For the first time in franchise-history, the Washington Nationals are World Series champions.
Late-inning heroics from Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick and Juan Soto along with a gritty start from Max Scherzer and four scoreless frames in relief from the tandem of Patrick Corbin and Daniel Hudson helped secure the first title in Washington D.C. since 1924. The Nationals became the first team in major-league history to win four road games in a postseason series as they came from behind to defeat the Astros 6-2 in Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night.
After opening the regular season with a dismal 19-31 record through their first 50 games, the Nationals managed to overcome that early adversity and went on to post a league-best 74-38 record over the final four-plus months of the year, finishing 93-69 overall and securing a Wild Card playoff berth. They proceeded to face elimination four times in the postseason, but managed to survive each time, despite trailing in every one of those contests. Fittingly enough, they once again had to come from behind in the winner-take-all Fall Classic finale.
The Nationals offense looked completely lifeless to begin the contest. They failed to get anything going against Astros’ veteran right-hander Zack Greinke, who spun six scoreless frames to begin the contest. Once again, on the brink of elimination, they found a way to mount an improbable late-inning comeback. Carrying a two-run lead into the seventh inning, the Astros were a mere eight outs away from their second title in three years, before Rendon provided a much-needed spark by clobbering a solo homer off Greinke. Moments later in the frame, it was Kendrick who launched a go-ahead two-run homer off reliever Will Harris. The 36-year-old veteran lifted an opposite-field blast off the right-field foul pole to put the Nationals ahead for good in this one. After surging ahead, they managed to plate a key insurance run when Soto lined an RBI single to right field in the eighth inning and tacked on a pair of additional runs on a single to center field by Adam Eaton in the top of the ninth inning.
For most of the night, the Astros were in complete control. After eclipsing the 100-win plateau for the third consecutive year, they appeared to be on the brink of closing out a series-clinching victory in front of their home crowd before the proverbial wheels came off in the late innings. Yuli Gurriel kicked off the scoring with a solo shot -- his second round-tripper of the postseason -- off Scherzer in the second inning. The 35-year-old veteran first baseman deposited a hanging slider into the Crawford Boxes in left field to give the Astros an early lead. They had plenty of chances to increase their advantage against Scherzer in the early stages of the contest, but ultimately ended up stranding seven baserunners across four frames to begin the winner-take-all affair. They finally capitalized on a scoring chance, tacking on a pivotal insurance run when Carlos Correa lined an RBI single down the left field line with two outs in the fifth inning.
Prior to the Astros’ seventh-inning meltdown, the showdown between Greinke and Scherzer, a pair of starting pitchers with Hall of Fame credentials and multiple Cy Young Awards on their resume despite polar opposite personalities, was easily the most compelling storyline of the contest. The juxtaposition between Scherzer’s fiery, passionate persona and Greinke’s omnipresent zen-like state under pressure and icy temperament made for the most compelling Game 7 pitching matchup of the decade.
While it didn’t result in a victory, Greinke authored a dominant performance in the biggest start professional career. The 36-year-old veteran right-hander allowed just two runs on two hits and a pair of walks over 6 1/3 stellar frames. A solo homer by Rendon in the seventh inning was the only mistake he got punished for in an otherwise sublime outing in which he showcased exactly why the Astros surrendered a massive prospect haul at the major-league trade deadline to secure his services earlier this season. He engineered a one-two-three opening frame before giving up a leadoff single to Soto, who was quickly erased on a ground ball double-play, in the ensuing frame. He kept the Nationals off the scoreboard -- showcasing his athleticism and ability to field his position with several flashy defensive plays -- while allowing only one baserunner before Rendon scorched an 88-mph changeup into the left field seats in the seventh. He was eventually pulled from the contest in favor of Harris after issuing a walk to the ensuing batter, Soto, who eventually came around on Kendrick’s two-run tater.
Meanwhile, his counterpart Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, delivered a Herculean effort when the Nationals needed it most. Just three days ago, the 35-year-old right-hander literally couldn’t lift his right arm due to pain in his neck and shoulder. While he struggled with his command and was ultimately outdueled by Greinke; he dodged an insane amount of traffic on the base paths and gave the Nationals a chance to win. He allowed two runs on seven hits and four walks, throwing 103 pitches over five frames in a gutsy, gritty performance that should never be forgotten in Washington lore.
