2019 World Series Preview: Houston Astros vs. Washington Nationals
When Jose Altuve sent Aroldis Chapman’s slider deep into the Houston night on Saturday, it did a number of things.
First, it set the stage for Houston to enter the “dynasty discussion” if they can win a second World Series title in three seasons.
Secondly, it showed the New York Yankees that, as dangerous as they’ve become over the last couple of seasons, spurred mainly by a new generation of homegrown talent, they’re still a step behind Houston in just about every category.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
And thirdly, and perhaps most critically for this audience, it continues to show a tantalizing roadmap for the Orioles, led by former Astros exec Mike Elias, to follow. Remember that of all these young Astros, ALCS MVP Altuve is the old man at 29, and the guy who suffered through three straight 100-loss seasons during Houston’s self-induced demolition and rebuild, the model Baltimore is attempting to follow now.
The Astros already had Altuve when they started this journey. Do the Orioles have theirs? That could, in the end, be the big question in all of this. Because as Astros president Nolan Ryan noted after Saturday night’s game, it’s made all the difference.
“This was a great series, and unbelievable series, but the only difference, is that we have Jose Altuve,” said Ryan, the club’s president since 2013.
“The Yankees didn’t.
“It’s that simple.”
Meanwhile, we should not forget that the playoffs are not over. As much as AL fans and television executives would like to believe that Astros-Yankees was the “real” World Series, it was not. In fact there remains a quite formidable team that has been sitting around and waiting to see who they would play – the Washington Nationals. Remember them?
The Nats are not only good, they are just as driven as the Astros, motivated to make good on the franchise’s first ever trip to the World Series (sorry Mariners, you’re the only one left, now), and perhaps even to teach Bryce Harper a little bit of a lesson.
Can they do it? Of course. Will they, though, is another question.
When you look at these teams on paper, it’s not much of a contest. The Astros won 107 games in 2019, the most in the majors and a whopping 14 more than Washington. Of course the Dodgers won 106 and the Nats dispatched with them. We won’t dig too deep into the Dodgers’ flaws as it doesn’t fit our purpose here. The Dodgers’ regular season numbers were similar to Houston’s – they both led MLB with a 1.7 run differential, they both were in the top 5 in runs scored, both in the top three in runs allowed. The big difference is that the Dodgers, who actually hit slightly better than Houston in the playoffs, didn’t come up big in their decisive Game 5. The Dodgers weren’t clutch, while the Astros had, you know, Altuve.
But when you drill down deeper, the Astros and Nats don’t actually look that much different from each other. They started the season much different – Houston got off to a hot start and stayed great all year long, while Washington really struggled out of the gate. But once the Nats found their groove, they were as dangerous as any team in baseball.
Just look at their records after the first two months of the season: From June 1 on, the Astros were 69-35, the Nationals were 69-36. That’s a dead heat folks. Now the Astros scored far more runs (462-433) and allowed far fewer (273-313) in the second half, but whether or not you won all those games 7-4, or 6-4, it really doesn’t matter in the long run.
In the postseason, the Nats appear to have the edge in pitching. In 10 games, Washington pitchers have a 2.90 ERA and are allowing .186 batting average against. In 11 games, the Astros are at 3.49 and .223, respectively. Some of that difference can be chalked up to the differences in leagues, and the fact pitchers have to hit in the NL. Still, it seems a notable difference.
At the plate, the Nats actually have a slightly better OPS (.697-.645), though it’s surprisingly low for both teams. The Astros have hit far more homers, however (14-8). Again, some of this can be chalked up to the different leagues, but not all of it, and it should be noted that the Astros’ offense has been THE superior offense in baseball all season long.
One thing that really excites me about this World Series matchup is the starting pitching. We just don’t see marquee pitching matchups like this nearly as often anymore, so this will be sort of a welcome throwback of sorts, in my opinion, even if these big horses might not have the same kind of lee-way as aces of not-so-long ago.
Check out these probable starting pitching matchups:
Game 1: Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer.
Game 2: Justin Verlander vs. Stephen Strasburg.
Game 3: Zack Greinke vs. Patrick Corbin
By the way, some random trivia: Houston’s Verlander, and Washington’s Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez all got starts in the 2012 World Series for the Detroit Tigers. Verlander (Game 1) and Sanchez (Game 3) took losses, while Scherzer (Game 4) took a no-decision as the San Francisco Giants swept to the championship.
This hits me with two thoughts: (1) It’s a small world, and (2) what the heck happened to the Tigers?
Anyway, with great starting pitching that’s probably close to a wash, and solid offenses that probably give the Astros an edge, things could come down to the bullpens. This is an area that has been considered perhaps Houston’s lone weakness over the last couple of years. But when you look at things, it might not be a big edge for Washington.
In this postseason, batters are hitting just .222 against the Nats’ bullpen, compared to .264 against the Astros’ relievers. But in the most important category, runs allowed, Houston gets an edge, having allowed 16 earned runs in 35.1 innings (4.08 ERA), while the Nats have allowed 15 earned runs in 28.1 innings (4.76 ERA). Pretty close, but still another slight edge for Houston.
While these teams look to be a much closer match than the sportsbooks seem to think, I’m still going to stick with the team I’ve liked all season, the same team I’ve picked each step of the way in these playoffs – the Houston Astros.
The Astros have the best offense in baseball and the best pitching in baseball. They also have the experience of having won a World Series just two years ago. So while the Nationals are game, and won’t go down easily, they’ll come up short in the end. Astros in 6.
Bob Harkins is a former editor and writer for Time Warner Cable Sports in Los Angeles, where he helped cover the Dodgers and Lakers. Prior to that, he was a senior editor and writer for NBCSports.com, leading the site’s coverage of Major League Baseball for nine seasons. He always believed that Major League catcher was the toughest job in sports -- until he wrote a series on professional rodeo cowboys. Talk about tough!
Co-Host of The Warehouse: