by Julian Spivey
The World Series, which begins tonight on Fox at 7 p.m., between the American League champion Houston Astros and the National League champion Washington Nationals has the feeling of one that could be an absolute epic. Just looking at the pitching matchups for the series of Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole in game one, Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander in game two and Zack Greinke versus probably Patrick Corbin in game three should have every baseball fan giddy.
Here’s a breakdown of the two teams and where I believe each has the advantage over the other:
When the Astros acquired Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks right at the trade deadline to join the one-two punch of Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander I declared the Astros the World Series champions right then. Now as we’re hours from the first pitch of the World Series I’m not even sure the Astros have the best rotation in the series. Cole has been unbeatable since the early part of the season and has continued as such in the playoffs going 3-0 with an ERA of 0.40. Verlander has been good, but not quite as good as he was in the regular season and actually has a losing record at 1-2. Greinke has been downright bad going 0-2 with an ERA over 6.00. Patrick Corbin hasn’t been good for the Nats during the postseason with an ERA of 7.43 and a 1-2 record, but the two aces at the top of the Nats rotation in Max Scherzer (2-0, 1.80 ERA) and Stephen Strasburg (3-0, 1.64 ERA) have been almost unhittable. And, speaking of unhittable if the Nats would rather go with veteran Anibal Sanchez in game three instead of Corbin he has a 0.71 ERA in two starts this postseason with hitter batting just .116 against him. This could likely be a push when it comes to one advantage over the other, and I almost can’t believe I’m saying this, but based on these playoffs thus far …
Much has been made about how poor the Nationals bullpen was this season, but things calmed down quite a bit when the acquisition of Daniel Hudson was made from the Toronto Blue Jays before the trade deadline. Hudson leads all closers in the postseason with four saves and hasn’t allowed a run in six appearances. Sean Doolittle, the Nats previous closer before Hudson, has also been strong allowing two runs in 7.1 innings and recording a save during a game in which Hudson was away from the team for the birth of a child. The rest of the Nats bullpen is sketchy, but the starting pitching has mostly been getting it all the way to Doolittle and Hudson at the end. Astros closer Roberto Osuna gave up a huge home run to New York Yankees infielder D.J. LeMahieu to blow a save in the ninth inning of game six of the ALCS but has mostly been strong in seven playoff appearances this season. Set-up man Will Harris has a 0.00 ERA in seven appearances. Joe Smith and Josh James have also been strong in six appearances each for the Astros. I’m going to give this category to Houston, but if the Nats starters go six or seven innings as expected the Astros hitters should be in trouble.
Both the Astros and Nationals use platoons at catcher and both squads have wily vets doing so. The Astros have Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado. Chirinos has struggled at the plate in the seven games he’s started this postseason, but Maldonado has hit .308 in his four games. The Nationals use Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes. In Suzuki’s seven starts he’s only had one hit in 20 at-bats. In Gomes three starts he’s matched Maldonado’s .308 average.
One of the great stories of the Nationals making their first World Series trip in franchise history is that Ryan Zimmerman has been with the franchise the entire way. He was the team’s very first draft pick in 2005 when the team moved to Washington from Montreal and has been a leader all the way. Zimmerman has had a good postseason at the dish hitting .290 with 5 RBI. Astros first bagger Yuli Gurriel has struggled a bit at the plate this postseason with a .209 average, but he has driven in a team high 8 RBI. I think Zimmerman is going to have a big World Series after waiting so long to arrive and if the Nats win the title look for him to retire on top.
The Houston Astros have the best second baseman in all of baseball over the last decade in Jose Altuve and the perennial All Star is coming off the biggest moment of his career with his walk-off homer against the Yankees in game six of the ALCS on Saturday night to send the Astros to the World Series. Altuve leads all players this postseason with 5 homers and leads his team hitting .349. The Nats have been going with veteran Howie Kendrick at second for the majority of the playoffs, despite the fact he was mostly a reserve during the season. He’s rewarded them with a strong performance of .289 average, a team leading 9 RBI and one helluva grand slam against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.
The Astros and Nationals each had the best third baseman in their respective leagues this season with Alex Bregman for Houston and Anthony Rendon for Washington. Each will almost certainly finish in the top three voting for their respective league’s MVP battle. Rendon has had the better postseason of the two leading the Nats with a .375 average to go along with a homer, 4 doubles and 7 RBI. Bregman has hit more than 100 points lower than Rendon this postseason at .257 and has only driven in four runs so far, but because both players are at the best of their position, I don’t feel I can give either team the advantage here.
Trea Turner is a spark plug for the Nationals and he’s having a pretty good postseason hitting .286 with 3 doubles, a homer and 3 RBI. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa has the luxury of having been on the biggest stage before, which might help this coming week, but he’s struggled at the plate so far this postseason with only a .171 average. If I were just basing this on the regular season, I might give Correa the advantage or call it a push, but as of now my advantage is going to Washington.
