The NLCS ended so long ago that it was almost hard to remember who the Washington Nationals swept. It was such a dominating and short series that it’s almost dangerous. The break – a week between Washington’s pennant win and the start of their quest to win the World Series – underrates them.
That’s especially so when you compare it to the Houston Astros pennant win, which luckily for them concluded Saturday night instead of Sunday – a possibility thanks to Wednesday’s rainout of Game 4. Houston walked Game 6 off thanks to Jose Altuve’s two-run shot and walked off the field in the World Series, where first pitch was scheduled to be thrown less than 72 hours after their celebration.
The Astros are on the top of the world right now. The Nationals have almost been forgot about. That’s very a good thing to have on your side.
World Series: Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros
As is with most postseason series, pitching is the forefront. But this matchup is a whole other breed when it comes to the talent at play in that department.
Here’s the projected pitching matchups for the first two games:
- Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer
- Justin Verlander vs. Stephen Strasburg
Patrick Corbin hasn’t been named Washington’s Game 3 starter, but Zack Greinke is definitely going for the Astros.
Houston should be able to work it so that they can pitch only those three guys throughout the course of the series. If you’re going to extend guys and throw them on short rest, this time of year is the only time to do so.
Game 4 is Saturday, so Cole going in Game 1 allows him to get three full days of rest in between. The same case goes for a potential Game 7, in which Cole could again start on three days rest next Wednesday.
It’s a tall task for the Nationals, but they’re likely to give Houston the same business. Scherzer has rebounded incredibly well from his rough Wild Card outing, but that was widely expected. Strasburg has been unhittable, and so has Anibal Sanchez of all people, who came way too close to throwing a no-hitter in Game 1 against St. Louis (It was Scherzer who almost threw one in the next game as well).
Corbin has been Washington’s worst starter this postseason; he sneakily has a 7.43 ERA in five games. Perhaps the lack of a Game 3 announcement is because they’re not sure he’s the best option, or because there’s been talk of moving Corbin to the bullpen for Games 1 and 2 if need be.
“If need be” is probably a guarantee. That’s not necessarily because Washington will be down in those games, but because going to the 22nd ranked bullpen via fWAR in baseball this regular season (It felt like they were a lot worse than that) is a terrifying proposition against the best offense in baseball.
The Nationals have curbed some of the issues. Relievers Daniel Hudson, Sean Doolittle and Fernando Rodney (somehow) have all pitched well so far in October. There’s also Tanner Rainey, whose small sample size of innings make his numbers worse than how he’s truly pitched. He’s one of the few Nats relievers to actually have decent regular season numbers as well.
Which makes the bullpen still the issue for Washington even with some of their improvements. It’s way worse than Houston’s and still have many trust issues. It was the biggest qualm of this team all season. Now they’re going to hold it together?
Houston, despite having a much more talented and trustworthy group, has their own bad apples. Roberto Osuna blew the save before Altuve’s walk-off. Hector Rondon has throw a third of an inning all postseason between two stints and gave up a run. Ryan Presley has been a disaster in high leverage spots. Josh James had a 3.60 ERA but has given up some critical hits. Chris Devenksi, who hasn’t pitched this postseason, was bad in the regular season and is going to be on the roster.
But all the bad about Houston’s bullpen kind of turns into a good. They’re deep. Really deep. And because of that, they have plenty of trustworthy options like Will Harris, Joe Smith, Jose Urquidy and Brad Peacock. Wade Miley could make an appearance as well.
With starting pitching this good, this series will likely come down to the final innings of every game. Sure, Corbin and Greinke haven’t been excellent. But they’re probably be matched up against each other, so it kind of cancels out.
When the aces are on the mound, everything is off the table until the later innings. Houston has to run up the pitch count to force whichever Nats starter off the field. They can’t be hitting against relievers for just one or two innings every night. Even with Houston’s advantages, the Nationals offense is hot right now thanks to Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and somehow Howie Kendrick. Houston may not be as well set up as some think they are.
But, the Astros are the team better built to win late in games. They have the bullpen. They have the terrifying offense. And they have the experience.
Prediction: Astros in 7