Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

WS Pitching Preview: Nats vs Astros


Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

Corbin is the key to this series. Photo via Arizona republic

The 2019 World Series is here.  And boy does it look like its going to be a heck of a pitching duel.  Thanks to the Astros finishing off the Yankees in 6 games, they (like our Nats) are able to perfectly setup their rotation as they wish.  Which means … wow we’re going to have some pitching duels.

Here’s a preview of the pitching matchups, with my predictions game by game.

  • Game 1; 10/22/19: Was@Hou: Max Scherzer vs Gerrit Cole: Cole is either finishing 1st or 2nd in AL Cy Young voting and has been unhittable this post season (3 starts, 22 2/3rds innings, 10 hits, 8 walks, just ONE earned run, 32 Ks).  So its going to be a tall task to get to him in Game 1.  Scherzer is Big Game Max: he got hit a bit in the WC game, but his three NLCS and NLDS appearances are pretty solid: 15 innings and one earned run vs the Dodgers and Cardinals, including a 1-hit 7 inning domination of St. Louis in Game 2 to really put the series out of reach.  Prediction?  I think Cole continues his hot streak and out-duels Scherzer in a 1-0 or a 2-1 type game.
  • Game 2: 10/23/19: Was@Hou: Stephen Strasburg vs Justin Verlander: Verlander likely wins the Cy Young (if it isn’t Cole) thanks to an amazing age 36 season … but he’s been quite hittable this post-season.  He’s got 4 starts, has given up 10 runs in 23 innings.  Strasburg has not been hittable, this off-season or any other; he continues to put up Sandy Koufax esque post-season numbers; he got hit in LA but held on to keep the team in the game, then blew away St. Louis.  I like Strasburg here and think the Nats can sneak a win in game 2.
  • Game 3: 10/25/19: Hou@Wash: Zack Greinke vs Patrick Corbin: i wonder what Arizona fans are thinking when they watch this game.  Greinke might be the best #3 starter in the game, or maybe Corbin is.  Greinke got knocked out by Tampa in the NLDS, and wasn’t lights out or anything in the NLDS either; the Nats can score runs against him.  Corbin has also been hit or miss this post-season, with an ugly 7+ ERA despite striking out 26 in 13 innings.  The Astros hit the ball, irrespective of lefty or righty, so this game might be one where the bullpens of both teams get exposed a bit.  Can Corbin make it happen?  One good thing going for him; he’s significantly better at home vs on the road (2.40 ERA versus 4.18 ERA away).  Of course … Greinke shows reverse H/A splits himself, and is no stranger to playing the Nats (he dominated the Nats in June, shutting them down in our park to the tune of 7ip, 2h).  I think Astros can get back home-field advantage here.
  • Game 4: 10/26/19: Hou@Wash: Bullpen vs Anibal Sanchez: Game 4 could be interesting; the Astros don’t really have a 4th starter they trust; they’ve gotten to this point riding their big 3 starters and getting by with openers and bullpen games otherwise.  So this could be former Nat Brad Peacock or perhaps Wade Miley, who seemed to be their 4th starter all season but who didn’t even appear in the ALCS.  Can Sanchez do what he did again against St. Louis?  Can a bullpen game shutdown the Nats?  I like the Nats here to get a solid start and to get at the slightly-hittable Houston bullpen.
  • Game 5: 10/27/19: Cole vs Scherzer: You think big-game Max is losing a home start?  I don’t think so.  The Nats get to Cole and take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Houston.
  • Game 6: 10/29/19: Verlander vs Strasburg: Verlander recovers and pitches the game of his life to push the series to Game 7.
  • Game 7: 10/30/19: Corbin vs Greinke: Nats get to Greinke again, Corbin gets hit … game turns into a bullpen game … Nats pull another late-inning come back and win in 7.

Sound good?

One thing I did want to point out.  There’s a very solid sportswriter narrative out there that teams can get “cold” with long layoffs like the Nats have had.  And there’s some SSS proof that indeed teams who sweep have a struggle in the series.  Teams are just 1 for 9 in the World Series after sweeping the LCS in four games since 1985 (when the LCS was expanded to 7 games).  See (thanks Luke Erickson for the link, which you can also find on ESPN and other places).   This is obviously worrisome for the Nats, who have taken some steps to stay hot.  On the one hand, I think a veteran team will benefit from the longer layoff to rest muscles and get bodies ready to go.  I think Victor Robles will cherish the time to let his leg heal a bit.  And of course, the rest lets all the starters (most of whom were pulling double duty starting and relieving) to rest up and get into their regular schedules.   On the other hand …. 1 for 9.  And they’re going against a 107-win team.

