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World Series Preview: underdog Nationals can contend with heavyweight Astros

Max Scherzer, the Game 1 starter against the Astros, has been among the most elite pitchers in MLB, tallying a 2.92 ERA and 243 strikeouts in his 27 starts in 2019. | Courtesy of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club

Max Scherzer, the Game 1 starter against the Astros, has been among the most elite pitchers in MLB, tallying a 2.92 ERA and 243 strikeouts in his 27 starts in 2019. | Courtesy of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club

At first glance, the Astros-Nationals World Series matchup seems like a no-contest.

The Nationals entered the postseason as a wild card with a 93-69 regular-season record that, when compared to the Astros’ 107-55 regular-season record, doesn’t seem to match up.

While it may seem like David versus Goliath, Washington has proven that it means postseason business.

The Road So Far

In the National League Wild Card game, Washington downed Milwaukee in a 4-3 win despite early pitching struggles, moving on to face the Dodgers in the NL Division Series.

Los Angeles stood as favorites in the NL with their 106-56 record positioning them as baseball’s No. 2 team during the regular season behind Houston.

The Nationals-Dodgers series started off rocky for Washington as the Dodgers won Game 1 6-0, but Washington rallied in Game 2 and conquered with a 4-2 win over Clayton Kershaw and Los Angeles.

After suffering a 10-4 loss at Nationals Park in Game 3, Washington shut down the Dodger offense in Game 4.

The Nationals, behind Max Scherzer’s seven innings pitched and seven strikeouts, evened the series 2-2 after putting up six runs and allowing just one first-inning home run.

Winner-take-all Game 5 was a nail-biting extra-innings win for the Nationals over the Dodgers, who blew a three-run lead late in the game.

The Nationals remained scoreless until the sixth inning when Washington got a single run on the board after Juan Soto’s RBI single scored Anthony Rendon. Following back-to-back home runs in the eighth from the Soto-Rendon duo, the Nationals tied the game.

A Howie Kendrick walk-off grand slam in the tenth inning sealed the coffin of the Dodgers’ 2019 postseason hopes with a Nationals 7-3 win.

Los Angeles, NL favorites who won the league’s pennant in 2017 and 2018 but failed to win the Fall Classic both times, found themselves eliminated, while Washington moved on to face the St. Louis Cardinals.

Following a quick four-game NL Championship Series sweep that ended with a 7-3 Game 4 win after the Nationals had a seven-run first inning against the Cardinals, Washington advanced.

For the first time in their franchise’s history, the Nationals were heading to the Fall Classic.

First time for everything

Game 1 of the World Series is Tuesday night in Houston, and after a quick series against the Cardinals, the Nationals head into their first-ever World Series with a week of rest.

The Astros will only have three days to recoup from their challenging six-game AL Championship Series against the Yankees.

Washington heads to Houston for Games 1 and 2 as Houston clinched hold home-field advantage through the entire postseason, but the Nationals have proven that they don’t have a problem winning on the road.

Both of Washington’s series-clinching wins this postseason were seized during away games.

On the road, Washington has an ERA of only 2.20 during away games this postseason, which is less than half of Houston’s 4.50.  

Washington also has the best batting average in the postseason with a .243 average and 43 RBIs. Compared to Houston’s .208 postseason average and 36 RBIs, the Nationals have a fighting chance to dethrone the No. 1 team of the 2019 regular season.

The Nationals have their work cut out for them if they plan to clinch their first World Series win.

Strong pitchers

Washington’s starting pitchers are key to the team’s postseason success.

Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer head the Nationals’ pitching rotation. The three led the team to 27 starts without a loss between June and July, earning a 2.55 ERA in that span.

The Nationals also became the first team in the MLB to boast three pitchers with at least 222 strikeouts. In the regular season, Strasburg tallied 251 strikeouts, followed by Corbin with 238 and Scherzer with 243.

Washington starters had a 1.35 ERA during their series against the Cardinals, and the trio became the first in postseason history to strike out at least 11 batters in three consecutive games.

While the National’s starters are a force to be reckoned with, the relief in the bullpen doesn’t necessarily live up to these standards. With bullpen ERAs ranging from 3.91-6.36, it could be difficult to match up against Houston’s pitching lineup.

That is where the National’s offense comes into play.

At Bat

The Nationals have 45 runs, 79 hits, 43 RBI’s and eight home runs in their 10 games through the NLCS.

Rendon leads the team with a .375 batting average and 12 hits in the postseason, also leading the NL with 44 doubles and an MLB-high 126 RBI’s during the regular season.

Soto, who leads the Nationals with two postseason home runs, has contributed nine hits, seven RBI’s and six runs to Washington’s deep postseason run.

Kendrick leads the Nationals with nine RBIs in October and hit the fateful grand slam that ended the Dodgers’ season. Kendrick boasts a .344 regular-season average, 11 hits and six runs in the postseason.

The Nationals enter the Series with the hopes to bring home their first Commissioner’s Trophy.

The team, formerly the Montreal Expos until they moved in 2005, has struggled in postseason play for most of its existence in the nation’s capital, not having won a playoff series until this year.

The Nationals have turned a page from their 100-game loss seasons in the 2000s and have proved to be true contenders against the best teams in the majors.

Now, the only thing standing between them and a World Series Championship is four wins, a loud and loyal Houston fanbase and a fired-up Astros team.

Time will only tell how this story plays out.

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