It’s the Astros in the World Series. Again, for the second time in three years. Will the boys ride downtown once again in their carriages before a throng of a million adoring fans with confetti falling like rain on their heads.?
The smart money says YES!
Below, the Starting Nine make their cases, the keys to the series, and their predictions. Add your thoughts in the comments below.
Here are my keys to the series. The Astros, despite walk-off, home run heroics in the ALCS, have had frigid bats for about the last 20 games they’ve played. That needs to change, but that change is already overdue. They only hit OPS .600 in the ALCS, whereas the Nats had a more respectable .741 against an excellent Cardinals pitching staff in the NLCS.
The Nats have been sitting on their asses for a week, while the Astros have been fighting their asses off against the Yankees. Hopefully these trends turn around. Every series is a new beginning. Remember how hot the Yankees bats were against the Twins?
For the year the Astros dominate the Nats in the major statistical categories. The Astros had a non-pitcher OPS+ of 119, the Nats 107. The Astros had an ERA+ of 127, the Nats 108. Bottom line, the Astros are better at hitting and pitching than the Nationals if they bring their game to the seven game series.
The best chance for the Nationals is if they can make this series a series of pitching duels between the starters. Their top three, Max Scherzer (ERA 2.92), Stephen Strasburg (ERA 3.32) and Patrick Corbin (ERA 3.25) don’t quite match up with the Astros’ top three, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke (ERAs 2.50, 2.58, and 3.02) but they’re as close as any other team could get. But keep in mind the Nats’ guys pitched against pitchers every ninth batter most of the year.
The Astros’ bullpen had the second best ERA in baseball for the season at 3.75. The Nats were the second to the worst, almost two runs more forgiving at 5.68.
The key is, the Astros have to continue their patient approach at the plate and get to the Nats’ bullpen. Our starters should be able to keep pace with theirs, but hopefully we can get four cracks at their bullpen in every game.
The only advantage I can give the Nats is that they have a legitimate fourth starter in Anibal Sanchez, whereas Game 4 appears to be a bullpen game for the Astros.
If the series goes seven, do the Astros bring Cole on short rest and then Greinke?
But it won’t go seven.
Astros in six.
If someone were to tell me in September that the Astros had a slash line of .208/.287/.358 in the postseason, and somehow advanced to the World Series, I’m not sure if I would’ve believed them. Heck, the lineup only had a .548 OPS with runners in scoring position throughout the first two rounds. Despite a historic 125 wRC+ in the regular season, this postseason lineup hasn’t performed like a World Series-bound offense, but beggars can’t be choosers. Sometimes sequencing can be your best friend, or most nefarious enemy, in baseball. For Houston, it has so far been the former.
For the Astros to succeed in the Fall Classic, it’ll likely come down to a handful of factors. The pitching staff, minus the occasional meltdown or two, will need to have another strong series. While the Nationals’ rotation has four quality starters, the Astros also boast a top-three that is just as strong. The bullpen edge likely goes to Houston, especially if Washington isn’t able to fully replicate their starter-turn-reliever plan from their respective Division and Championship series. As bilbos mentioned above, the Nationals have the edge with Anibal Sanchez as their fourth starter while the Astros are likely looking at another bullpen game.
While much attention will be given to the two rotations, and rightly so, the Astros lineup will also have a say in how this series progresses. Although the results were less than optimal, there are signs that Houston’s bats are starting to show some life. For example, the Astros had a .266 wOBA against New York in the ALCS, which was well below the club’s .353 xwOBA for the series. The lineup, as a unit, generated 25 line drive outs compared to just 14 for the Yankees. The Astros currently have five regulars with a BABIP below .240 in the lineup for the postseason. If only some of those line drives find grass instead of glove in the near future.
While the players have to burden some of the blame, we also can’t neglect to praise the Rays and Yankees about how they approached Houston’s lethal offense. New York, especially, with how well positioned they were in the field for most of the ALCS. And something of note to remember for the World Series: The Rays (37.2%) and Yankees (35.8%) were among the top-six teams in terms of shifting in the regular season. The Nationals were 27th at 14.3%.
All in all, this World Series could end up being a relatively close one, especially if the two rotations perform well. And anything can happen in a single postseason series. The Nationals are the feel-good story of October, but I’m going with the Astros.
Astros in six.
It can be really hard not to over-predict baseball; after all, it’s the most unpredictable sport, and trying to account for all of the things that could happen in a short series is tempting. But in my experience, you might as well go with your gut.
And what my gut says is: the Astros finished this season 14 games better than the Nationals. The Astros just decisively held off a Yankees team that was arguably the second-best in baseball in a best-of-seven series, and before that held of a 96-win Rays team in five, and both of those teams had stronger overall pitching staffs; seeing the Nationals’ weak bullpen should be a comparative relief after those staffs and the Nats’ starting pitchers.
In comparison, Washington’s road looked a lot less dominant; they took the one-game Wild Card from the 89-win Brewers, but it took a late game comeback and some sloppy defense. They squeaked out a win against a Dodgers team that was arguably as good as the Yankees, but it took a short series and an aggressive use of their starters in relief, neither of which will likely happen in a seven game set, plus I trust A.J. Hinch’s managerial instincts way more than I’ve ever trusted Dave Roberts’. And then they stomped a 91-win Cardinals win team in the NLCS, but got to sit around for a week before taking on a much harder opponent.
I’m not the only one seeing it this way. Fangraphs has the Astros with a 72% chance of winning. And Vegas has the Astros as the biggest favorite since the 2007 Red Sox. That comparison feels very apt, actually: in both, we have the best record in the AL coming off a close series against the second-best team in the AL, facing off against an NL Wild Card team that underperformed earlier in the season, but put it all together for a late season run to the Wild Card and a couple of quick upsets in the DS and CS, only to face long stretch of time off before the World Series against a team with a much better record.
