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Astros starting pitching should give them edge over Nationals in World Series

In a matchup not many saw coming, Steve Buchanan examine how the Astros and Nationals look heading into the World Series.

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Okay class, by a show of hands, who had the Astros and Nationals meeting in the World Series?

Great, now put your hands down because none of you did.

In a shocking turn of events, the Nationals, who once upon a time were 19-31 at the end of May, swept the Cardinals in the NLCS to make it to the big dance. The Astros, who many felt were destined in the American League, are here as well. Let’s take a look at how these teams match up in the final series of the 2019 season.

Washington Nationals

Before a pitch is thrown, the Nationals enter this series as underdogs at +192, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. This is the second time the Nationals have been underdogs in a series, as they were also +192 against the Dodgers. Over the course of the year, the Nationals were underdogs 54 times and came away with a 27-27 record. While you certainly don’t want to be in a position to be an underdog, the Nationals made the best of it.

The starting rotation is the strength and core of this Nationals team. While they haven’t announced the rotation, the Astros will be seeing the likes of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez. After a rough end to the season, Scherzer has come back around and has thrown a combined 20 innings allowing four runs on nine hits while striking out 27. Overall, the Nationals pitching staff has combined for a 2.90 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. If they’re going to contend against the likes of Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, they’ll need to keep that newfound dominant pitching trend alive.

The Nationals bullpen was the biggest question mark coming into the playoffs. At the end of the regular season, they had the second-highest ERA at 5.68, the third-highest WHIP at 1.48 and the sixth-highest HR/9 at 1.55. Thanks to their starting rotation, the Nats haven’t had to dive deep into those relievers and have relied upon Tanner Rainey, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson to close out the final few innings of the game. If the Astros can knock out the Nationals starters earlier, it could expose a weakness that has not shown its ugly face yet.

The offense has been the unsung hero of these playoffs because of how good they’ve been in a particular scenario. With runners in scoring position, the Nationals are batting .393. On the other hand, the Astros are hitting .121 in the same scenario. Anthony Rendon comes into this series batting .375/.465/.594. His OBP is the highest on the team while his seven RBI are tied for the team lead with Juan Soto. Rendon is a free agent this offseason is looking to make his mark before hitting free agency at the conclusion of the series.

Houston Astros

The Astros have been favored all throughout the playoffs and will do so once again. The DraftKings Sportsbook currently has them as -235 favorites. The Astros were daily game favorites the majority of the regular and postseason and found considerable success in the role. They were 111-54 when favored, good for a 67.3% win rate. Only the Yankees had a slightly higher percentage with a 94-43 record when favored, good for 68.6%. If we stretch this even further, as home favorites, the Astros were top of the league with a 64-22 record, good for 74.4%. The Yankees were next at 53-21, which was a 71.6% record.

Anytime you have to face Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole twice in a series, you can’t feel great about your chances. Unlike in the Cardinals series, the Nationals will see the Astros best pitcher in Cole in Game 1. The Cardinals weren’t able to run out Jack Flaherty until Game 3 of the NLCS. Cole, as you can imagine, has been lights out these playoffs, allowing just one run through 22 2/3 innings while striking out 32. Verlander has been more of a mixed bag but still has gone 24 1/3 innings allowing 10 runs while striking out 29. Home runs continue to haunt them as they did during the regular season, allowing five through four starts. It’s crucial for these guys to grab the first two wins, as Zack Greinke and the bullpen have been very inconsistent for the games these guys aren’t starting.

Unlike the Nationals, the Astros offense has not been great. Despite knocking out the Yankees, they did so by batting .179/.281/.318. What saved them was the eight home runs they hit, two of which ended a game. While they can get away with it at times with their pitching, the Nationals can easily match with their rotation, something the Yankees could not.

Jost Altuve, has in essence, been the Astros offense. Slashing .349/.417/.767, he has five of their 14 home runs and eight RBI. Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa have the bulk of the RBI after Altuve, combining for 14. Both players, however, have been struggling at the plate aside from that. This series easily screams a lot of one or two-run wins with how these teams match up.

In the end, I think the Astros end up taking this series down. I think it’ll be a lot closer than the odds suggesting but this series could easily go seven games and I think it would. At least from a fan’s perspective, the thought of a Scherzer/Verlander or Strasburg/Cole Game 7 would be one of the best matchups we’ve seen in years. Unfortunately, for Nationals fans, I think it’s Astros in seven.