(CBS DFW/CBS Local) — And just like that, the 162-game regular season, along with the Wild Card, Division and Championship rounds are history. And only a potentially historic World Series awaits. The Houston Astros will face the Washington Nationals, with Game 1 on Tuesday night in Houston.
The Houston Astros last won the World Series in 2017 and return this year with maybe their best roster ever. Led by dominant starting pitching, the Astros eliminated the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series in six games. Their bats came alive when they had to, but also remained uncharacteristically quiet for stretches at a time. Whispers of the word “dynasty” haven’t surfaced yet, but give it until the weekend.
They’ll face an inspired and well-rested Washington Nationals team that swept the St. Louis Cardinals out of the National League Championship Series in four games. The Nationals, in the franchise’s first World Series appearance, feature an equally dominant starting rotation. Their bats entered the playoffs on fire and have continued to produce, with key contributions from less likely sources. From the Wild Card to the World Series, the Nats look to continue their run.
This week’s Baseball Report looks back at the Championship Series and ahead to the World Series.
Astros Win ALCS
The Astros beat the Yankees Saturday night 6-4, to win the ALCS in six games. It was an exciting end to a series that saw two high-powered offenses struggle at times. In the top of the ninth inning of Game 6, with the Yankees facing elimination, DJ LeMahieu smacked a two-run home run just beyond the outstretched glove of Astros outfielder George Springer. The HR tied the game at four. The Astros’ Jose Altuve returned the favor in the bottom of the ninth, blasting a two-run HR off of Aroldis Chapman to win the game and pennant in walk-off fashion.
The Yankees also squandered opportunities throughout the series. And the first inning of Game 6, when the Yankees loaded the bases but failed to score, offered yet another example. Overall, the Yankees hit an atrocious .171 with runners in scoring position, stranding 42 base runners.
But the Astros’ strong pitching also deserves some credit. Outside of a Game 1 dud, in which the Yankees put up seven runs, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Grienke turned in solid performances against one of MLB’s leading offenses. And even in Game 1, it was the bullpen who let that game get out of hand; Greinke gave up three runs in six innings.
Verlander pitched at least into the sixth inning in both of his outings. Cole managed seven innings of shutout ball in Game 3, even if he did walk five.
The Astros bats put up enough runs against Yankees pitching. But their numbers weren’t great in the ALCS either. As a team, they hit just .179, with eight home runs and 36 hits over six games. The team’s regular-season batting average was almost 100 points higher, with the third-most long balls in the Majors.
Nationals Win NLCS
The Nationals turned in a stronger performance over a weaker team in their championship series. They dispensed with the St. Louis Cardinals last Tuesday, winning Game 4 of the NLCS, 7-4, to complete the sweep and advance.
Patrick Corbin gave up four runs in Game 4, in what was the Nationals’ worst pitching performance of the series. Annibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer took no-hit bids deep into Game 1 and 2. Stephen Strasburg struck out 12 batters in seven innings in Game 3.
In late September, the Nationals weak bullpen was seen as the team’s biggest obstacle to a playoff run. It hasn’t been, partly because their starters went deep into games and Cardinals’ hitting was erratic at best. And when called upon, Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson, Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey mostly held it down.
The Nats also received key contributions from various bats in their lineup at key moments. Howie Kendrick continued his torrid pace, with five hits in the NLCS, four of them for extra bases. Adam Eaton added three RBI, including a two-run double in Game 2 to extend a late lead.
World Series Matchup
The Astros are the better team, and will enjoy home-field advantage over the Nationals, when the World Series starts tonight. Their last (and only other) World Series title came in 2017, when they downed the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. (That series win also followed a Championship win over the Yankees.) The Nationals head to the World Series for the franchise’s first time.
The Astros are also the favorites going in, sporting what could be the team’s best roster ever. While this Astros lineup didn’t produce in the ALCS, they did over the course of the regular season. Jose Altuve, the 2017 AL MVP, hit .298 on the season with 31 HRs. Alex Bregman, an AL MVP candidate this year, hit .296 with 41 HRs and 112 RBI. Michael Brantley hit .311 with 22 HRs. And that’s just a sampling.
The Astros rotation is the best in the AL behind Cole, Verlander and Greinke. Cole won 20 games in 2019, with a 2.50 ERA. Verlander, a surefire Hall of Famer one day, won 21 games with a 2.58 ERA. Both are AL Cy Young favorites this season. A mid-summer trade brought over Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks. His performance (8-1, 3.02 ERA with the Astros) has failed to meet expectations. But given the two starters ahead of him, perhaps those expectations were a little unrealistic.
The only other starting rotation that compares favorably to the Astros’ belongs to the Nationals, with Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and (at times) Sanchez. Scherzer went 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA in an injury-shortened regular season. Strasburg, himself a Cy Young favorite in the NL, went 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA. Corbin notched a 14-7 record with a 3.32 ERA.
The players in this pitching matchup account for five Cy Young Awards and 29 All-Star Games combined so far.
The Nationals’ bats, like the Astros’ bats, will have their work cut out for them. The heart of the DC lineup is Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, with Kendrick emerging in the playoffs. Rendon hit .319 with 34 HRs and 126 RBI in the regular season, sneaking into the NL MVP conversation. Soto, who is still only 20 years old (for a few more days), hit .282 with 34 HRs and 110 RBI in the regular season.
Gerrit Cole will face Max Scherzer in Game 1 of the World Series.