After what’s been an adventurous season, the Washington Nationals are meeting the Houston Astros (who just defeated the Yankees 4–2 in the ALCS) in the World Series.
Even aside from the stakes, this season will feature some extremely intriguing matchups. Washington has two bonafide ace pitchers, while Houston has the likely top two candidates for the AL Cy Young award. Each team has one of the less-heralded star third basemen (click the link if you need to be convinced) in the league, a young phenom slugger, an All-World shortstop — the list goes on.
Let’s take a deeper look.
Not all of this is official. The Astros have announced their top three starters, but are a bit noncommittal on the fourth. The Nationals, on the other hand, have only announced their Game One and Two starters. Nonetheless, here’s who to expect for each team’s first pitch:
- Game One: Max Scherzer vs. Gerrit Cole
- Game Two: Stephen Strasburg vs. Justin Verlander
- Game Three: Patrick Corbin vs. Zack Greinke
- Game Four: Anibal Sanchez vs. Brad Peacock (maybe)
I have a hard time imagining Corbin doesn’t get the first home game. Sanchez has had a marginally better postseason, but which of them is better can’t reasonably be disputed. However, I could see a scenario in which Corbin pitches in relief in Game One — thus pushing his start to Game Four.
Game Four for the Astros is essentially anyone’s guess. It could be Peacock, it could be Jose Urquidy, or it could be neither. One thing seems relatively certain: whoever it is won’t stay on the mound for long.
Here are regular season and postseason statistics for the players who absolutely will start in this series:
- Max Scherzer: 11-7, 2.92 ERA, 27 starts, 172.1 innings, 243 strikeouts; 2-0, 1.80 ERA, 4 games (3 starts), 20 innings, 27 strikeouts
- Stephen Strasburg: 18-6, 3.32 ERA, 33 starts, 209 innings, 251 strikeouts; 3-0, 1.64 ERA, 4 games (3 starts), 22 innings, 33 strikeouts
- Strasburg had a 2.80 ERA excluding his two starts vs. the Diamondbacks, who caught him tipping pitches
- Patrick Corbin: 14-7, 3.25 ERA, 33 starts, 202 innings, 238 strikeouts; 1-2, 7.43 ERA, 5 games (2 starts), 13.1 innings, 26 strikeouts
- Corbin has a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 postseason innings excluding Game Three of the NLDS
- Anibal Sanchez: 11-8, 3.85 ERA, 30 starts, 166 innings, 134 strikeouts; 1-0, 0.71 ERA, 2 starts, 12.2 innings, 14 strikeouts
- Sanchez was 11-2 with a 3.42 ERA in 21 regular season starts following a stint on the injured list in May
- Gerrit Cole: 20-5, 2.50 ERA, 33 starts, 212.2 innings, 326 strikeouts; 3-0, 0.40 ERA, 3 starts, 22.2 innings, 32 strikeouts
- Justin Verlander: 21-6, 2.58 ERA, 34 starts, 223 innings, 300 strikeouts; 1-2, 3.70 ERA, 4 starts, 24.1 innings, 29 strikeouts
- Zack Greinke: 18-5, 2.93 ERA, 33 starts, 208.2 innings, 187 strikeouts; 0-2, 6.43 ERA, 3 starts, 14 innings, 16 strikeouts
Don’t take these starting pitching performances for granted — most teams’ rotations aren’t this good.
This becomes a bit nuanced, with games split between AL and NL ballparks. Since the first two games are in Houston, here’s what the designated hitter-included lineups should look like:
Nationals: SS Trea Turner, RF Adam Eaton, 3B Anthony Rendon, LF Juan Soto, DH Howie Kendrick, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, 2B Brian Dozier/Asdrubal Cabrera, C Kurt Suzuki, CF Victor Robles
I already know what you’re thinking: why consider Asdrubal Cabrera over Brian Dozier? Why wouldn’t you put the better defender in the field?
There’s a false narrative in Washington. Dozier has had the better glove in the past, and Cabrera has generally been abysmal. Neither of those statements have been true lately. Since joining the Nationals, Cabrera has a considerably higher DRS (defensive runs saved) and UZR (ultimate zone rating). On top of that, he has some experience at Minute Maid Park. He’s also a much better clutch hitter.
With that said, matchups will likely dictate who starts at second base. Cabrera has struggled against Cole, but thrived vs. Verlander — with Dozier’s production being essentially the opposite. Dozier could also be saved as a late-game sub in Game Two, which is arguably where he provides the most value to this roster anyway.
Astros: CF George Springer, 2B Jose Altuve, LF Michael Brantley, 3B Alex Bregman, 1B Yuli Gurriel, SS Carlos Correa, DH Yordan Alvarez, C Robinson Chirinos, RF Josh Reddick
Houston has shuffled its batting order a bit. Alvarez was batting fifth as recently as the start of the ALCS. But he is in the midst of an absolute tailspin at the plate, despite the remarkable rookie season he had. They should count their blessings, because Gurriel and Correa are more-than-proven options to boost to the middle-third of the lineup.
Unlike the Nationals, the Astros employ a platoon — specifically in the outfield. Reddick will start in right field against right-handed pitching, while speed-and-D wizard Jake Marisnick is their most common answer against lefties — he plays center field, bumping Springer to right.
The Nationals will eventually use their backup catcher (Yan Gomes), but the Astros likely won’t. Aledmys Diaz effectively serves as their Cabrera off the bench — it’ll be a closer comparison when the teams come to D.C. and the DH is dropped.
There’s a chance that Michael A. Taylor could come into play, similarly to Marisnick, but I wouldn’t count on it unless a very obvious pinch-runner or defensive-substitution scenario emerged.
What A.J. Hinch does with his lineup in Washington will be interesting, but that can be saved for later.
Who throws out the first pitch before Game Three is understandably a hot topic. After all, this is the Nationals’ first World Series appearance — and the first for the city in 86 years.
With all due respect to Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Frank Howard, Elena Delle Donne, and a whole slew of other candidates, I believe there are only three who should receive particularly strong consideration.
- Bradley Beal: The face (or at least interim face) of the Washington Wizards just signed a max extension to stay in the nation’s capital. This past season, he also became the first player in franchise history to average 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists.
- Jayson Werth: Then-young GM Mike Rizzo signed this caveman away from the Phillies ahead of the 2011 season. Werth was among the team’s best hitters of the mid-2010s, and — for the superstitious crowd — he has a World Series ring. Plus, you know he’d make it a cool event.
- Livan Hernandez: The post-Expos franchise’s Bartolo Colon and one of few bright spot in its early years. “Livo” pitched to a sub-4.00 ERA in 197 starts across seven seasons with Montreal and Washington. He threw a league-high 246.1 innings and made the All-Star team in the Nationals’ premiere season.
Every game of this series is scheduled to start at 8:07 or 8:08 p.m. Eastern and aired on Fox. If you aren’t looking forward to late-night Joe Buck, I apologize; just enjoy the intricacies of the game instead.