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Lovable underdogs hard to find in this World Series

Matt Youmans  
VSiN.com

Las Vegas

In a World Series with no shortage of villains, even Red Sox haters must appreciate Mookie Betts, the best all-around player in baseball and the driving force behind the majors’ most dominant team this season.

Betts is not an underdog, though. There is no long shot or lovable ‘dog left in this October. No story can match the Chicago Cubs of 2016 or the Kansas City Royals of 2015.

Clayton Kershaw is the closest thing to an underdog story. Arguably the greatest pitcher of this generation, Kershaw has yet to realize his crowning achievement. Los Angeles’ ace left-hander has done everything but win the big one. He was on the losing end last year, when the Dodgers went down in seven games to the long-suffering Houston Astros.

Maybe this finally is Kershaw’s time. But it sure looks like Boston’s year. The Red Sox, who won 108 games in the regular season before bulldozing the Yankees and Astros during a 7-2 postseason run, roll into the World Series as -140 favorites.

“The Red Sox have been the best team all year,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said, “and I think they will find a way to finish it off.”

Bogdanovich said a steady stream of money is behind Boston, which opened -130 to win the series. But there is plenty of West Coast support for the Dodgers, who last won the championship 30 years ao. With a pair of wildly popular public teams on a classic stage, Las Vegas bookmakers are expecting the largest wagering handle in World Series history.

“It will be enormous,” Bogdanovich said. “I think all of the games and the series will get great two-way action. Vegas is a Dodger town, and the Red Sox are a monster.”

Kershaw is expected to start Tuesday’s opener at Fenway Park, where the Dodgers will be small underdogs to Red Sox lefty Chris Sale.

Boston will counter Kershaw with two of the biggest right-handed bats in the majors. Betts, the likely American League MVP, hit .346 with 32 home runs, 80 RBIs and 30 stolen bases, and J.D. Martinez batted .330 with 43 homers and 130 RBIs. Lefty starters never feel comfortable at Fenway, and the Dodgers feature a lefty-heavy rotation.

But Red Sox backers have reasons to feel uneasy about lefty starters Sale and David Price. Sale has been bothered by shoulder inflammation and a stomach illness. Price regularly imploded in the postseason before his breakout performance in Houston last week chased away some of his October ghosts.

“Sale should be fine, and Price has got a little more confidence,” Bogdanovich said.

Micah Roberts, a Las Vegas handicapper and former bookmaker, is pitching the other side of that story.

“The Dodgers should have a starting pitching edge,” Roberts said. “First of all, I don’t think Price is a pitcher the Red Sox can rely on in this series. I’ll go against Sale. Why not? He has not been the usual Sale in his past several starts.”

Sale seems to have caught his second wind, however. He started Game 1 of the division series against the Yankees and coasted for 5 1/3 innings, striking out eight and allowing two earned runs as the Red Sox escaped with a 5-4 win.

Kershaw has recently quieted most of his postseason demons. The Dodgers are 10-3 in his past 13 playoff starts.

If Price, the overpaid pitcher almost everyone loves to hate, is not the polarizing villain of the World Series, that dishonor goes to Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado or outfielder Yasiel Puig. Roberts said he’s counting on Machado, Puig and Cody Bellinger to lift the L.A. offense when it counts. The Dodgers ranked second in the majors (behind the Yankees) with 235 home runs.

The Red Sox, who led the majors in batting average, figure to have two significant advantages. One is first-year manager Alex Cora, who has been rock solid. Cora handled his pitching staff better than the Yankees’ Aaron Boone, and there were cracks in Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ decision-making with pitchers in last year’s World Series. Boston also has baseball’s best defensive outfield with Betts in right, Andrew Benintendi in left and Jackie Bradley Jr. in center.

There are more ways than one to bet the World Series and the exact result proposition is a popular option.

The Red Sox are getting 10/1 odds to sweep. Or bet on Boston to win in five games (9/2), six games (4/1) or seven games (9/2).

The Dodgers are 12/1 to sweep. Or bet on L.A. to win in five games (7/1), six games (5/1) or seven games (5/1).

Roberts said he’s going with the Dodgers in six. Bogdanovich is siding with the Red Sox. A difference of opinion makes a horse race and a heavily-wagered World Series.

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