The ALCS and NLCS has concluded, and with that the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals have advanced to the World Series. How did we get to this point? Who stepped up when it mattered?
What We Expected
Nationals: National Underdogs
Before the season started, ESPN conducted a poll on would represent the National League in the World Series. With 177,875 votes votes, only 4% guessed the Washington Nationals would get to this stage. Perhaps it was the loss of Bryce Harper, or the fact that the Nationals have never surpassed the National League Championship Series. Regardless, those 7,115 voters deserve to take a bow.
Astros: Houston, We Don’t Have a Problem
It was difficult to find a team that was as consistent as the Houston Astros dating back to 2017. The team saw back-to-back 100-win seasons with a World Series title to go along with it. With an experienced roster headlined by Justin Verlander and Jose Altuve, the Astros were American League favorites to enter the season.
Nationals: Letting go of Bryce Harper
After spending the first seven years of his career with the Nationals, the team decided to let Bryce Harper walk and sign a 13-year, $330M deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Although Harper saw a career-high in multiple offensive categories such as hits (149), RBI (114), and total bases (292), he also saw a career-high in strikeouts with 178. To put that into perspective, Harper’s strikeout total was 38 more than anyone on the Nationals.
Harper is a star in this league, but this was clearly the best move for the Nationals at the time. As a result, the Phillies finished with a record of 81-81 and missed the postseason for the eighth consecutive season.
Astros: Trading for Zack Greinke
Just before the Trade Deadline closed, the Astros found themselves with a third ace on their roster in Zack Greinke. With the Arizona Diamondbacks, he posted a 10-4 record with a 2.90 ERA. In the regular season with Houston, Greinke has a 8-1 record and a 3.02 ERA. As a result, the 35-year old put up a career-high 18 wins.
Although there has been some postseason trouble for Greinke, the Astros would not be in the World Series without his efforts. The Astros finished the regular season with 89 quality starts; the most in the MLB. With less than a full season of work with the team, Greinke had the fourth-most on the team.
Nationals: Relief Pitching
Despite excellent postseason pitching, the Nationals bullpen has been under fire for most of the season. According to the team’s relief pitching WAR, the Nationals ranked 22nd in the MLB through the regular season. In addition, their relievers held the sixth-highest HR/9 ratio (1.55) in the MLB. It wasn’t pretty at times, but the Nationals cleaned up their acts quickly after winning 17 of their 27 games in the month of September.
The Astros are a rather conservative team when running the bases. In fact, through the regular season, the offense had a 33% extra bases taken rate; last in the MLB. However, that stat doesn’t necessarily correlate to scoring directly. The team ranked 3rd in both hits (1,538) and runs (920) during the regular season. However, in a few tight series, it’s a surprise that this barrier hasn’t evolved into a downfall of sorts.
MVP of the Team:
Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon
If there was ever a time for Rendon to step up, it was in 2019. Without Bryce Harper, there were 30+ HR and 100+ RBI to make up. In response, Rendon put up a team-high 34 HR and a league-leading 126 RBI.
Not only is Rendon the MVP of this team, but he could very well receive National League MVP votes at the conclusion of the season. According to Sports Betting Dime, Rendon currently holds +800 odds against names in Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich.
Astros: SP Gerrit Cole
Most would expect for Justin Verlander or Jose Altuve to be the represented MVP of the Houston Astros, but Gerrit Cole has been invaluable to this team. Through the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, Cole totaled 25 Ks; an MLB ALDS record. Dating from August 7th to Game 5 of the ALDS, Cole had 11 consecutive outings with 10+ Ks.
The only other candidate for the AL Cy Young is Verlander (+100), but Cole’s (-140) numbers stand out a bit more. The starting rotation for the Astros have been directly correlated to their success, but Cole has been the focal point.
Game 1 Details:
Game 1 of the World Series will take place in Houston on Tuesday, October 22nd. First pitch is scheduled for 8:08pm EST. The Astros will rely on Gerrit Cole as their starter, while the Nationals give the starting nod to Max Scherzer.
Photo Credit: USA Today