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World Series Game 5 Preview: It’s now a best of three

Divisional Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Five

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 10: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros delivers the pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning in game five of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on October 10, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

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Before Game 1 last Tuesday the World Series was tied and Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole were set to face off. Today, before Game 5, the World Series is tied and Joe Ross and Gerrit Cole are set to face off. Only now, instead of a best of seven, it’s a best of three.

The Game: World Series Game 5: Houston Astros vs. Washington Nationals
The Time: 8:07 PM Eastern
The Ballpark: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
The Network: Fox
The Starters: Gerrit Cole vs. Joe Ross

The Upshot:

I imagine there will be talk about “momentum” on this evening’s broadcast, but I really wish we’d avoid that sort of thing.

Washington had momentum after Games 1 and 2 and that didn’t help. The Astros will be said to have “momentum” now, but if the Nats take two out of the next three what will that have mattered? Momentum is largely a b.s. talking point in baseball, used broadly to describe streaks that are better explained by more granular concepts such as, I dunno, “Nationals batters going 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position over the last two games.” Which has, amazingly, happened.

Hits happen. Or they don’t. The top and middle of your order -- looking at you, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Juan Soto -- can go completely cold over the course of two games. Your MVP candidate -- looking at you Alex Bregman -- will, almost always, come up big eventually. Some of it is about luck. Hitting a hard line drive right at someone instead of right past someone or getting proper hold of one instead of getting under one. The balls fell for the Nats in Games 1 and 2 and they’re not now. Likewise, the Astros bats have heated up. It’s just baseball happening. Two good teams neutralizing each other’s strengths at various points.

The only good thing anyone has ever said about momentum in baseball is the old adage about “momentum being your next game’s starting pitcher.” So let’s talk about those guys.

Nationals fans may be feeling pretty bad today, and Joe Ross on the mound in place of Max Scherzer isn’t going to help. The one silver lining from last night -- Dave Martinez not needing to use Daniel Hudson or Sean Doolittle -- works to their advantage, the hits that have not been falling over the past two nights actually fall, and Washington rides three pitchers and just enough offense to victory. It’s an eminently reasonable scenario.

Also reasonable, though, is the idea of Gerrit Cole not being as bad tonight as he was in Game 1.

Cole gave up five runs on eight hits over seven innings on Tuesday and the Nats should not expect that to happen again. I mean, he had allowed just one earned run in his previous three postseason starts, covering 22.2 innings and hadn’t lost in ages, so it was a tad out of the ordinary. Houston will also hope that their offense, which has been resurgent over the past two games, keeps rolling. José Altuve and Michael Brantley each have multiple hits over the past three games. Robinson Chirinos has homered in back-to-back games.

Ross against Cole. Then Strasburg against Verlander. It ain’t about momentum. It’s about strength against strength. It’s about which of two very evenly-matched teams with evenly-matched starters and big weapons on offense execute better.

It’s about two out of three for the World Series title.

Follow @craigcalcaterra