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Astros-Nationals: A World Series preview

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And then there were two.

We’ve reached the end of the Major League Baseball season. Where once hope sprung in springtime for many of the league’s teams, a long season and arduous postseason have culled all but two squads. The World Series is upon us.

The Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals will face off in the Fall Classic.

Houston’s presence here was almost a foregone conclusion from the first day of the season. The Astros have been one of the most dominant teams of the past few years; 2019 continued that trend. They won 107 games in the regular season – tops in baseball. They sport one of the most star-studded lineups in the sport, featuring strong contenders for just about every individual season award. They beat the Wild Card-winning Tampa Bay Rays in five games in the ALDS and then took down the Yankees in six in the ALCS.

Washington’s arrival is a bit more surprising. The Nationals were being left for dead by many after a dismal first two months of the season, but from June on, they were one of the best teams in MLB. They bounced back to the tune of 93 wins and a Wild Card berth. They took down the Milwaukee Brewers to get into the postseason, then beat the favored L.A. Dodgers in five in the NLDS before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. This is the first World Series appearance in franchise history, going back to their days as the Expos.

On the surface, it might seem that it’s an easy choice. But if you really break it down, it’s closer than you might think.

The conversation has to start with, well … the starters. These two teams might be one-two on the list of teams with the best one-two starting pitching punch. Houston has Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who were the best pitchers in the American League this year. Granted, Verlander has been more decent than great in the postseason, but Cole somehow got even better – he’s literally given up one run over his three playoff starts. In 23 innings, he’s struck out 32.

Meanwhile, Washington has one of the few duos that can conceivably compare in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. While these two didn’t have quite the dominating regular season that Verlander and Cole did, they’ve been even better in the postseason. In eight games (six starts) and 42 innings pitched, Scherzer and Strasburg combined to give up just eight runs while striking out 60. Strasburg has walked one against 33 strikeouts.

Both teams have a third starter (Houston’s Zack Greinke and Washington’s Patrick Corbin) who was a big-money acquisition who hasn’t necessarily excelled in the playoffs thus far. Corbin’s been touched up to the tune of a 7.43 ERA in 13 innings, but Greinke hasn’t been much better – 6.43 ERA in 14 innings. Oh, and Nationals afterthought Anibal Sanchez might have been the most dominant of all!

The bullpens are less exciting than the rotations, but they’d have to be, wouldn’t they? Houston’s relievers have been pretty good; Will Harris and Joe Smith have been lights out, while closer Roberto Osuna has been fine. There are a couple of guys at the end of the pen who got blown up. Washington’s relief corps has been better; Sean Doolittle has been good and Daniel Hudson has been flat-out great – the two combined to pitch 13 of the 22 innings not pitched by Washington starters, with Doolittle giving up two runs and Hudson giving up zero.

As for the lineups, well … Houston is stacked. They saw massive production from just about every spot in the order this year. Guys like Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez (your likely MVP and ROY, respectively) had huge years. But in the playoffs so far, the team’s bats have been pretty quiet. The only hitter having an exceptional postseason is Jose Altuve, who has slashed .349/.417/.767 with five homers, eight RBI and 10 runs scored in 11 games. Everyone else has struggled – Bregman and Michael Brantley are the only other regulars to even clear .250 in the playoffs. Houston’s bats need a jumpstart, although Altuve looks hot enough to carry the day.

On the other side, Anthony Rendon is the man so far this postseason. In 10 games, he’s slashed .375/.465/.594, leading the team across the board. He’s not quite as hot as Altuve, but plenty hot. Of course, he’s had considerably more help – veterans like Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick and Trea Turner along with youngsters like Victor Robles and Juan Soto. Kendrick in particular has proven adept at heroics. One concerning thing is the absence of power; this entire squad has hit just eight homers all postseason, while Altuve has five himself. Still, the Nationals have shown a propensity for putting the bat on the ball; it remains to be seen whether that holds up against the Astros starters.

So who’s going to win?

It’s a tough call, to be sure. Verlander and Cole have the edge on Scherzer and Strasburg at the top of the rotation, but it’s fairly close. Greinke and Corbin are about equal, but Sanchez adds some real value to the mix. Meanwhile, Doolittle and Hudson have been great out of the bullpen for Washington, but who else do they have? Houston’s got more arms that have been used in higher-leverage situations this postseason. And Houston’s bats have the edge talent-wise, but in terms of performances, Washington has been a bit more consistent.

Plus you have to take into account the fact that the Nationals have been waiting around for a week thanks to their sweep of the Cardinals, while Houston has been playing hard against the Yankees. Which is better – rest or momentum?

Put it all together and it’s a close call. At the end of the day, however, I’m going to go with the team that has the most talent. To my mind, that’s the Astros; I think their best is just a little bit better than Washington’s best. What can I say? I’m an American League boy at heart.

Astros in seven.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 October 2019 09:38


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