By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus
When Howie Kendrick hit his dramatic grand slam to eliminate the Dodgers in the NLDS, an unnamed FOX Sports exec is alleged to have come home, kicked his dog, and screamed, “Damn, no Dodgers!!”
Just the other night when Jose Altuve’s homer eliminated the Yankees in the ALCS, that same FOX exec was kicked by that same dog in the middle of the night screaming, “Damn, no Yankees!!”
Note: No dogs or humans were harmed during this story, but I digress.
Now that we’ve got the disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. Contrary to popular belief, this is truly a matchup of the best two teams in MLB.
Skeptical?? Well, chew on this. When the Nats were sitting at 19-31 on May 23, Washington went on an National League best 74-38 record gain their wildcard berth.
Who had the best American League record during that same period? You guessed it. The Astros went an MLB best 73-37 en route to another NL West crown and their second World Series in three seasons.
Right now as we prepare for another Fall Classic, here are some facts and tidbits you should know about both teams.
— Washington will be hosting a World Series for the first time since 1948 when the last Negro League World Series was played between the Homestead Grays and Birmingham Black Barons. The Grays won in five games despite the presence of a talented 17-year-old phenom on the Barons roster named William Howard Mays Jr.
— The Astros are 27-36 all-time against the Nationals (since 2005) and last played them in the regular season in 2017, losing two of three games. Houston last played in Washington in ‘14, getting swept in two games. The Astros have lost 14 of their last 16 games against the Nats since Sept. 11, 2011.
— This World Series is a matchup between the two teams that ranked first (Astros) and second (Nationals) in strikeouts from starting pitchers this season. This is just the sixth World Series between the top two teams in starting pitcher strikeouts from that regular season, according to Elias. The last time it happened was 2001, when the D-backs led the Majors and the Yankees finished second.
— Caesars Sportsbook on Sunday opened the Astros as -235 favorites to beat the Nationals in the best-of-seven series. The Nationals are listed as +195 underdogs. At -235, the Astros are the largest favorites entering the World Series since the Red Sox were -240 to beat the Rockies in the 2007 World Series.
— We spoke about a young Willie Mays earlier. One of the game’s current young star, Washington’s Juan Soto, has a chance to add to his impressive resume. The outfielder, who will celebrate his 21st birthday during Game 3 on Friday, could become the third-youngest player to start a World Series game in the cleanup spot. The only players who were younger? Miguel Cabrera (2003) and Ty Cobb (1907).
— The Astros’ 14-game advantage on the Nationals during this year’s regular season hasn’t been that big a leg up in recent times. This will be the eighth World Series of the Wild Card Era in which one team won at least 10 more regular-season games than their opponent, and the previous seven “favorites” went just 4-3 in the Fall Classic. The Nats can look to the 2006 Cardinals (83 wins) for inspiration, as they were the last club to defeat a World Series opponent (the 95-win Tigers) with at least 10 more regular-season victories.
— The Nationals will enter the World Series on a six-game winning streak. They’re just the fourth team to enter the World Series on a winning streak of six or more games that postseason (therefore, in the Divisional Era), along with the 2014 Royals, 2007 Rockies and 2006 Tigers. None of those previous three teams went on to win the World Series.
— Houston Game 1 starter Gerrit Cole enters the World Series with 358 total strikeouts in 2019, the most by anyone since Randy Johnson (419) in 2001. His dominant start to the postseason (3-0, 0.40 ERA, 32 strikeouts) has extended history. The Astros are a perfect 16-0 in Cole’s last 16 starts.
So who wins this series?? I like the Astros in 7.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.