One other thing worth pointing out: the four games in the AL gives the Nats a unique opportunity to finally be able to play their best defensive roster and stick MVP Howie Kendrick in the DH spot.  I like having Asdrubal Cabrera in the lineup with his switch-hitting bat and veteran approach and his better-than-Kendrick defense.   That’s huge for this team.


7 Responses to 'WS Pitching Preview: Nats vs Astros'

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  1. Great setup Todd. The Nats just opened as the biggest underdogs since 2008.

    The timing for the hitters is the biggest worry with the long layoff. Here’s hoping old farts playing baseball offsets that somewhat.

    Mark L

    21 Oct 19 at 5:13 pm

  2. Sorry I’ve been traveling and out of circulation for the last week or so. I still can’t believe the Nats are in the World Series! And that’s even after I picked them to make the WS (and lose in six to the Astros).

    The Stros are a powerhouse team with a gaudy 107-win record, although everyone seems to be ignoring the fact that if you go back to that magical 50-game mark when the Nats turned it around, the Nats have actually won one more game than the Stros. So they’re just as good, just as hot.

    Another thing that gets me is all the folks who keep insisting that the Nats haven’t faced pitching like this before. Um, they were down three runs and up against elimination when they faced Hader. They faced Buehler twice, including during an elimination game. They faced Wainwright in peak form in Gm 1 of the Cards series. They pounded Kershaw, Flaherty, and 16-win Dakota Hudson, and they also faced Ryu. In fact, I think it’s fair to ask why this narrative isn’t flipped. Why aren’t people pointing out that other than Morton, who only pitched five innings, and Snell, who threw 5.1, it’s the Astros who haven’t faced particularly good pitching, especially starting pitching? Tanaka’s ERA for the season was 4.45, while Paxton’s was 3.82. They’re not even close to being Max and Stras.

    Also, Corbin has been insanely good at Nats Park this year. Here’s the slash line against him at home: .199/.261/.313.

    Let’s also pause to note that this series will feature FIVE starting pitchers who will be in HOF conversation. Max and Kate’s husband seem to be locks, Greinke has a favorable chance, and Stras and Cole are really being propelled by mid-career spurts. It’s hard to remember a recent series with more top-shelf starting talent.

    Where’s the weak link for the Astros? I’d point to Verlander, who has been pretty average in the playoffs thus far, particularly against the Yanks. If the Nats steal a win in Houston in Gm 2, things will get interesting quickly.

    Look, the Astros are an outstanding team and deserve to be favored. Maybe they will even end up dominating the Nats, although I doubt it. The MO for the Nats through most of the postseason has been for solid-to-dominant starting pitching to keep them in games and then clutch hitting to win them late. It will have to be the same script here. We’ll see. It will be exciting — and GREAT for baseball in the area — no matter how it turns out. And who knows, maybe folks will even stop talking about that gosh-awful football team, at least for a little while.


    22 Oct 19 at 8:54 am

  3. Also, I think folks are sleeping on the fact that Max is getting healthier and healthier. He was still in recovery mode against the Brewers, but that was three weeks ago. In his last two starts, he’s given up only one run and five hits in 14 innings, including seven 1-hit innings in his last outing against the Cards. He’s recovered and rested, which he’s basically never been in the playoffs. There are no guarantees, but he’s as set up as he can be to be HOF Max tonight.


    22 Oct 19 at 9:04 am

  4. Also, we should pause for a moment and give thanks that the Braves took Swanson over Bregman at the top of the 2015 draft. Swanson has been pretty mediocre thus far; Bregman is anything but — but we only have to face him in spring training and the WS, not 19 games a year.


    22 Oct 19 at 9:24 am

  5. Welcome back, KW!

    Just saw a statistic that showed the Astros are historically good at hitting sliders, which doesn’t bode well, for Corbin.

    If the Nats can win this thing, they’ll be the 1st team with the league’s worst bullpen to win it since the 1918 Red Sox.
    Then again, that bullpen pitched 73 innings ALL year!

    Mark L

    22 Oct 19 at 3:54 pm

  6. Gm 1: Don’t know whether this has been discussed, but Brantley made a game-altering mistake on Soto’s double. If Brantley had played it off the wall, he likely would have kept Rendon from scoring, and he would have been stranded. But Brantley — who was in his home ballpark and who has a reputation as an excellent defensive outfielder, basically stumbled into the wall in a catch attempt that didn’t have much chance, the ball bounced and rolled (with slow backup from Springer), and Rendon scored what proved to be the game-winning run. We’ll see if it was a series-altering one.


    23 Oct 19 at 5:01 am

  7. […] I thought the Nats could get to Verlander in game 2 in my preview to get a split in Houston.  Never in my wildest dream would I think we’d sweep games on […]

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