The David and Goliath story, of biblical origin, is a classic one in sports. The Goliath stands on one side, a team that has won 100+ games in three consecutive seasons, whose most recent world championship came just two seasons ago. On the other stands David, a team that let a $330 million dollar, former league MVP walk in free agency, a team that had never advanced past the National League Division Series, a team that didn’t even finish first in its division this season. Although games one and two have already been played, there’s a lot of baseball left, and Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are set for what looks to be one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory.
The Nationals are certainly not a team to be underestimated. In spite of letting the $330 million dollar man, Bryce Harper, sign with the Phillies in free agency, they put together a fine season. They have been led by Anthony Rendon, who has quietly become one of the best players in baseball. Howie Kendrick, a 35 year old seemingly in the waning days of his time in the MLB, put together a career year at the plate as he hit .344 with 62 RBIs and seventeen home runs. Trea Turner, the 2016 runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year, also put together an impressive year, hitting .298 and swiping 35 bases. And it would be impossible to talk about the Nationals without mentioning their twenty-year-old phenom Juan Soto. He finished his sophomore campaign with 34 home runs and 110 RBIs.
The Nationals also possess one of the best rotations in baseball. Their top three pitchers, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and offseason signing Patrick Corbin, collectively were paid $78 million this season, the most expensive top three pitchers for any team. Scherzer is a three-time winner of the Cy Young Award, but he has yet to add a World Series championship to his resume. Strasburg has been dominant in his postseason career, with a 4-2 record, 57 strikeouts, and a 1.10 ERA in seven games of work. Corbin is perhaps the one question mark for the Nationals pitching staff. Although he had a 3.25 ERA during the regular season, this mark has ballooned to 7.43 during this year’s playoffs, the first playoffs of his career. The Nationals will need Corbin to rebound to have a chance against the potent Astros offense.
The Astros have been blessed with arguably both the best batting lineup and rotation in baseball thanks to some very team-friendly contracts. Alex Bregman has turned into perhaps the best third baseman in the major leagues, yet he only earned $640,000 this year because he is still on his rookie contract. That mark will balloon to $13 million next season. The diminutive Jose Altuve has been one of the best second basemen in the majors, and he finished this season with 31 home runs, a career high. Yuli Gurriel, a 35 year old who was not able to play in the MLB until 2016 when he defected from Cuba, finished the year hitting just under .300 with 31 home runs and 104 RBIs. Carlos Correa, in spite of injuries limiting him to 75 games, still managed to club 21 home runs. Yordan Alvarez, the 22 year old Cuban, was the best hitter in baseball from when he was called up in June, finishing the year hitting .313 with 27 home runs in 87 games.
Not content with the best lineup in baseball, the Astros have also assembled this season’s most dominant pitching rotation. Justin Verlander has seen a renaissance in his career since he traded in cold Detroit for the Texas heat during the Astros run to a World Series championship in 2017. He has put together back to back seasons of sub-2.60 ERA baseball, and this season, he reached the 300 strikeout mark as a 36 year old. Gerrit Cole was the most dominant pitcher in baseball this season with an ERA of 2.50 and 326 strikeouts. Cole struckout 39.9% of the batters he faced this season, the highest mark ever for a starting pitcher. Zack Greinke, another midseason acquisition, has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for the past ten years, and he put together another stellar season with a sub-3.00 ERA. He is almost certainly a first ballot hall of famer, but a world championship certainly won’t hurt his case.
Both of these teams have marched practically unopposed to the Fall Classic. The Nationals bested the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League wild card game. They then took down the Los Angeles Dodgers, a 106 win team and the runner-up in the two most recent World Series which came into the season with the philosophy of World Series or bust. They then swept the St. Louis Cardinals to secure their spot in the World Series, and about a week of rest. The Astros were seemingly tested early on by the wild card winning Rays before easily taking down the Yankees, a fellow 100+ win team, in six games. The Nationals have a chance to secure Washington D.C. its first baseball title in nearly 100 years. The Astros will cement themselves as a true dynasty with their second world championship in three years. There’s a whole lot of baseball left to be played and it will surely be a classic.
Game one was played on Tuesday night in Houston, and for the first time since May, Gerrit Cole suffered a defeat as the Nationals got to him early and often. Ultimately they prevailed 5-4. Game two was played Wednesday night, and the next three games will be in Washington beginning Friday night.