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2019 World Series Preview: Houston Astros vs Washington Nationals

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The powerhouse of the AL will face the resilient NL Wild Card winner to decide who is the best in baseball this year

MLB: World Series-Workouts Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Narrative

After a long, hard season the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals stand alone atop their respective leagues, each hoping to take home the Commissioner’s Trophy. For the Astros this would be their second in three years after winning the franchise’s first taste of ultimate glory a scant two years ago. Meanwhile, the Nationals have finally broken whatever postseason fever has consumed them for years, reaching the pinnacle of baseball after so many years of heartbreak in October. They’ve both done it on the backs of strong starting pitching that has shut down potent offenses, though the course of their seasons have been quite different.

Of course, the fact that the Nationals swept their NLCS opponents and will now have had a six-day layover since their last game will be talked about. Houston fans saw the effects that can happen after an extended period off when Greinke started Game 3 of the ALDS. To be fair though, Greinke doesn’t have the overpowering stuff of pitchers like Strasburg or Scherzer to make up for a lack of command. Another story in this series is the fact that the Nationals have bucked the youth movement trend and now deploy the oldest lineup in baseball. Indeed it was one of their oldest players, Howie Kendrick, who showed up as the NLCS MVP this year.

Nationals

After starting the season 19-31, the Nationals were pretty much left for dead by a majority of baseball punditry. Instead of succumbing to what many considered the inevitable, they were able to roar back and play some fantastic baseball down the stretch and capture a Wild Card spot. However, there wasn’t a whole lot of hope after that as Washington had spent years showing promise in the regular season only to get drummed out of the playoffs early and often. They looked headed for the same this year in the WC game until a dramatic 3-run rally in the bottom of the 8th stunned the Brewers and allowed them to advance.

Of course, in spite of a pair of workhorse aces and several budding superstars, the Nationals had been unable to win even a single postseason series until they finally broke out over the the Dodgers this year. After going to 5 games against them, two of which were elimination games for the Nats, they were able to slay Goliath and advance to their first NLCS. It was an NLCS where they ended up making the Cardinals look like absolute fools, offensively speaking, and brought joy to my petty, petty heart. They now head to the World Series for the first time in franchise history, and have all the looks of a team getting hot at the right time.

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

That offense during the NLCS was anchored by Howie Kendrick, who is spearheading the geriatric movement in the postseason, and usual suspect Anthony Rendon, who is an MVP candidate in the NL. Kendrick snagged NLCS MVP honors after going bonkers on Cardinals pitching in the short-lived NLCS this year. He slashed .333/.412/.600 in that series to go with 4 of the biggest RBI’s.

Meanwhile, coverage of Anthony Rendon will probably talk more about the fact that he’s a Houston area native and Rice University alum, but his NLCS performance was pretty damn impressive as well. He was 5-for-12 with 5 walks across the series, but only had one extra base hit.

Victor Robles and catcher Yan Gomes have both had a good postseason as well, though most of Gomes’ success was in the LCS. There’s always the dangerous Juan Soto too, but his stats suggest a rather feeble NLCS. He had a good NLDS this year though and will be one of the youngest players to ever start in a World Series. He certainly has enough pop in his bat to make some fireworks this October.

Honestly, the Nationals as a whole have been one of the best offenses so far in the postseason, collectively slashing .243/.315/.382 as a group with 43 runs driven in and 32 walks. If this team continues to roll in the World Series then they’re going to be a handful for Astros pitching to deal with. This will be their first look of the season against Verlander and Cole though, two aces more than capable of pouring cold water on hot bats.

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, the Nationals’ bullpen has really turned the narrative surrounding them around. Historically, the Nationals pen is one of the worst for any team to ever make the postseason. But none of that matters as they have pitched better than expected in October. Some of that has been bringing big starters in at high leverage moments to shut down the Dodgers, which was much more effective with Max Scherzer on the mound versus Patrick Corbin.

Washington’s true bullpen arms, however, were all sorts of ineffectual in the regular season. As a relief corps they limped to a 5.68 ERA in the regular season and everyone assumed would be the soft underbelly of this team. Really though, their worst bullpen arm has been Hunter Strickland and everyone else has pitched about as well as can be expected. Starter Patrick Corbin has the distinction of worst relief appearance this postseason for the Nats though, dropping 6 runs in 0.2 innings against the Dodgers in the DS.

