Photo via Erik Williams / USA TODAY Sports
And then…there were two. The Fall Classic is now set with the Washington Nationals from the National League facing off against the Houston Astros from the American League. For Washington, it is their first-ever World Series appearance, even dating back to their days as the Montreal Expos. For Houston, it is their second World Series in the past three seasons and they are looking to add to their jewelry collection by hoisting their second Commissioner’s Trophy in the past three seasons.
With both teams looking to win one final series of their illustrious seasons, here are the position-by-position matchups and who has the advantage in them.
Both teams are as stacked as they come in regard to this department. For the Nationals, they will be starting Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg for games one and two, respectively. Game three could go to Patrick Corbin or Anibal Sanchez, depending on how games one and two work out. For Houston, they counter with Gerrit Cole, followed by Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. These are two marquee trios from both squads. Statistically both give the team the necessary innings to go deep into games any game on any day or night. Going with the intangibles here might be more important, due to the fact that in Houston’s case they are led by Verlander who single-handedly propelled the Astros to the World Series two years prior. Experience and the veteran presence are key here, and it will show in Houston’s favor.
Both bullpens are headlined by well-known closers, with Houston trotting out Roberto Osuna and Washington bringing Sean Doolittle to the fray. Both pitchers have been solid, with Doolittle showing a little more consistency this postseason, sporting a 2.45 postseason ERA currently, whereas Osuna’s is 3.52, with a chief factor behind that being the blown save he committed in game six. Middle relievers for Houston include Will Harris and Josh James, along with possibly Ryan Pressly, depending on how good to go he is after the injury he sustained from tweaking his surgically repaired right knee in game six. Washington’s middle relief is spearheaded by Daniel Hudson, who so far through six games in the postseason has a 0.00 ERA through 5.2 innings and five strikeouts. Both teams have decent pieces, but it is tricky to give an edge to either team as both could employ their starters in a relief role, depending on the situation of the series. Even still, Washington’s bullpen has been slightly more consistent, surprising given the fact their bullpen was ranked in the bottom 10 in ERA in the second half of the regular season.
This position is as close to a wash as it comes. Houston’s Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado go up against Washington’s Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes. Chirinos and Maldonado averaged a .731 OPS during the regular season, compared to a .757 OPS average by Suzuki and Gomes. All catchers are serviceable defensively and will get the job done behind the plate. Offensively, the Nationals hold the slight advantage and can provide a little more of a spark at the plate, especially as a bottom of the order table-setter for Rendon and Soto.
Yuli Gurriel has been the primary first baseman for the Astros, whereas Washington has been led by veteran Ryan Zimmerman. Gurriel, during the regular season, slashed .298/.343/.541 with a career-high 31 home runs. Additionally, his OPS was .884, another career-high. Zimmerman, meanwhile, played a career-low 52 games, and in that time only slashed .257/.321/.415. Even with Zimmerman hitting better in the postseason so far (he has a .796 OPS compared to Gurriel’s .541), Gurriel hit a huge three-run home run in game six of the ALCS, possibly a sign of Gurriel finally catching fire. Expect Gurriel to provide a better chance of breaking out of the slump as opposed to Zimmerman maintaining his production.
Houston brings out Jose Altuve, the 2017 ALCS MVP and American League MVP, with Washington countering with a combination of Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier, with the two possibly alternating due to the DH. Even with the clutch performance of Kendrick versus the Dodgers in the NLDS, Altuve is finally healthy again, having an OPS over .900 during the regular season and so far, possessing an OPS over 1.000 during the postseason. Even with the experience Kendrick and Dozier bring, Altuve brings it as well, in addition to his offensive explosiveness. This is a lopsided matchup.
This is arguably the hardest position to give an edge to. Both clubs sport an MVP candidate at this position, with Houston’s hot corner being manned by Alex Bregman and Washington’s by Anthony Rendon. Both had career years during the regular season, with Bregman sporting a 1.015 OPS and Rendon being not too far behind with a 1.010 OPS. Both players are top five hitters in the game currently and both will be significant x-factors on offense should either team want to rely on getting a spark on offense. It would be easy to give this position a draw, but that is no fun. Rendon has been a little bit hotter with the lumber this postseason, with an OPS over 1.000 compared to Bregman who is at .863. The edge will go to Washington here. Interesting side note: With Rendon becoming a free agent after the World Series concludes, will Washington pony up the dough to keep him in the red, white and blue?
Carlos Correa and Trea Turner headline this position for Houston and Washington, respectively. Health was an issue for Correa this year, as he only played in 75 games during the regular season. However, in those games, he slugged a career-best .568 and hit over 20 home runs. Meanwhile, Turner, in 122 games played, slashed .298/.353/.568 and stole 35 bases, fifth in all of baseball. Correa has hit below .200 this postseason with a .593 OPS, whereas Turner has hit a much healthier .286 with a .762 OPS. While Correa has the potential to be a much more dynamic player on offense, Turner’s versatility on the base paths will be critical, especially if these games become pitching duels.
This is another intriguing position. Houston signed Michael Brantley to a bargain two-year
$32 million-dollar deal in the offseason and have reaped the benefits, with Brantley slashing .311/.372/.503 and slugging over 20 home runs for the first time in his career. Washington counters with one of the youngest stars in the game today in Juan Soto, who in just his second year hit 34 home runs with a .949 OPS. Despite the latter only hitting .237 in the postseason so far, Soto was a significant factor in Washington getting past the Brewers in the National League Wild Card game. While Brantley is solid and consistent, Soto is a game-changer. Washington gets a slight edge here based on pure potential, which is through the roof.
George Springer for Houston is challenged by Victor Robles of Washington. Both are solid defensively and possess a good range to catch any fly ball or line drive that comes their way. On offense, though, it is all in Houston’s favor. Springer during the regular season slashed .292/.383/.591 while Robles slashed .255/.326/.419. Coupled with the fact of Springer having more experience in the postseason, this position is all Astros.
Josh Reddick for Houston goes up against Adam Eaton of the Nationals. Both are serviceable defenders and average hitters. However, what puts this position in Washington’s favor is Eaton’s .790 OPS compared to Reddick’s .728 OPS during the regular season. While neither has taken off during the postseason yet, Eaton possesses better on-base capabilities which will be key for Washington to keep up the pace offensively with Houston should it become a shootout.
While at Minute Maid Park Yordan Alvarez will more than likely take over duties here, while Washington will counter with Kendrick, Dozier or possibly Zimmerman depending on the matchups. While Alvarez has not looked good this postseason (no home runs and only hitting .171), the potential he brings surpasses that of Kendrick, Dozier or Zimmerman. Additionally, the protection around the lineup for Houston is much deeper than Washington, which could theoretically give Alvarez a better pitch to hit. It might just take one mistake for him to break out in a huge way. If it happens, watch out.
This will be a great series. Both teams possess great starting staffs and dynamic offenses, with both teams being led by managers who have been to the World Series before (Hinch in 2017 and Martinez with the Cubs as their bench coach in 2016). The key for both teams will be to attack early and aggressively to prevent the marquee starters from settling in. Even with this, Houston’s depth on all sides of the ball will prevail and give them their second World Series title in three years.
PREDICTION: Houston in 6