We have a proverbial David versus Goliath matchup set for this year’s World Series with the Washington Nationals huge underdogs against the Houston Astros. Of course, the Nationals are now used to being the underdog, having upset the Dodgers and Cardinals to get here. Can they do it a third time and hand the franchise it’s first World Series title or will the Astros establish themselves as a dynasty of sorts, winning their second Fall Classic in the last three years?
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- Date and Time: Game 1 slated for Tuesday, October 22, 2019 at 7:08 p.m. ET
- Location: Minute Maid Park and Nationals Park
- 2019 MLB Betting Odds at Betcris: Astros -235
- Nationals vs. Astros 2019 MLB TV Coverage: FOX
Gerrit Cole figures to get the ball in Game 1 for the Astros after he was slated to start Game 7 of the ALCS had the series gone that far. Instead, he’ll open the World Series with Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke the starters in the following games.
Those three are an elite trio of pitchers, all aces, and all able to completely shutdown the opposition. Cole and Verlander have done that here in October, Greinke has not. The former Arizona hurler was 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts after being traded in a Blockbuster on July 31. He’s an excellent regular season arm with Hall-of-Fame level numbers, but his postseason career has been inconsistent at best. This year, he’s pitched to a 6.43 ERA with a 0-2 record. That’ll need to be better in the Fall Classic.
As for Cole and Verlander, those are the two top candidates for AL Cy Young Award after both put up huge seasons. Verlander edged out Cole in wins, K:BB, and WHIP. Cole has the most strikeouts, best FIP and lowest ERA.
On the year, Verlander was 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA and 0.803 WHIP in 223 innings. Cole was 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA and 0.895 WHIP in 212.1 innings of work. In October, Cole has been nearly unhittable with 32 strikeouts and just 10 hits allowed in 22.2 innings. He’s pitched to a 0.40 ERA, allowing just one run.
Verlander hasn’t been as good and has taken a few losses. He lost Game 5 of the ALCS and gave up four runs in the first, but then shutdown the Yankees from there to save the pen.
Overall, Verlander still has a 3.70 ERA this October to go along with a strong playoff pedigree.
Washington should match up reasonably well with Houston’s big three with three top-tier arms of their own.
Their No.3 option, Patrick Corbin, was a regular season All-Star, but like Greinke—his former Arizona teammate—he’s struggled in October. He’s pitching in the rotation and out of the pen in the playoffs with some good and some bad outings. Overall, he’s got a 7.43 ERA, with a 1-2 record in just 13.1 innings. He’s walked 10 in that time though he’s also struck out 26.
During the season, Corbin was 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.183 WHIP. Walks can be an issue from time-to-time.
Like Cole and Verlander for Houston, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg steal the show.
Scherzer is Washington’s Verlander. He’s an established ace and big game pitcher. He’s also a former Tiger. The right-hander was 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA and 1.027 WHIP in an injury plagued season. He was iffy down the stretch but has pitched well in October and is a proven performer.
Strasburg, meanwhile, is quickly carving a name for himself as a postseason superstar. He’s got a 1.10 ERA in seven career postseason games and this year has won all three of his starts with 33 strikeouts and just one walks in 22 innings of work. He’s allowed five runs—four earned—in that time for a 1.64 ERA.
When it comes to the fourth starter, the Nationals have the edge. Anibal Sanchez has made two playoff starts and pitched brilliantly in both, with one run and five hits allowed through 12.2 innings. He’s struck out 14 and walked three in that time.
In the regular season, Sanchez was 11-8 with a 3.85 ERA. He doesn’t go deep in games but offers six quality innings. That’s more than Houston has in Game 4.
Wade Miley was the No.4 starter in the MLB regular season, but he was terrible down the stretch. Jose Urquidy is an option as a fourth starter, but the Astros avoided using a fourth starter in the division series and went with a bullpen game in the ALCS, using Brad Peacock as the opener and turning to Urquidy for 2.2 innings mid-game.
This is the key difference between the teams. While Washington potentially has a slight advantage over Houston in the rotation by virtue of a true No.4 starter, that edge is lost and then some in the bullpen.
Houston’s pen is stacked with great arms. Both Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly were All-Stars. While Pressly slumped down the stretch and hasn’t been great in the playoffs, he’s still got an electric arm.
