The Astros and Nationals square off in this year’s edition of the Fall Classic. The oddsmakers have Houston as the favorite, but how well do they match up against the upstart NL champs? I’ll take a look after the jump.
This is Houston’s third World Series, after losing as the NL champions in 2005, and winning as the AL champions two seasons ago. For Washington, it’s their debut World Series. But, that doesn’t figure to be a huge handicap; expansion era World Series debutantes have thus far posted a 5-6 series record.
Washington has a nice mix of youngsters, players in the prime, and experienced veterans, with perhaps too many of the first and last and not enough in the second group. The Astros are more homogeneous, with most of their players in or near their primes. And, they have a wealth of post-season experience that the Nationals, for the most part, are clearly lacking.
If any team can match the Houston trio of Verlander, Cole and Grienke, Washington probably comes the closest with Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin. You might even give the Nats a slight edge on the strength of having an experienced fourth starter, Anibal Sanchez, whose effectiveness is enhanced by being so different from the other three fireballers. Game 4 might prove to be the pivotal contest in this series with Corbin or Sanchez at home against the Astro bullpen, a matchup that should favor the home side.
To beat a dead horse, the Nats are really thin in the bullpen, but somehow they’ve managed to make it work thus far. The formula has been 7+ innings from their starters, then going to Doolittle and Hudson, with support from Rodney and Rainey, to bring the game home. The danger, though, is having those same three or four going every night; they’ll likely wear down and, even if they don’t, Astro hitters will be accustomed to them by the middle of the series.
The Astro approach is similar, with 7+ IP from Verlander and Cole, and hopefully six from Greinke, with Harris, Smith and Osuna the preferred trio to wrap up games. But, Houston has a deeper and better supporting cast in James, Pressly (apparently he’s good to go after rolling his ankle in the finale against the Yankees), Devenski and Rondon. There’s even Peacock and Urquidy, who both showed well in their brief ALCS appearances, for a bullpen game or if there’s a game that goes deep into extras. Give the edge to Houston, especially if Washington’s starters falter.
Houston has a big power edge, but most of those power hitters (Bregman, Correa, Springer, Alvarez) have been scuffling thus far this post-season. But, despite those struggles by top players, Altuve, Brantley and Gurriel have been able to fill the void and provide just enough offense to support Houston’s dominating pitching. Bottom line is that this is a deep, deep lineup that can win even if one or two or more players are off their game.
Unlike the Astros, Washington’s best players (Rendon and Soto) have been their best players for the wildcard and first two post-season rounds. Add in over-achieving veterans (Kendrick, Zimmerman), some capable role players with speed and a little pop (Turner, Eaton, Robles), and a experienced bench (Dozier, Cabrera, Parra) and it can be a potent mix when everyone is contributing. The Nationals’ confidence is sky-high right now; time will tell whether they can continue to ride that high against Astro pitching. Give the edge to Houston, but probably not as big an edge as it might appear.
Both teams have experienced and capable catchers. The difference is Houston’s backstops are just better, offensively and defensively. If the Astros want to run, Suzuki will have little chance of slowing them down. Gomes would provide stiffer resistance and, unlike Suzuki, has shown well offensively in his brief appearances to date. But, Suzuki is evidently the Nationals’ choice. Sizable edge to the Astros with the tandem of Chirinos and Maldonado.
Both teams feature slick fielders at SS and 3B, and converted third baseman (thus, good fielders) at first base. Difference is at 2B, with Altuve having the edge over the veteran tandem of Cabrera and Kendrick, both of whom have lost a step or two. Houston has the edge in the outfield with capable and experienced veterans at each position. For the Nats, Soto plays an “adventurous” game (sometimes brilliant, but sometimes not) and Robles, while clearly talented, might lack the experience to be relied on to consistently make the right decisions. As mentioned above, the Nats are vulnerable defensively behind the plate. Overall, give the edge to the Astros.
Strength of Schedule
Houston has the extra home game and play very well in their cozy confines (an historically excellent 60-21 mark). They’re also really good on the road at 47-34, as would be expected of a 107 win team. But, are they really as good as that record would suggest? The Astros blitzed their division with a 56-20 record, compared to 51-35 against everyone else. But, against the AL’s best teams (Yankees, Twins, Rays, Indians, Red Sox), Houston was only 18-16. A small sample size of better teams, but perhaps shades of the 1954 Indians.
Washington won 14 fewer games than Houston, so their results are obviously less impressive by comparison, but a 50-31 home record is still a solid result to pair with a creditable 43-38 mark on the road. As has been mentioned countless times, the story of the Nats season is that it was really two seasons, an awful first 50 games (19-31; only the 2005 Astros had fewer wins among pennant winners) and a spectacular finish (74-38) that matched the Astros record over that same period. The NL was more balanced than the AL, with only one .600 team (the Dodgers) and only one team below .400 (the Marlins). The Nats did make hay against Miami (14-5), but there were clearly fewer soft spots on the Nats schedule than was the case for Houston.
If my analysis holds water, the Astros should be fairly easy winners, perhaps in 5 games. But, Washington is really on a roll, and the Astro hitters aren’t. My hunch is this series goes 6 or 7. I’d still give the edge to Houston, but wouldn’t be hugely surprised if it goes the other way.