Team personality Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson are the Nationals’ 8th and 9th inning guys, and the game plan will probably be a starter to get as close as they can to those late innings before trying to patch together a bridge. It’s worked for the most part as really only Corbin and Hunter Strickland have had disastrous outings. Sean Doolittle has given up several runs this season as well, but only doled them out one at a time.

Astros

Houston is here because they were always supposed to be here. The number 1 team in baseball at the end of the regular season, they ran through a trial by fire against the Rays before silencing the second best team in baseball, the New York Yankees, in the ALCS. Even though they were taken to the brink by the AL Wild Card team in the DS, they won handily when they needed to against both AL East teams in order to advance to the World Series.

This marks Houston’s third World Series berth and their second in the past three years. They have also played in three straight ALCS’s, with all three ending in Houston since 2017. This one was not as stressful as the last time the Astros defeated the Yankees, able to wrap it up in six games instead of seven. They had to do it against the vaunted Yankees bullpen, who they faced a lot during the ALCS and managed to do just enough against to come away with crucial wins.

MLB: World Series-Workouts Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The tale of the 2019 ALCS for the Astros’ offense will be about how absolutely awful they were with runners in scoring position. It wasn’t just the men left on base though as the team slashed a putrid .179/.281/.318 in the ALCS. Of course you can dig into the stats and find that there was a rather unusual amount of bad luck for Houston, but blaming bad luck won’t win a championship.

Still the Astros have a chance to cement their dynasty status this year, and if the offense can find its regular season rhythm they’ll have an excellent shot at just that. They don’t have to worry about Jose Altuve though, who has slashed .349/.417/.767 during the postseason while mashing 5 home runs. He’s locked in right now, which is evidenced by his shiny new ALCS MVP trophy.

Other than Altuve though, the offense was pretty flat in the ALCS overall. What won them that series was that they were able to come up with the big hit when they needed, including two huge walk off home runs, one of which sent them to the Fall Classic. Correa and Springer were the two who were able to deliver the loudest homers during the CS, even though they didn’t do a whole lot more with a bat in their hands. Really the calling card for the Astros has been the defense this series, which saved several big runs and pulled more than a few big double plays out of its pocket when necessary.

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Like the Nationals, the Astros bullpen was thought to be a weakness going into the ALCS before suddenly turning it on. Will Harris in particular has been absolutely on fire in playoffs, working as Houston’s problem solver in high leverage situations. He’s the only Astros reliever who hasn’t given up a run this postseason.

Joe Smith has also risen to trusted status in the pen this October, with his side-arming delivery offering a different look out of the pen for AJ. Though he did give up a homer in NY, that’s really the only stumble he’s made so far in October and looks ready to join the back end of the bullpen for the World Series. He’ll join Osuna, who has looked sharp at times this postseason, but did give up a game-tying 2-run shot in the top of the 9th during Game 6.

Brad Peacock was good in his two appearances against the Yankees, though he did get into a spot of trouble in the second inning of his performance as an opener for Game 6. Peacock and Urquidy both did well in that game though they each surrendered a run. They appear to be candidates for a piggy-back start later in the series.

Pitching Match Ups

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1: Max Scherzer, RHP (11-7, 2.92 ERA) vs Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA)

Scherzer gets the ball Game 1 as is only appropriate for the long-time Nationals ace. He is coming into this one after a seven-inning NLCS start where he only gave up a single hit while striking out 11. He also took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in that one, so the usual Max Scherzer dominance. He’s seen 5 innings of work since the beginning of the NLDS round, including one inning of relief work against the Dodger, and has only given up a single run during that span.

Meanwhile, Gerrit Cole will get his chance to prove that he’s truly best pitcher on the planet, hoping to continue the Astros’ streak of winning games when he starts. Cole has been utter dominance on the mound this postseason, with a 0.40 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 3 starts this October. One of those includes an appearance in Game 5 of the ALDS where he absolutely shoved in order to help Houston advance to the CS. Even when he looked to be on the ropes during Game 3 against the Yankees, Cole managed to wiggle out of trouble and turn in 7 shutout innings that game to help raise the stock of the soon-to-be free agent.

Game 2: Stephen Strasburg, RHP (18-6, 3.32 ERA) vs Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58 ERA)

Like a good number of starters in this series, Strasburg has been big money so far in the postseason. He has a 1.64 ERA with 33 strikeouts and just a single walk across 22 innings. This is just a continuation of his usual October dominance as Strasburg has a career 1.10 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 41 postseason innings. Strasburg saw work out of the bullpen during the Nationals’ wild card match up against the Brewers, where he played the hero with 3 shutout innings. I suspect we won’t see much of that here though, unless the Nationals season hangs in the balance like it did then.

