Maybe he just loves the mound.

Anyway, that’s all a way of saying that although everyone might expect another Kershaw masterpiece, don’t be surprised if Keuchel throws one.

The matchup that matters most: Kershaw vs. Houston’s big three of George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. This is the heart of what a great World Series game should be about: The best in the game battling the best in the game. In Game 1 against Kershaw, Springer went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, all on sliders. Altuve went 1-for-3 with a ground-ball single to left field. Correa also went 0-for-3. Kershaw went seven innings in that game and allowed just three hits and no walks while striking out 11.

The prediction: Keuchel outduels Kershaw and leaves after seven innings with a 2-1 lead. Peacock and Harris close it out.

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