Even without Pressly able to go in big spots, Houston has a slew of other options to set up for Osuna in the ninth. Josh James, Will Harris, and Joe Smith have been three of the most successful here in October.
Add in Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock and Hector Rondon and Houston has plenty of options, giving A.J. Hinch the opportunity to use guys in a position where they’re poised to succeed.
Dave Martinez doesn’t have the luxury. We’ve already seen him use Strasburg and Scherzer in relief. Corbin has come out of the pen on three occasions. That’s because he doesn’t have many reliable relievers.
It’s a similar strategy that Houston took in 2017 and Boston took last year. Both won the World Series doing that, but Washington is in a worse position than both with only two bullpen pieces that can be counted on.
Sean Doolittle was the lone quality reliever most of the year, but even he went through a rough patch in August but was good in September and now in October. He’s a strong option along with Daniel Hudson. Both can close out the game or pitch in a matchup inning in the eighth but getting there is an issue if the starters cannot go seven.
Tanner Rainey and Fernando Rodney are the next most reliable options, but neither can truly be counted on with the game on the line. The only other two relievers to see time this October are Hunter Strickland and Wander Suero who combined to allow five runs in 2.1 innings, not great numbers.
Both teams can rake. They each led their respective leagues in second half runs scored and team OPS. Houston was first overall, though pitchers hitting plays a role there.
In terms of overall numbers, Houston still seems a bit deeper offensively. They had four 30-home run bats and a whole lot more having hit at least 20, including Yordan Alverez who mashed 27 in just 87 games played.
Top to bottom, this Houston lineup provides quality at bats and a great deal of power though some of their key hitters have slumped in October including Alvarez. Carlos Correa is hitting just .171 and George Springer has a .152 average with 15 strikeouts in 46 October at bats leading off.
Despite that, Houston is getting hits when they need them. Correa himself has two monster home runs and six RBIs. Yuli Gurriel has a .541 postseason OPS, but has eight RBI, getting key hits in key situations.
The only Astros hitters swinging well are Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, but that’s been enough though it helps Altuve has five homers in 11 games and a 1.184 OPS.
As for the Nationals, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto are the key hitters, but the team has several professional at bats up and down the order, too, with Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick in particular. Kendrick, after all, was the NLCS MVP.
Washington cannot quite match Houston in terms of power. They have some, of course, but they’ve also been able to generate runs. They have some speed and a nice blend of hitters offering the pitchers different styles to contend.
Here in October, Washington has out hit Houston overall though their .697 OPS isn’t exactly great, but it’s better than Houston’s .645, .
World Series Odds Analysis and Recent Trends
Recent trends have both teams playing well. That’s why they’ve gotten to the World Series, but one has a week-long break before the World Series while the other clinched on Saturday and gets to turn around and play again on Tuesday.
Interestingly, it was Washington that clinched early. They’ve been one of the elite teams in the game since a 19-31 start to the season. While the win total is a far cry from Houston’s, the two teams have been much closer since mid-May.
In any case, Washington took care of St. Louis in quick order, giving them a full week with no games. Even though Dave Martinez has his team practicing and working out, it’s not the same as playing playoff games.
Now, the rest could help the pitchers since Washington leans heavily on a few arms, but the rust on the hitters is worth noting. It’s not often you see a team sweep the Championship Series and go on to win the World Series.
Look for the long layoff to impact the Nationals who have been riding crazy momentum to this point in October. They’ve seemingly been a team of destiny to this point, but the layoff offers a real challenge.
Beyond that, Washington matches up with Houston in the rotation and even offensively where they’ve out hit the Astros during the postseason. That said, Washington is lacking depth in the bullpen which hasn’t come into play during the Nationals’ five-game NLDS series or during a sweep of the NLCS, but during a longer series, look for it to play a role.
The starting pitching should offer some fun pitching duels in this series and Washington should be able to steal a game or two but look for the bullpens to be the difference with Houston wining a few key games late like they did to walk off the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS. Houston should win this one. They’re heavy favorites for good reason, don’t count on an upset.
World Series Pick: The Nationals did well to get this far, but the bullpen leaves them coming up just short in the Fall Classic.
World Series Prediction: Astros in Six