As for Verlander, he has oscillated somewhat from good to bad this offseason, having tossed one stinker against the Rays, which he did on short rest, and suffered a bad first inning against the Yankees in his most recent start. Other than that though, JV has been about what you expect from the Astros’ workhorse ace, going deep into games and giving his team a chance to win. Though he hasn’t been as dominant as his co-ace Cole, this one-two punch gives Houston just as much of a chance to get ahead in the series as Washington’s.

Game 3: Zack Greinke, RHP (18-5, 2.93 ERA) vs TBD

Greinke did not look great in his 2019 postseason debut, getting lit up by the Rays in Tampa during Game 3 of the ALDS. He bounced back against the Yankees and pitched well in Game 1, even if his final line included 3 runs in 6 innings. He also was able to grind out a gutsy start in Game 4, turning in 4.1 innings of 1-run ball against a Yankees team that threatened several times. Though he hasn’t exactly been dominant, Greinke is still an elite pitcher and I think we’ll see another good start from him here.

The Nationals have not announced their starter past the 2nd game, but my guess would be Patrick Corbin for this slot. Corbin was the big pickup for the Nats in the offseason, signing him to a lucrative cotract to be their number 3 starter after Scherzer and Strasburg. Though he turned in a good 2019 season performance, October has not been kind to him. This is Corbin’s first taste of the postseason and it has not gone well as one can tell by his 7.43 ERA in just 13.1 innings. He has made a couple of short relief appearances that have gone well though, and seems capable of coming in for one or two batters if needed between starts.

Game 4: TBD vs TBD

The Astros will most likely hand the ball to either Peacock or Urquidy and ride that duo as far as they’ll go. The plan worked well enough in Game 6 where Peacock came out firing, though he did stumble in the bottom of the 2nd and had to be lifted. Urquidy came in later during that game for his ALCS debut, grinding through 2.2 effective innings. He did give up a solo homerbut really handled himself well for a rookie getting a taste of the big stage when it matters most.

Though the Nationals have not made it official I expect we’ll see starter Anibal Sanchez in this spot, who had a performance for the ages in the NLCS. He took a no-hitter deep into that game and was able to get the Nationals off on the right foot after they had to burn their 1 and 2 starters against the Dodgers. Sanchez now has a 2.57 career ERA in the postseason, with his next October start being his 10th as a major leaguer.

Game 5 (if necessary): TBD vs TBD

Game 6 (if necessary): TBD vs TBD

Game 7 (if necessary): TBD vs TBD

Neither team has announced for these games yet but I expect that this will simply be a rinse and repeat of the first three games with the Game 4 starters available for relief at other points in the series.

Fun Fact

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Tuesday, October 22nd @ 7:08 pm CDT
Listen: Nationals - 106.7 The Fan, ESPN Radio / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio
Watch: FOX, FOX-INT

Game 2: Wednesday, October 23rd @ 7:07 pm CDT
Listen: Nationals - 106.7 The Fan, ESPN Radio / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio
Watch: FOX, FOX-INT

Game 3: Friday, October 25th @ 7:07 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio / Nationals - 106.7 The Fan, ESPN Radio
Watch: FOX, FOX-INT

Game 4: Saturday, October 26th @ 7:07 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio / Nationals - 106.7 The Fan, ESPN Radio
Watch: FOX, FOX-INT

Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday, October 27th @ 7:07 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio / Nationals - 106.7 The Fan, ESPN Radio
Watch: FOX, FOX-INT

Game 6 (if necessary): Tuesday, October 29th @ 7:07 pm CDT
Listen: Nationals - 106.7 The Fan, ESPN Radio / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio
Watch: FOX, FOX-INT

Game 7 (if necessary): Wednesday, October 31st @ 7:08 pm CDT
Listen: Nationals - 106.7 The Fan, ESPN Radio / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio
Watch: FOX, FOX-INT

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Astros Sweep 4-0
    (15 votes)
  • 16%
    Astros Win 4-1
    (30 votes)
  • 59%
    Astros Win 4-2
    (112 votes)
  • 7%
    Astros Win 4-3
    (14 votes)
  • 3%
    Nationals Win 4-3
    (7 votes)
  • 3%
    Nationals Win 4-2
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    Nationals Win 4-1
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    Nationals Sweep 4-0
    (2 votes)
187 votes total Vote Now