The Nationals swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS to reach the World Series for the first time in team history. Now, they meet a juggernaut of a Houston Astros team, who will host them in Game 1 at 8:08 p.m. on Tuesday night. Here are five things to know about the Astros in terms of how they match up with the Nats.
They're really good
There were an MLB-record four teams that won 100 or more games this season and the Astros were the best of all of them. They won 107 games in the regular season, the 13th-most by any team in MLB history. And they did so with the best run differential in the majors (+280).
The Astros are a well-oiled machine with no obvious weakness. And not surprisingly, they have opened as heavy favorites. According to some sportsbooks, the Nats are the biggest underdogs in a World Series since the Colorado Rockies in 2007.
They can pitch, too
The Nationals' best strength is their starting pitching led by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez. Those four have combined for the best rotation ERA in this year's MLB postseason (2.04) and have been the key ingredient to Washington making it this far.
Starting pitching would be an advantage for the Nats over just about every team in baseball, but it is debatable with the Astros. Their top three of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke is just as good and even more accomplished. So far in October, Verlander has been solid, Greinke has been inconsistent and Cole has been downright unhittable. Cole has a 0.40 ERA in 22 2/3 innings with 32 strikeouts.
They hit dingers
Houston had the third-most homers in the American League this season, but that is a deceiving stat because their home run total (288) also ranks third-best all-time. They just happened to hit that many in a year the Twins set the MLB record (307) and the Yankees hit the second-most ever (306). So, basically no team had ever hit more homers than the Astros did this season before 2019.
For Houston, it is a collective effort. They had 10 players hit double-digit homers, seven hit 20 or more and four with 30-plus. Alex Bregman led the way with 41, George Springer hit 39 and both Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel had 31 apiece.
The Astros aren't just good at hitting homers, either. They were first in the majors this season in batting average (.274), on-base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.495), OPS (.848) and walks (645).
They are proven winners
While the Nationals are in the World Series for the first time and enjoying the ride, the Astros have grown used to playing during this time of year. They won the World Series in 2017 and made it to the ALCS last year.
Their rise was sudden, from 70 wins in 2014, to now making the postseason four out of the last five years. But unlike the Nats, who experienced years of playoff heartbreak before breaking through, the Astros found early and lasting success, as if they were uniquely built for the playoff stage.
They don't have history
Due to these teams playing in different leagues, they don't have much of a sample size to draw from in terms of how they match up directly. They haven't seen each other in interleague play since 2017 and many of the individual players don't have history, either.
Bregman, for instance, has never faced Scherzer before. He has a combined seven at-bats against Strasburg and Corbin. Trea Turner, Juan Soto and Victor Robles have never faced Verlander. Soto, in fact, only has seven at-bats against Astros pitchers and Greinke is the only starter he's faced.
The only experience many of the players will be able to draw from is spring training where the Nats and Astros share a facility. Seeing an ace like Scherzer or Cole for the first time in a World Series game would not be ideal. It could be something to watch early in games, as hitters adjust to the arm angles of pitchers they have never faced before.
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