October is always a fun time of year for sports fans. Not only are the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League kicking off their respective seasons, but Major League Baseball gets ready to crown another World Series champion. Now that the World Series is about ready to begin, it is time to look back at the teams competing to enshrine a championship into the history books.
Representing the National League: The Washington Nationals
Remember when these guys were an absolute laughing stock? Year after year, they had all the talent required to win a championship yet always failed in the National League Division Series (NLDS). Free agency had a damaging blow to their championship dreams. Bryce Harper, arguably their best player, not only abandoned them in free agency but signed with the division rival Philadelphia Phillies. The Philadelphia Phillies and the young and talented Atlanta Braves were going to terrorize that division for years to come. A slow start to the year just confirmed their doubters’ suspicions.
Or did it?
Yes, the Washington Nationals did start the year out as a below-average baseball team, being 12 games under .500 in late May. The talent in the rotation and the starting lineup was there, but the bullpen was an absolute disaster, having an earned run average over seven at some points during the season. Around June, though, things started to click. Their rotation continued to be dominant, as expected from a pitching staff led by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Their lineup was an interesting one, with a mix of young guys and veterans that didn’t rely as much on the home run as other teams in baseball. But led by star Anthony Rendon the offense was able to put a lot of runs on the board. Even the bullpen improved slightly with the addition of Daniel Hudson at the trade deadline. The Nationals didn’t have enough time to catch the Braves for the division, but they made it to the wildcard game. After winning there, they shocked the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and obliterated the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series (NLCS).
Now, it’s time to see if the Nationals can give their fans something many people have been waiting for their entire lives to see. Imagine being an older fan of the former Montreal Expos. After seeing your team fail for decades, they move to Washington D.C. But you stick with them. The team continues to fail despite having a treasure trove of talent. But you stick with them. Now, the team is finally in the World Series. It must be an awesome feeling.
Representing the American League: The Houston Astros
Astros fans understand exactly what the Washington Nationals are. Their team was also seen as a laughing stock in the baseball world. The difference? The Astros have already gotten the job done. This team was built in the correct manner. They didn’t just throw a bunch of money at star free agents because they were a big market. They had proper scouting and made some timely trades, including acquiring Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, in order to get to the top. They won in 2017, now it’s time to show that the Astros were not just a one-and-done team. A dynasty has the potential of being forged here. But they have to take it one game at a time, one series at a time, and one championship at a time.
There was no slow start for Houston. Their rotation was a three-headed monster. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole both have a legitimate argument for being the best pitcher in baseball. According to ESPN’s Cy Young predictor, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are the top two choices to win the American League Cy Young award. They were strikeout machines this year. Zack Greinke as a third man in the rotation was fantastic. Despite injuries earlier in the season, the lineup had enough talent to hold up and they are ready at the right time. Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and George Springer are all solid hitters that have been in the World Series before. The Astros also didn’t have the same glaring weakness in the bullpen that their opponent has. The bullpen for the Astros was pretty solid with guys like Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, and Will Harris. They had a couple of series in the American League Division Series (ALDS) and American League Championship Series (ALCS) that caused them a little trouble, but now they are back to try and claim their second World Series in three years.
I would love for the underdog Nationals to win this series but I honestly don’t see it. The games on paper should be pitcher’s duals. Given how unreliable their bullpen is, the Nationals are going to need long and solid starts from Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Anibal Sanchez to even have a shot. They are capable, but the Astros might get better performances out of their starters even if the Nationals pitch great. I believe the week break between games the Nationals had will help the pitching, but I fear the hitting will take a little bit to get their groove back. Especially since their offense functions best when the hitters are playing small-ball and extending at-bats. Going up against Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and a great defense is not going to be a good recipe for small-ball to succeed. The longer the series goes on, the more likely it is the Nationals will be in trouble, because at some point the bullpen is going to need to get outs. I think they will get a couple of games, but the Astors will finish the series off in six games.
Sports analysis does not mean too much once the games start, so all that is left to do is see who will be adding a World Series title to their teams history. The playoffs are where curses can be broken and dynasties can be created. The fun in it is that nobody can be sure what is going to happen until the players take the field. Well, baseball fans should have a lot of fun watching the climax of another year unfold.