The World Series starts tomorrow, with the Houston Astros hosting the Washington Nationals. Since the middle of May, they have been the two best teams in baseball. The Astros go into the series as heavy favorites. This is the biggest odds differential since the 2007 series, when the Red Sox were big favorites over the Colorado Rockies. That series went according to plan, as the Red Sox swept the Rockies in 4 games. The Rockies were red hot going into that series having an unbelievable finish to the season going 21 and 8 and sweeping both the division series and N.L.C.S. going 7 and 0. The oddsmakers knew something, making the Red Sox big time favorites, and they came through just as predicted. This Series has a similar feel, with the Nationals coming off a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, and upsetting the favorite L. A. Dodgers in the division series. Yet again, the Astros are considered the overwhelming favorite. Will the oddsmakers be right again? I am not too sure. There are some things in the Nationals favor, that says this should be a tight well played series, that will go 6 to 7 games.
You never know how a team is going to perform from series to series in the playoffs but so far the Astros are just not hitting. They have four players with an OPS under 600. Alex Bregman has walked a lot out of respect but is hitting only .257 with one home run. You have to wonder if Washington will challenge him more. One reason the Astros beat the Yankees is that they hit worse. Even the bullpen game did not produce a lot of runs between these so called offensive juggernauts. I am not to sure a team can get hitting healthy against the Nationals starting rotation. The Nationals have a good DH line up for a National league team. Howie Kendrick seems like the perfect DH and the Nationals will be better defensively for the games in Houston. The Nationals starting rotation stacks up well against the Houston big three. If Anabel Sanchez can continue to pitch the way he has, then it is certainly deeper. For whatever reason the Astros seem to make things hard on themselves. When they won in 2017, both the N.LC.S. with the Yankees and the World Series against the Dodgers were hard fought and went 7 games. As great as this team always looks on paper, you could argue that if they had not acquired Justin Verlander on August 31st at 11:59 pm, they would not have been World Champions.
Will the Astros prevail? Yes, I think they will, but just barely. They have 2 advantages. One is Garrit Cole. He is has been the most dominant pitcher in baseball, not just for this post season, but for about the last 5 months. There are not too many sure things in life, but he looks like he will continue to be excellent for the next 7 days. There is more pressure on the Nationals starting pitchers to perform because of the weak bullpen of the Nationals. This could finally take its toll. Even the bullpen members that have performed reasonably well, like Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle could easily wilt under the pressure. There is no question, the Achilleas heel of the Nationals is that darn bullpen, and you have to wonder if they can manage to get through one more series against a quality opponent. There is one interesting strategy situation that might determine the final outcome. Is Houston going to go with the 3 man rotation, with the starters then going on short rest, or will game 4 be a bullpen game again. In my view, as good as the three starters for Houston are, trying to pitch them on short rest could be the big mistake of the Series. Cole has never pitched on short rest and the one time they did it with Verlander it was a failure. Of course if they win the first 3 games it won’t make any difference. However if Houston decides to go with that 3 man rotation, then I am really liking the Nationals. Can’t wait to see what happens as another fall classic begins.