This week, NBC Sports Washington is taking a look at some of the biggest “What If” questions in Nationals history. First up, Matt Weyrich and Jim Scibilia examine what the 2019 World Series would’ve looked like had the Yankees faced Washington instead of the Astros.
The Houston Astros had a pretty brutal last few months of 2019.
They closed out the month of October by blowing leads in both Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, handing the Nationals one of the biggest upset victories in MLB history. In November, they were exposed for carrying out an illegal sign-stealing scheme that prompted a two-month investigation. Then, just before Christmas, they lost star pitcher Gerrit Cole in free agency.
Perhaps the only thing that could’ve made it worse? Losing to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series to fall short of winning the AL pennant.
In another timeline, the Yankees came back against the Astros in Game 6 of the ALCS before taking them down in a win-or-go-home Game 7. The matchup would’ve posed a very different challenge for the Nationals, who swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS before waiting four days to find out who they would be facing in the World Series.
The Yankees would’ve made their 41st appearance in the Fall Classic, an MLB record. Meanwhile, the Nationals were embarking on their first World Series run in franchise history—and D.C.’s first appearance since 1933. Even though the Astros posed a juggernaut-type threat as well, the Yankees’ history would’ve made the uphill battle appear even more steep for Washington.
D.C. doesn’t get a lot of credit nationally for being a sports town, but there’s no better way for a fanbase to get in the spotlight than by facing a New York City team in a championship. How does the Nationals Park crowd fare against the Yankee Stadium faithful? What is each city doing to support its team? Have mayors Bill de Blasio and Muriel Bowser made a friendly wager on the outcome of the series?
As for the games themselves, the Nationals entered the World Series on seven days’ rest while the Yankees would’ve only had two days to prepare following their ALCS Game 7 win. Even though many debated whether they would be rusty after the break from playing, the Nationals jumped out to a 2-0 series lead against Houston; they would've been fresh and ready to take on a tired Yankees team.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone planned to use Luis Severino in Game 7 of the ALCS had they made it, which would’ve lined up the following pitching matchups in the World Series:
Game 1 – Masahiro Tanaka vs. Max Scherzer (with Corbin available out of the bullpen)
Game 2 – James Paxton vs. Stephen Strasburg
Game 3 – Luis Severino vs. Aníbal Sánchez
Game 4 – Yankees’ bullpen vs. Patrick Corbin
Game 5 – Masahiro Tanaka vs. Joe Ross (Scherzer woke up that morning with neck spasms)
Game 6 – James Paxton vs. Stephen Strasburg
Game 7 – Luis Severino vs. Max Scherzer
Just like the real Game 1 with Scherzer and Cole on the mound, this version would’ve featured a fantastic pitching matchup with three-time Cy Young winner Scherzer facing Tanaka and his 1.76 career postseason ERA. However, there was no Justin Verlander behind Tanaka like the Astros had behind Cole, pushing the advantage in starting pitching much farther over in favor of Washington.
Paxton and Severino combined to make five playoff starts last October and only once did one of them advance past the fifth inning (Paxton went six in ALCS Game 5). Strasburg, who won World Series MVP, would’ve been the difference maker with two matchups against Paxton while Severino would’ve been tasked with besting NLCS star Sánchez and Scherzer.
The most intriguing matchup, however, might have been Game 4. The Yankees entered the playoffs with one of the best bullpens in the majors, making it an easy choice for Boone to use his relief corps rather than give J.A. Happ or CC Sabathia a chance to start. On the other side, the Nationals would've been starting prized offseason addition Corbin. The runner-up for his services in free agency? The Yankees.
On offense, New York boasted an elite combination of star power and depth much like the Astros. Giancarlo Stanton would’ve been a player to watch, as his 34 home runs against the Nationals from his time with the Miami Marlins are his second-highest total against any team. Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, Edwin Encarnacion and Gary Sanchez all presented power threats in the box as well.
Perhaps the two most fun players to watch in the series, however, would’ve been Gleyber Torres and Juan Soto. Both young stars from Latin America play with a flair and level of self-confidence that make them must-watch TV every time they step to the plate. Although each player had already built up a national reputation on their own, facing off on the World Series stage would’ve been a treat for fans everywhere.
Of course, the Yankees didn’t make the World Series, so we’ll never know what the outcome would’ve been had the Nationals faced them instead. But there’s no doubt such a matchup would’ve presented plenty of intrigue—both on and off the field.
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