Houston Astros -225, Washington Nationals +180
The Astros head into the World Series on a high note following José Altuve’s walk-off blast off Aroldis Chapman in game six of the ALCS. Meanwhile the Nationals will be well-rested after sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS last week.
Washington, despite being huge underdogs, have the starting pitching and the bats to make this a competitive series. The Nationals’ starting pitchers actually had a better FIP and ERA than the Astros during the regular season. They finished third in FIP, versus fifth for the Astros, and second in ERA, versus third for Astros. Of course those numbers ignore the fact that the Nationals went up against easier competition (the wOBA for hitters in the National League this year was .318 versus .322 for the American League).
Their recent performance suggests they are up to the challenge. The Nationals completely shut down the Cardinals, allowing only six runs in four games. The Astros’ lineup is clearly better than the Cardinals’, but they struggled in the ALCS against the Yankees’ mediocre pitching, batting .179 with an OBP of .281 and a slugging percentage of .318). Altuve has carried the Astros, blasting five home runs while batting .349 with a .417 OBP in the postseason.
While most of the Astros’ lineup has struggled during the postseason, they have delivered home runs (eight in the ALC) when needed. And there is no question that that they have the better lineup than the Nationals. Houston had the best wOBA (.355) in the Majors this season while Washington finished sixth (.336). That difference is not quite as high as it looks though as Washington had to send a pitcher to bat in nearly all of its games while Houston had to the same in only a handful of its games.
36-year old Howie Kendrick was the MVP of the NLCS for the Nationals. In seven games in the postseason he is batting .289 with nine RBIs and a home run. They will need big performances from Anthony Rendon (.375 AVG, .465 OBP, and one home run) and Juan Soto (.237 AVG, .326 OBP, and two home runs) to keep pace with the Astros.
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Washington last played on October 15, giving them six days off to get rest up (or become rusty, depending on which narrative you buy into). They have the advantage of setting up their starting rotation on extra rest so that Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin can start the the first three games. Scherzer (1.80 ERA, .85 WHIP, and 27K in 20 IP) and Strasburg (1.64 ERA, .86 WHIP, and 33K in 22 IP have been dominant in the postseason).
Houston’s trio of aces is led by Gerrit Cole, who has been locked in during the postseason more than any other pitcher. Cole has a 0.40 ERA, .79 WHIP, and 32 Ks in 22.2 IP. Cole will start game one, followed by Justin Verlander, who has looked a bit vulnerable in the postseason (3.70 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 29 Ks in 24.1 IP). Greinke, who has not been pitched well at all (7.43 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and 16 K in 14.1 IP), will get the ball in game three.
With run-scoring down in the postseason, many are speculating that the MLB is using different baseballs that don’t carry as much. This is a slight disadvantage for Houston (288 home runs) as they rely on the home run much more so than the Nationals (231) home runs).
On paper this is a slight mismatch that favors the Astros. Houston has an incredibly deep lineup, featuring MVP-candidate Alex Bregman, George Springer, Michael Brantley, ALCS hero Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa.
But the Nationals look to be a team of destiny. Before this year, they had never won a playoff season. Trailing the Brewers in game 163, they pulled off an improbable comeback against one of the best relievers in baseball, Josh Haden, when Juan Soto singled in the go-ahead run. Suddenly their bullpen, that was largely mediocre, looks like a strength.
The Astros have been the heavy favorite to win the World Series ever since they landed Zack Greinke at the trade deadline. The pressure is on the Astros as they have been carrying all the expectations to win the championship for so long. Can they deliver with the pressure squarely on their shoulders?
Nationals in six
Washington completes its improbable run behind its dominant starting pitching. Juan Soto, who will turn 21 during game three, will shock the world by being the MVP of the World Series. The Astros’ starting pitchers (besides Gerrit Cole) fall apart at the worst moment. The new baseballs continue to confound the Astros hitters as their home-run heavy approach that was so successful during the season backfires in the World Series.