Scherzer had trouble with his command all night. He issued a two-out walk to Michael Brantley, but managed to emerge unscathed in the opening frame. He ran into trouble shortly thereafter, serving up a go-ahead solo homer to Gurriel, before also giving up back-to-back hits to Yordan Alvarez and Carlos Correa in the second inning. He managed to get out of the jam when George Springer’s screaming line-drive was picked off the turf on a shoe-string catch by Soto in left field to end the inning. He stranded another pair of baserunners in the third inning when Yordan Alvarez hit a towering fly ball to the warning track in center field. After Scherzer managed to grind out five frames, manager Davey Martinez turned to Corbin, who delivered three scoreless frames, and veteran right-hander Daniel Hudson, who tossed a scoreless ninth inning to close out the victory.
While the Nationals will have the vast majority of their championship core back next spring, it’s one of the oldest rosters in the entire game and seems destined for a major shakeup this offseason due to the contract status of several key contributors. The nucleus of a perennial contender remains intact with Scherzer and Corbin anchoring the Nationals’ starting rotation and Soto cementing himself as the face of the franchise and a foundational building block for years to come. However, they could lose several vital contributors via free agency in the coming months, including their main offensive catalyst in Rendon and co-ace Stephen Strasburg, who was named World Series MVP and has a 72-hour window to decide whether to opt out of the final four years and $100 million remaining on his contract.
Rendon, who blasted a career-high 34 home runs and led the major leagues with 126 RBI during the regular season, will command a massive multi-year contract in free agency and seems unlikely to return. Meanwhile, Strasburg seems primed to cash in on the open market after compiling one of the most impressive playoff resumes in major-league history. The 31-year-old right-hander hurled 8 1/3 innings of two-run ball in a Game 6 victory and closed out the 2019 postseason with a 1.98 ERA and 47/4 K/BB ratio in 36 1/3 innings (five starts, six appearances). The former No. 1 overall selection owns a microscopic 1.46 ERA and 71/8 K/BB ratio across 55 1/3 career postseason frames. Those are concerns for tomorrow. Right now, the Nationals are world champions.
It’s a crushing loss for the Astros, who became the first team in baseball history to lose four games at home in the World Series. It’s even more shocking considering they were a major-league-best 60-21 at home during the regular season and won four of their first five postseason games at home leading up to the World Series. Barring a major shakeup this offseason, they appear poised to make another title run next year thanks to one of the most talented rosters in the modern era. Not only is their fearsome lineup spearheaded by home-grown superstars like George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yordan Alvarez; but they also will bring back both Greinke and Justin Verlander to anchor their rotation. Their offseason will revolve around whether they have the financial flexibility to match the astronomical asking price for Gerrit Cole, who seems predestined to garner the richest free agent contract by a starting pitcher in league history in the coming months.
As we prepare for the inevitable blizzard of free agent signings and the endless flurry of offseason transactions, I can think of no better way to close out Rotoworld’s coverage of the 2020 campaign than with this memorable soliloquy from former MLB commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti: “It breaks your heart, it is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
MLB Quick Hits: According to multiple reports, the Red Sox are expected to hire Dave Bush as their new pitching coach … According to Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com, the Yankees interviewed University of Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs in New York on Wednesday … According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the Yankees have also interviewed University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter for their pitching coach vacancy … Rays sent OF Johnny Davis outright to Triple-A Durham … Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer confirmed Wednesday that Bryan Price is the frontrunner to be named the Phillies' new pitching coach … Orioles claimed INF Pat Valaika off waivers from the Rockies and outrighted LHP Josh Rogers, RHP Luis Ortiz and RHP Ryan Eades to Triple-A Norfolk … Giants claimed LHP Tyler Anderson off waivers from the Rockies and designated RHP Kyle Barraclough for assignment … Pirates claimed LHP Sam Howard off waivers from the Rockies … Rockies sent RHP Tim Melville outright to Triple-A Albuquerque … Chad Bettis has elected to become a free agent … Alcides Escobar has agreed to a deal with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of Nippon Professional Baseball.