Astros-Nationals World Series Preview

Justin Verlander and the Astros are on a mission to win this year’s World Series. Photo Courtesy: KA Sports Photos

By Wiley Singleton

The Houston Astros have returned to the World Series and will be taking on the Washington Nationals. Both teams were carried by exceptional starting pitching. Both teams have powerful, deep lineups. Here are my thoughts…

How the Houston Astros got there
The Astros had a close series with the Rays in the opening round. The Rays forced a Game 5 after going down 2-0. The Astros were able to dominate the Rays again once they returned home to Minute Maid Park. The Astros are very good on the road, but nearly unbeatable at home. This fact would not go unnoticed by the New York Yankees, their Championship Series opponent. After hearing whistling coming from the Astros dugout in Game 1, the Yankees complained to MLB, saying the whistling was beyond the pale. The Yankees were worried about the Astros abusing some nefarious means to steal signs, especially after ALDS Game 5 where Rays starter Tyler Glasnow was shelled and was obviously tipping pitches. The MLB concluded there was no foul play.

The Yankees complained about Game 1 even though they won 7-0. This falls in line perfectly with the behavior of the Yankees throughout the year. They cried incessantly, bloviated and kvetched though the entire season. The face of this behavior was 36-year-old Brett Gardner. Gardner, had his fading career reinvigorated by blatantly juiced baseballs. He is well known for his childish tantrums in the dugout, where he can be seen smashing his bat over and over into the roof of the dugout while his skipper angrily chews and glares at the offending umpire. Gardner should be happy Jacoby Ellsbury was such a laughable failure, if not for Ellsbury’s constant injuries, Brett might not have even been resigned.

Manager Aaron Boone’s most famous moment of this season occurred when Brett Gardner was mid-meltdown and he was verbally chastising an umpire. After the ump ejected Boone, he went out to the field and berated the ump.

“My guys are f*cking savages in that f*cking box,” Boone proclaimed proudly. Boone’s “savages” were laughed out of the ALCS by superior Astros pitching and even the biggest name sluggers did nothing. Gary Sanchez struggled profoundly, striking out constantly and booting balls left and right behind the plate. Sanchez has received heaps of praise for getting his passed ball numbers below the teens, but was a laughingstock this series. He made Mike Piazza look like a gold glover. Piazza actually hit in the playoffs, Sanchez did not. Didi Gregorius basically did not show up. Edwin Encarnacion was terrible, and even got benched at one point, came back after the benching and struck out some more. Giancarlo Stanton, who still has nearly a decade left on his contract, is proving to be one of the most injury-prone, soft players in the league. Stanton did nothing this series, just like he did nothing all season. Adam Ottovino was awful in this series. He served up hangers all day. Which is also what Aroldis Chapman did to blow the deciding Game 6. As the Yankees now have gone a decade straight without a pennant, the front office might ask themselves if letting an extra year on a deal sour them on signing someone is really prudent. This is what happened with Patrick Corbin. The Yanks badly needed the starting pitching help, and let an insignificant amount of money prevent them from signing Corbin. The Yankee’s framed their frugal approach as some sort of next level analytics maneuver, like they knew exactly how much Corbin was worth down to the penny, and they were on the cutting edge of analytics for not paying him. This frugal approach framed as intellectualism would have sickened George Steinbrenner if he were alive today. The Yankees have become a team content to beat up on the Orioles and Blue Jays. A team that knows it does not have the starters to truly compete for a World Series, and passes off its weakness under the guise of an analytic mindset. Texas teams have won 4 pennants since the turn of the decade. The Yanks have won none.

How the Washington Nationals got there
The Nationals took advantage of Bullpen Master Dave Roberts and playoff choker Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is well over the hill and the final years of his contract are going to get ugly. The Dodgers badly missed the fiery Yasiel Puig in this series. AJ Pollack was a huge waste of money. Cody Bellinger is turning out to be a playoff choker. The Nationals used their superior starting pitching to take down the National League favorites. Juan Soto is a young star and should be feared. After the NLCS the Nats embarrassed the Cardinals, sweeping them aside with brilliant pitching. The Cardinals did not really have the pitching to compete, and were in the playoffs due to the Chicago Cubs choking.

How they stack up
Both of these teams have exceptional starting rotations. This is what post season baseball is all about. The pitching matchups will be incredible. The likely opening matchups will be:
Mad Max Scherzer vs Gerrit Cole
Stephen Strasburg vs Justin Verlander
Patrick Corbin vs Zack Greinke

No corny openers. No weak 3rd starters. This is exactly what two playoff level teams should look like rotation wise. The teams are at even strength when it comes to starters.

The Astros have a huge advantage when it comes to bullpen. Roberto Osuna, Chris Devenski, Will Harris, and Ryan Pressly are all very good options. The Astros lack lefties, that is their one weakness. The Nationals bullpen is not good. Frankly, it says a lot about the starters that they were able to carry this notoriously volatile unit. Fernando Rodney, Hunter Strickland, and Sean Doolittle are the biggest arms in the pen. The Nationals will likely need to bring in a starter like Mad Max in relief at some point. They did this in the NLDS to great effect. The Astros have a huge edge in the bullpen.

Both offenses are very potent. The Astros offense from top to bottom is fiercer. They boast one of the best infields in baseball with great defense to boot. The Nationals lineup is more top heavy, relying on Juan Soto and Hector Rendon rather heavily. The Astros are stacked 1-9, and definitely get the offensive edge.

The games will be incredibly fun to watch because of the exceptional pitching. The starters of the Nats should be able to hold the Astros in check long enough to keep the games close. Frequently in this year’s playoffs if a starter gets into trouble the manager will have a very short leash with him. This is not the case for the Nationals, who will need to ride their starters hard, even if they look shaky, to win. The Nationals do not have the bullpen depth vanquish the AL terror Astros.

Astros win in 6

Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
Game 1   10/22   Washington Nationals vs Houston Astros   7:08 p.m.
Game 2   10/23   Washington Nationals vs Houston Astros   7:07 p.m.
Game 3   10/25   Houston Astros vs Washington Nationals   7:07 p.m.
Gane 4    10/26   Houston Astros vs Washington Nationals   7:07 p.m.
Game 5* 10/27   Houston Astros vs Washington Nationals   7:07 p.m.
Game 6* 10/29   Washington Nationals vs Houston Astros   7:07 p.m.
Game 7* 10/30   Washington Nationals vs Houston Astros   7:08 p.m.

* If necessary