Washington Nationals Bring a 2–0 Lead Back to D.C.

The Houston Astros entered the World Series with home-field advantage. If you haven’t watched the series (shame on you), you probably wouldn’t know that, as the road team has dominated most of the action through two games.

Now, the overwhelming underdogs (according to Las Vegas) lose what should have been their most noticeable disadvantage.

So how did we get into this situation?

Game One

Aside from a Trea Turner single and stolen base, the Nationals started the game cold Max Scherzer included. After Gerrit Cole tossed a shutout top of the first inning, Washington’s ace allowed the first two Astros to reach base, threw a wild pitch, and allowed George Springer and Jose Altuve to score on a double by Yuli Gurriel.

Then the game changed drastically. Ryan Zimmerman hit a solo home run (in his first World Series at bat) in the top of the second, Juan Soto matched him with a moonshot to left-center in the fourth frame, Adam Eaton hit an RBI single in the fifth, and Soto clubbed a two-run double to the opposite field what else is new later in the inning, giving the Nationals a 52 lead on the seemingly flustered Cole.

Scherzer was pushed on the mound himself he consistently averaged 20-plus pitches per inning all night and was forced out of the game after five innings, although he saved his best (his lone one-two-three frame) for last.

Cole settled down, managing to get through the seventh, but he still trailed 52 until Springer grabbed the bull by the horns. The leadoff-hitting slugger crushed an inside fastball from Tanner Rainey over the wall in left-center. Then in the eighth, he floated a fly ball the other way just off the glove of Eaton in right field for another run off Daniel Hudson, driving in pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker.

Up by a run, Hudson retired Altuve, after which Dave Martinez went for the lefty-lefty matchup. Sean Doolittle set down Michael Brantley to end the inning, and then got the better of Alex Bregman, Gurriel, and Carlos Correa to close a four-out save his first since July 20 (which was actually of the five-out variety).

Game Two

All told, Wednesday’s game was very much a sequel early. Although three straight hits to start the game gave the Nationals two runs against Justin Verlander, the Astros returned the favor with a pair just like they did on Tuesday.

The pitchers took over for most of the rest of the night. Again, pitch count became an issue for Washington, causing Stephen Strasburg to exit the game after six innings (with 114 pitches on his ledger).

Verlander got into the top of the seventh, but perhaps he shouldn’t have. Kurt Suzuki hit a leadoff homer, then Victor Robles drew a walk, and that was all she wrote for Justin. Two walks, a sac bunt, and three single later, the Nationals found themselves ahead 82.

It didn’t end there. Eaton hit a two-run bomb, and Asdrubal Cabrera poked a ball into shallow right-center to drive in Soto.

Michael A. Taylor and Martin Maldonado traded long balls in the ninth inning, but the Nationals picked up a resounding 123 victory. Equally important, they didn’t use Doolittle or Hudson, and Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey the next two relievers in line threw a stingy frame apiece.

With that, the series shifts to the nation’s capital. Here’s what’s on tap:

Starting Pitchers

Not every starter is known yet, but assumptions can be made.

Game Three: Zack Greinke vs. Anibal Sanchez

Game Four: Brad Peacock* vs. Patrick Corbin

Game Five*: Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer

Greinke is the better pitcher in the upcoming game and possibly the following game but his postseason hasn’t supported that claim. Despite posting yet another sub-3.00 ERA this regular season, his postseason mark is more than double that (6.43).

On the reverse side, Anibal Sanchez has trimmed over three runs off his already-respectable ERA this October from 3.85 to 0.71. While Martinez was already comfortable with him, Sanchez has more than backed up the argument that Washington’s big three in the rotation is actually a big four.

The rationale for Patrick Corbin starting Game Four instead of Game Three cuts both ways: he’s in this position because he was needed out of the bullpen in the opener, but he could be used out of the bullpen because of Sanchez. Speaking of the bullpen, we could be seeing a lot of Houston’s on Saturday. Even if Peacock starts (which isn’t a certainty), he won’t stay in the game for long.

If the Astros push the series to five games, Cole will get a chance to redeem himself against Scherzer. But if Game Four becomes a do-or-die situation, he and possibly both of these two will pitch then instead.

Lineups

The designated hitter-less world is new territory for the Astros, but alas…

Astros: (CF/RF/CF) George Springer, 2B Jose Altuve, (RF/LF/RF) Michael Brantley, 3B Alex Bregman, 1B Yuli Gurriel, (LF Yordan Alvarez/SS Carlos Correa/Alvarez), (SS Correa/C Martin Maldonado/Correa), (C Robinson Chirinos/CF Jake Marisnick/Maldonado), Pitcher

I know, this looks funky. But there’s really no way around it. Yordan Alvarez is barely good enough defensively to play left field, and he’s yet to play any other position. Now that the lineup is condensed by a spot, he’ll also get subbed out against a left-handed starter in favor of Marisnick, their best defender in the outfield. Peacock and Cole also prefer to throw to Martin Maldonado instead of Robinson Chirinos.

Nationals: SS Trea Turner, RF Adam Eaton, 3B Anthony Rendon, LF Juan Soto, 2B Howie Kendrick, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, (C Kurt Suzuki/CF Victor Robles/Suzuki), (CF Robles/C Yan Gomes/Robles), Pitcher

Don’t expect Martinez to do anything fancy. Even after Taylor hit a home run in his lone at bat late in Game Two, Robles will remain the starter. Taylor’s only role will be as a late-game substitute the same role Cabrera is returning to after serving as the second baseman in Houston, with Howie Kendrick at DH. Suzuki will catch Sanchez and (hypothetically) Scherzer, with Yan Gomes behind the dish for Corbin.

First Pitch

This turned into a highly-debated topic, especially when the Nationals had a week off before the World Series began. Truthfully, there were a lot of good choices, but none made me jump out of my seat which is probably why it was so debatable.

As it turns out, Chad Cordero has been selected.

Cordero definitely isn’t a bad selection; it just isn’t what I was expecting. There’s a strong argument that he was better than any Washington closer since his departure which is a claim that Livan Hernandez and Jayson Werth can’t make. It’s also nice to see Brian Schneider included in the festivities.

Start times remain just after 8:00 p.m. for the duration of the series. Games will continue to be aired on ESPN, and local D.C. listeners can tune into 106.7 FM for the radio broadcast.

Just like in the NLCS, if the Nationals do their job and take two of these three home games, they won’t take home a championship they’ll win it at home. Surely, they wouldn’t prefer it any other way, but this also isn’t Houston’s first rodeo.

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