Ready for the World Series? A somewhat unexpected matchup between the Astros and Nationals begins Tuesday night. Washington is chasing its first title since coming to town in 2005 while Houston seeks a second championship in three seasons.
Who has the edge? Let's look at three questions that will decide the series.
Can the Nationals steal a road win?
Don’t expect much bullpenning out of Washington or Houston in this series. We’ll be turning back the clock in this one, with battles of multiple aces likely swinging the series. The Astros wield AL Cy Young favorites Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. The Nationals counter with Stephen Strasburg, who's allowed four runs in 22 innings this October, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin. It’s a testament to the Nats' starting depth that $140 million man Corbin is relegated to the undercard. The mixing and matching of ALCS Game 6 is unlikely to be replicated, though Houston would be better suited to manufacture extended outs in a pinch.
Washington’s best chance to snag a road game is likely to come in Game 2. Defeating Cole feels like a pipe dream, while Verlander’s struggles have put a minor dent in the dominant duo. The 36-year-old has remained prone to the home run in the postseason, allowing five dingers in his last three starts. Verlander allowed three first-inning runs to Tampa in Game 4 of the ALDS. New York pounced for four runs in the first inning of ALCS Game 5. Washington’s best chance to score in Houston could be at the start of Game 2. Otherwise, an 0–2 hole may await.
Will the Astros' Rookie Phenom Get Going?
The Astros' lineup is a true gauntlet, with few places to hide for an opposing pitcher. The first four is downright frightening with George Springer, Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Carlos Correa hit sixth in Game 6 on Saturday. Navigating the first two-thirds of the lineup unscathed is a minor miracle.
In the bottom third of the order, Yordan Alvarez is the most likely candidate to bust the series open, though his ALCS was a true nightmare. The 22-year-old slugger registered one hit in 24 plate appearances, striking out 12 times. Alvarez looked completely overmatched. The effort was a shocking reversal from his regular season dominance.
Yet one swing could turn Alvarez’s fortunes. The 6’5” lefty swatted 27 homers in 87 games this season, and his 1.067 OPS trailed only Mike Trout in the American League. Alvarez could lead the AL in homers one year and walks the next. He was lost at the plate against New York, but the talent is there. A new series could bring Alvarez’ bat back to life.
Can Washington's Bullpen Stay Afloat?
Washington entered October with the worst bullpen of any playoff team in history (via ERA), but the Nationals held up just fine against the Cardinals. The quartet of Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey and Fernando Rodney allowed just one run in 10 innings, and their arms will be plenty fresh coming off a sweep. Doolittle’s performance is encouraging, and Washington shouldn't be sweating bullets in a save situation. But the prior innings could be terrifying. Rodney posted a 5.66 ERA in 2019, his 17th season. Rainey didn’t log a postseason inning prior to 2019. With such a shaky pen, the Nationals’ path to a title is clear: Ride the starting pitchers.