That’s not to belittle those Rockies, or these Nationals, both of whom are good teams; it’s just very hard to pull the whole thing off, and the final leap is the hardest. The smart money is still on the Astros.
Astros in five.
The final series of the year coming against an unlikely post season opponent who got red hot at the right time. You do have to wonder if the time off will have an effect on the Nationals.
The Astros are undeniably the better team on paper and it's not particularly close, but anything can happen in the post season. For the Astros, some BABIP luck is far overdue for regression. I'm going to guess the team, fired up from an exciting ALCS takes the series quickly.
I'm really hopeful to see our ROY show up as I dont want post season struggles in his head for the next 5 postseason runs.
Astros in five.
Fangraphs has The Astros chances of winning the World Series as 72.1%. To me, that’s a ridiculous percentage to favor one major league baseball team over another, much less two playoff teams.
You can see from the ALCS how close a series that went to six games can be. Excepting Game 1 and maybe Game 4, very very minor differences could have flipped W’s into L’s and vice versa. That margin becomes even less when both teams feature ace-quality starting pitching. If a starting pitcher has an outing where he’s just decided he’s going to be unhittable, it almost doesn’t matter what the other people on his team do. He can steal the win on his own. Nearly every starting pitcher in this series is capable of doing that.
Also consider that, although the lasting image we have of the ALCS is Altuve’s majestic swing to win the whole thing, the Astros just spent the last six games slashing .179/.281/.318 and batting 5 for 46 with RISP, with 45 team LOB. And now they face better starting pitching.
In the Starting Nine before the ALCS, I opined “The Astros offense cannot afford to hit the snooze button any more times. You can bet that the likes of Judge, Stanton, Gleyber, Lemahieu and Sanchez are not going to go as quietly at the plate as the Rays.” Well, it turns out the Astros did hit the snooze button again, but the Yankees gave them a free pass because they did go quietly at the plate, with a slash line barely better than Houston’s. The Astros are two series into the postseason and the second greatest offense in the history of baseball is still on the side of a milk carton.
The Nationals’ pen is mediocre, certainly. But unlike the Rays and Yankees, their starters will not be exiting in the third and fourth innings. For as fearsome a rotation as Houston possesses, the Nationals can match that starter for starter.
Offensive depth and some key defensive plays will provide the Astros with the edge, but it may be closer than many think. Gerrit Cole will pitch in Games 1, 5 and make an appearance in Game 7 and take MVP honors.
Astros in seven.
This series will be different than the previous ones the Astros have been involved in because of one major facet: Starting pitching.
The Astros have faced two teams with stacked bullpens in the Rays and Yankees. Now, they’ll face a staff that’s had every starting pitcher in the postseason last at least five innings. In six of the Nats’ nine playoff games, their starter has gone six or more innings. In some ways, the Nats’ strength could be advantage Astros.
As Hatter pointed out, the Astros offense wasn’t on full display in the ALCS. After Game 5, we talked about the Astros hitting around .100 with runners and scoring position for the series and sub-.200 as a team overall. I wondered aloud “How are the Astros not eliminated,” yet in control of the ALCS three games to two?
What I’m trying to say is I think the Astros’ offensive approach is predicated upon making pitchers work. This is a patient ballclub, as demonstrated by the lowest strikeout rate and highest walk rate in the game this year. Facing guys like Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, and Sanchez isn’t a dream matchup for Astros’ hitters, just like stepping into the box against Cole, Verlander, and Greinke isn’t for Washington. But the opportunity to see a guy three times in a single game plays into Houston’s favor. It’s best suited to their approach, which is to make the pitcher labor through the lineup.
I’m not predicting the Astros’ offense will suddenly explode with blowout victories—-the Nats’ starters are too good for that—but I do think Houston is better equipped to produce with runners in scoring position.
My World Series MVP before the postseason began was Michael Brantley, so I’m sticking with that.
Astros in six.
I’ll let y’all in on a little secret, I always vote for the Astros to sweep a series in a preview. While I don’t think that the Astros will win 162 games each year, the fact is that this team is built so that on any given day a W is a very good possibility. I mean, they did it more than any other team this season.
The Nationals have their rotation and a few big boppers, but they don’t have the length of the lineup that the Astros do. I expect a low-scoring affair the whole way through, but I think the bottom of the Astros’ order will come up with the bigger hits this series and ultimately be victorious.
We’ve face good pitching in both rounds of the series and did what we needed to do. While Strasburg and Scherzer will be the biggest test of the postseason so far, I don’t consider it outside the realm of possibility for us to do just enough to squeek past them. Meanwhile, the Nationals will get a look at the two best pitchers in the AL, so they’ll be facing their own trial by fire.
But ultimately when I make this decision it’s part of my ritual for every series to predict a sweep. Not just my ritual but my sacred duty as a fan. So while it’s more optimism than sense when I say this, I refuse to break my streak that worked for 107 wins in the regular season:
Astros in four.
Exile in Saint Louis
Does the contrarian pick the Nationals in 7? As tempting as that might be, I can’t be that guy. I think one or two more of the stars get going in the WS (Springer and Gurriel are obvious picks, but one doesn’t need to squint hard to imagine Alvarez or Correa breaking out). The Astros get to Strassburg or Scherzer in G1 or 2, and get to Corbin as well in Game 3, meaning that the soft underbelly of the Nats’ pen gets exposed. Astros score lots of runs, overcome one blown save by their own pen, and romp to a 4-1 series victory and their second ever championship.
Bregman goes back to being Bregman and Yuli get some BABIP luck. Team averages 6 runs/game. Springer gets his second WS MVP, and the Astros are officially a dynasty.
Astros in Five