Good pitching beats good hitting, so the old adage goes, and this year it seems especially true…although neither the Astros or Nationals are lacking in hitting, they’ve pitched their way into the World Series.
Sports Illustrated report that Houston are the biggest favorites, based on Las Vegas odds, since Boston in 2004. That was the year the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” and swept Colorado to win their first championship in living memory.
We have to agree. Washington, in the Series for the first time ever, have been something of an underdog sensation making it into the playoffs at the last moment after putting together an 8-game winning streak at year’s end… not bad for a team who won just 19 of their first 50 and were below .500 still on June 26. All while supposedly lamenting the departure of their alleged best player, Bryce Harper. Thankfully Anthony Rendon stepped up and led the league in RBI, last year’s rookie phenom Juan Soto elevated his game and of course, the pitching… Stephen Strasburg had a career year, the type people had been waiting for him to have ever since he first appeared in the majors back in 2010 while Max Scherzer battled a few aches and pains but was dominant when healthy. In the post-season, they’ve already turned heads, beating the heavily favored Dodgers before sweeping St. Louis in the NLCS. Rendon has been hitting .375with 8 runs scored in 10 games and a heady 1.059 OPS; the duo of Strasburg and Scherzer have combined to go 5-0 in 8 appearances (6 starts, each has made an uncharacteristic bullpen appearance too, testimony to their willingness to go all in to win) and have 60 strikeouts through 43 innings. Anabel Sanchez chipped in carrying a no-hitter into the 8th inning of one of his starts too. Patrick Corbin however, their off-season high-profile signing, has struggled with a 7.43 ERA over 5 appearances.
The Astros big trade deadline acquisition, Zac Greinke, has likewise not looked all that sharp, going just 14 innings through 3 starts with a 6.43 ERA, thanks in part to giving up 5 longballs. But it hasn’t slowed Houston down much as they return to the Big show for the second time in three years. Although Justin verlander has looked surprisingly human at times, he deserves his reputation as a “big game pitcher” and Gerritt Cole is as good as any pitcher going. Most of the time, the Astros’ hitting doesn’t need a ton of help anyway as they do what they did through the regular season – put a lot of runs on the board. As always in the post-season, little Jose Altuve comes up big. Not only did he end the ALCS with a walk off homer on Friday, in all this October, he’s hitting .349 with a 1.184 OPS due in no small part to 5 home runs already. Not that atypical for little Jose. Thus far in his career, he’s hit .287 in the post-season ( a little below his career average) but has a .906 OPS, better than his regular season numbers, and has clipped 13 homers in 43 games.
Back in early April, we picked Houston to win 104 games and then win the World Series over St. Louis. Well, the Cards didn’t quite get there (although they irked Cubs fans no small bit by overtaking Chicago in the lategoing days of September to make the post-season) but the Astros won 104, then 3 more and are representing the AL in the World Series. Given their home advantage (and their 60-21 record in Houston this regular season), their pitching, their playoff experience and the “big game” attitudes of Altuve and Verlander, we stick by the April call and say Houston over Washington in 6 games.