Finally, an opponent.
The Washington Nationals will travel to Houston on Monday morning to open the 115th World Series on Tuesday against the American League champion Astros in Minute Maid Park.
The Nationals swept St. Louis to send themselves to the organization’s first World Series and a six-day break between games.
Houston beat the New York Yankees, 6-4, Saturday night to capture its second American League title in three years thanks to a walk-off homer by Jose Altuve. The Astros won the 2017 World Series and lost in the ALCS to eventual World Series champion Boston last season.
The Astros are deep, versatile and targeted. They won the American League title via a Game 6 bullpen showdown. Outside of starting Brad Peacock in the reliever-laden clincher, Houston also dispatches Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, a trio which rivals -- if not bests -- the Nationals’ top three. As a group, Houston commanded the strike zone like no other team during the regular season. It led the league in strikeouts from its pitchers and its hitters struck out the least.
If there is a ding against Houston, which won a franchise-record 107 games this season, it would be the ALCS work with runners in scoring position. It entered Game 6 just 4-for-27 with runners in scoring position. Yuli Gurriel’s three-run, first-inning homer helped counter that slog Saturday night and push Houston into another shot at a title.
Winning behind a bullpen game is a huge benefit for Houston, It can now pitch ace Cole in Game 1 on extra rest and Verlander in Game 2 on regular rest, if it chooses.
The Nationals are yet to announce their rotation plans. They have options. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg could pitch the first two games. Or, Washington could throw Aníbal Sánchez in the opener to push Scherzer to Games 2 and 6 and Strasburg to Games 3 and 7.
Scherzer and Sánchez dealt with a few of the keys to the Astros’ lineup in the past. Michael Brantley, who joined the Astros following a strong career in Cleveland, is 15-for-44 career against Scherzer (a 1.004 OPS). Jose Altuve is 2 for 11 in a much smaller sample. Josh Reddick is 5 for 11. Many of the major names in the Houston lineup have not faced Scherzer previously.
Altuve (4 for 11) is more successful against Sánchez. Brantley less so (.667 OPS in 30 at-bats).
They will all face each other again starting Tuesday night at 8:08.
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