Houston Astros vs Washington Nationals.
The 2019 Houston Astros are a force to be reckoned with. Built with power hitters, nasty pitchers, and team that went into the year as the heavy favorites to end up in the Fall Classic, they proved the predictions right and here we are at the World Series with Houston having home field advantage against the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals came into the series as the underdog of MLB but the alpha of the National League… so, what will it take for Houston to send the Nationals packing back to DC? What strengths and weaknesses do the Astros have?
The Houston lineup will have its work cut out for them facing the monster core four that is the Nationals starters; Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Anibal Sanchez. But, with hitters like George Springer and Jose Altuve in their starting lineup, the odds tend to look up for Houston. When you couple their hitters with their terrifyingly good pitchers Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, both of whom are the top contenders for this year’s American League Cy Young Award, the Astros looked to be unconquerable.
However, the Astros have their weaknesses. Houston ranks 26th in the Majors for their baserunning. While they have not necessarily been the best with their baserunning even in the past, the World Series is the place where all the small things count and can win games. The Astros don’t steal too many bases, and even when they attempt to they have below league average success. They rank last in percentage of extra bases taken according to Baseball Reference. You don’t often see the lack of extra bases taken affect their games since the Astros are usually mashing homers every which way, but extra bases could make or break a series, especially in a pitcher’s duel where small ball rules the diamond and men on base are few and far between.
The Houston hitters also have another slight weakness. According to MLB, Astros hitters hit .277 with a .499 slugging percentage against every pitch save for above average fastballs. As a team they are hitting just .238 with a .442 slugging percentage against fastballs that are 95mph or higher. The Nationals will have to attack each hitter differently, but there are small weaknesses in an otherwise airtight lineup. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve was 0 for 8 and had two strikeouts on high velocity fastballs on the outer plate this season. Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Yuli Gurriel also struggled against high velo fastballs.
As for strengths of the Astros… well, they are a strength. Astro Carlos Correa even said that they are the apex predator of the American League. With Verlander, Cole, Greinke set to start games, their rotation is covered well. One may have wondered just how that rotation would have held up without the trade deadline acquisition of Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Having started the season without Dallas Keuchel (now with the Atlanta Braves) and Charlie Morton (now with the Tampa Bay Rays), it was fair to wonder just how far having two aces would go. But even with all that wondering, no one could have predicted the monster years that Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are having.
Gerrit Cole went into game 1 of the World Series having not taken a loss since May 22, 2019. His 14 game winning streak came to an end as he gave up 5 runs over the course of 7 innings. Cole was synonymous with winning over the regular season and has otherwise been spectacular through the postseason. He allowed 1 run over 22 ⅔ innings through his first three postseason starts, giving him a 0.40 ERA. Over his 33 starts and 212.1 innings pitched in the regular season he put up a 2.50 ERA. He lead the American League with 326 strikeouts.
Justin Verlander has five 2019 post season starts under his belt so far. He went into the postseason after a phenomenal 2019 regular season. Verlander started 34 games in the regular season, finishing with a 2.58 ERA after 223 innings pitched and 300 strikeouts. He also hit the 3000 career strikeouts milestone this season.
Mixing Cole and Verlander, along with Greinke, with the powerful, young gun lineup Houston has created is a deadly combination for many teams. There’s no wonder why we’re seeing them in their second World Series appearance in three years. They lead all of baseball in the regular season with 645 walks, batting average (.274), on base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.495), and OPS+ (.848).
So, will the Nationals be able to complete their Cinderella story and defeat their biggest foe of the season? Or will the start of a dynasty in Houston complete their season by clinching the Fall Classic once again. One thing is for certain, it will be a battle we won’t see again for quite some time.