The Houston Astros have been one of the favorites to advance to the World Series since the start of the season. They became the odds-on favorite to win the championship after trading for Zack Greinke at the trade deadline. The Astros finished the regular season with the best record in baseball of 107-55.
The Washington Nationals were a far less clear-cut option to advance, especially back in May when they were 19-31 through their first 50 games. But since that point, the Nationals are 82-40 over their last 122 games, including an upset win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.
The Astros and Nationals both took different paths to get to this point, but they are now at the same destination in the 2019 World Series. Here are three pressing questions heading into the final series of the season.
1. Who’s starting pitching staff will prevail?
Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander each finished in the top two in wins, ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts league-wide during the regular season. This is a historically phenomenal 1-2 punch, and the addition of Zack Greinke gave the Astros an embarrassment of riches on the mound.
The Nationals are perhaps the only team in the majors that could potentially match up with this juggernaut rotation, boasting a powerhouse group of their own in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. Anibal Sanchez has been brilliant in his two postseason starts, too.
Game 1 on Tuesday provides a dream matchup of Gerrit Cole vs. Max Scherzer, and is followed by two more awesome showdowns in Justin Verlander vs. Stephen Strasburg in Game 2 and Zack Greinke vs. Patrick Corbin in Game 3. Who will come out on top in these epic starting pitching duels?
2. Will the Nationals’ bullpen weakness finally catch up to them?
The Washington Nationals had the league’s worst bullpen during the regular season in 2019, finishing the year with an ugly 5.66 ERA among relievers. Thanks to some clever usage of starters in relief roles this postseason, the Nationals have managed to get by; but they still own an underwhelming 4.76 ERA in relief during the playoffs.
Sean Doolittle and trade deadline acquisition Daniel Hudson are reliable late-inning arms. But can the rest of this shaky bullpen survive against the hard-hitting Astros? And if manager Davey Martinez keeps bringing in starters in these high-leverage roles, will those starters be good to go on short rest in their starts? This could be a key to the series.
3. Will Yordan Alvarez’s bat come alive in the World Series?
Yordan Alvarez was one of Houston’s most reliable hitters throughout the regular season since his call-up in June. In just 87 games, Alvarez racked up 58 runs, 27 home runs, and 78 RBI with a team-high .313 batting average.
But so far this postseason, the rookie designated hitter has produced only three runs and one RBI with no home runs and a dismal .171 batting average. Will he find his swing again in the World Series? And when the series shifts to Washington where there is no designated hitter, will Alvarez start in the outfield where he is a liability, or be relegated to pinch-hitting duties? Houston’s lineup is still deep without Alvarez, but it would be near unbeatable if he returns to form.