The 115th edition of Major League Baseball’s World Series is upon us. This year’s series puts one of the dominant franchises of recent years, the Houston Astros, up against the resurgent Washington Nationals in the best-of-seven contest.
The Series isn’t new to the Astros, who took home the Commissioners Trophy two years ago when they outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games before their defence was ended by the eventual champion Boston Red Sox last year. They’re a playoff honed outfit with an outstanding group of talent born of a complete teardown and rebuild earlier in the decade. After losing 106, 107, and 111 games in 2011 to 2013, they’ve topped 100 wins in each of the past three seasons and beat a pair of AL East teams in the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees to claim the pennant.
It is new to the Nationals however, with the third edition of a DC-based MLB team appearing for the first time (the previous two franchises still exist as the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers). The current history traces back to the Montreal Expos, who began play in 1969 and never made it to the World Series while in Canada – albeit they had the best record in the league in 1994 when the players strike occurred leading to the cancellation of that years Series – and moved to the US capital in 2005. Saturday’s Game 3 will be the first World Series game in DC since the Senators lost the 1933 edition. After a slow start, in part attributed to the departure of ‘face of the franchise’ Bryce Harper on a mammoth free agent deal to Philadelphia in the offseason, had projections giving them just a 0.1% chance of even making the playoffs they rallied across the summer to make the wildcard game where they eliminated the Milwaukee Brewers in dramatic fashion. They then took down the favoured Dodgers before sweeping the St Louis Cardinals 4-0 in the League Championship. The “Ewing Theory” is in full effect.
Despite playing in the opposing leagues the two clubs aren’t unfamiliar with each other, since they share the same facility in Florida for their Spring Training camps.
So what to expect?
Pitching, pitching, pitching: Both sides possess dominant starting pitching, having finished the season 2-3 in starters earned run average (ERA), so early runs may be a premium. The Astros possess veterans Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, both former Cy Young award winners (Verlander has an MVP as well plus bragging rights being married to Kate Upton), while Gerrit Cole is a frontrunner for the award this year with his 300+ strikeouts and will get the ball for Game 1.
The Nationals have a multi-Cy Young winner of their own in Max Scherzer, the talented-but-sometimes erratic duo of Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, and veteran Anibal Sanchez. Where the respective staffs differ though is in the bullpen; the Astros’ 3.75 relief ERA paced them second in the majors while the Nationals’ ugly 5.68 number was better than only the woeful Baltimore Orioles.
What about the hitting? Make no mistake, both teams have plenty here too. The Astros core from 2017 – outfielder George Springer and infielders Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa – are still with the team, and this year have been joined by the latest jewel from their farm system in Cuban defector and designated hitter Yordan Alvarez who smacked 27 home runs in two-thirds of a season including this monster and is a lock for American League Rookie of the Year honours. They’re surrounded by a group of role-playing veterans, amongst whom former Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley was a shrewd addition.
The Nationals have their own group of stars, led by third baseman Anthony Rendon who led the majors in runs batted in (RBI) with 126. They also have young studs in speedy shortstop and leadoff man Trea Turner, and outfielders Victor Robles and Juan Soto; the former is just 22 while the latter only turns 21 on the date of Game 3 and coming off a season where he’s hit 34 home runs together with 110 RBI. Their seasoned contingent includes Howie Kendrick, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (the longest-tenured player on either squad) and two players with recent World Series experience in catcher Yan Gomes (2016 with Cleveland) and infielder Brian Dozier (last year with LA).
Who’s pulling the strings? Plenty of focus will go on the respective managers who’s every move will be guessed and second-guessed. The Astros’ A.J. Hinch knows what to expect, now in his fifth season in Houston and the former catcher is widely regarded as one of the best young analytically-driven managers in the game with his club heavy users of defensive shifts. He has however been more conservative this year with his line-up and preferring to make few moves.
In the Nationals dugout is Dave Martinez in just his second season as a manager. At 55 he’s 10 years older than his counterpart but spent 10 seasons as a coach, mainly on the staffs of Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay and Chicago and was the latter’s right-hand man for the Cubs’ historic curse-busting triumph in 2016. With 16 seasons as a player as well, predominantly as a platoon and fourth outfielder, he’s represents something of the ‘old school’ management guard and is considered a ‘players manager’. How he navigates the back end of games with his shaky bullpen will be of interest and could make or break his clubs’ chances.
My pick? I have the Astros in no more than six games, probably five. Outside of the starting rotations Houston have either superior talent or just simply more of it, and that should prove too much for Washington to overcome.
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