I think there’s a great case to be made that the Astros have the best outfield in baseball. George Springer was the MVP the last time the Astros made the World Series two years ago, Michael Brantley has been a great addition to the Astros this season and Josh Reddick is a great veteran presence. Springer and Reddick have both been scuffling at the plate this postseason and things won’t get any easier against the Nats stellar rotation. Brantley has been solid with a .262 average. This outfield is definitely better than it has been performing in October. The Nats best outfielder in the postseason has been the platoon they’ve had going in center fielder with Michael Taylor (.300 in five starts) and Victor Robles (.313 in five starts). The Nats best outfielder Juan Soto has hit .237 this postseason with 2 homers and 7 RBI. Adam Eaton, the vet of the outfield, has hit only .194. Neither outfield has exploded offensively this postseason, but the Astros have been around the block more.
Prediction: Astros in 7
When it comes to the breakdown above things are pretty even. I’m going to give the Astros the advantage because they’ve been the better all around team all season, whereas the Nationals scuffled at the start of the season and rode hot pitching through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Either team winning this series wouldn’t be a surprise, but I’m going with the team that’s had more playoff experience.
by Eric Fulton
After advancing to the World Series the past two years, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the team’s seventh consecutive postseason, was poised to be the first team since the New York Yankees from the late 1990s and early 2000s to make it to at least three straight World Series. The Dodgers faced the Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series, a team who got off to a very rocky start, but was the best team in MLB from late May into the postseason.
Even though everyone had penciled in the Dodgers to once again make it to the National League Championship Series, the Nationals, who were led by their strong starting pitching (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasberg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez), MVP candidate Anthony Rendon, speedster Trea Turner and young outfield sensation Juan Soto were a particularly strong foe.
Going into the series, the Dodgers had MVP candidate Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Max Muncy, Justin Turner and Joc Pederson. You could say it was another David vs. Goliath matchup. And, just like in Biblical times, David would find a way to win.
The Dodgers won 106 games in the regular season, but all of that was erased with the upset by the Nationals in the Division Series in five games. The 106 wins in 2019 was the most by a Dodgers team ever. They won the National League West by a wide margin, but when they had their chance to move on, they simply could not capitalize. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to give the Nationals a ton of credit. Washington was an underdog, and yet they proved why they were the best team throughout the summer.
In Game 5 of the Division Series, the Dodgers had home field advantage and they had a pitcher in Walker Buehler, who has been really good in the postseason. Buehler was also one of four Dodgers pitchers to win at least 10 games this season (Hyun-jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda the others). Buehler was brilliant in game five going 6 and 2/3 innings giving up just one run. Manager Dave Roberts had a decision going to the seventh with the season on the line and it backfired majorly. He went to his veteran ace Clayton Kershaw, who has had a history of bad performances in the postseason. While it can be a great idea for some to put your best pitcher on the mound in a big situation, it may not be the greatest plan when that pitcher historically struggles.
Kershaw, who arguably is one of the 10 greatest regular season pitchers in baseball history, just isn’t the same pitcher in the postseason. He gave up back-to-back home runs to Rendon and Soto to tie the game at three.
The Dodgers had chances to win in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but couldn’t get it done. In the 10th inning, former Dodgers infielder Howie Kendrick burned his old team by hitting a grand slam to give Washington a 7-3 lead. In the home half of the inning when Nats outfielder Michael A. Taylor made a diving catch to end the game, it would be the nail that ended what could have been a special season for the Dodgers.
In some instances, an elimination like this would get managers/coaches fired. The Dodgers, however, aren’t going that route with Roberts. He has been a great manager for the Dodgers leading the team to four straight postseason appearances. The team has been the best in the National League for some time now and have done it with mostly players that have grown up in their farm system, but just can’t get over the hump.
The question is what moves they will make to finally get there. Last offseason, they traded a popular player in outfielder Yasiel Puig, which turned out to be a good decision. But expect most of the team to be intact for the 2020 season. One thing is certain, though, until this team can bring home a World Series title, they will merely be stuck in the good team conversation and not the great team conversation.
by Julian Spivey
It’s hard being a fan of the Atlanta Braves. I think you could make the argument it’s the hardest franchise in Major League Baseball of which to be a fan. I know there are a handful of teams that have never won the World Series like the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals and others. I know the Mariners haven’t even been to the postseason in almost 20 years and the Cincinnati Reds currently have baseball’s longest postseason series win drought at almost 25 years.
But the Braves playoff series win drought, which is currently tied with the Mariners for the third longest in baseball, as they haven’t won a playoff series since 2001 is in some ways even more devastating for the team’s fan-base because the Braves have been to the playoffs a lot. Since the Braves last won a postseason series beating the Houston Astros in the 2001 National League Division Series they have been to the postseason nine times and have lost in their first round – whether it’s the best-of-5 Division Series (a whopping eight times) or the single game do-or-die National League Wild Card round (once).
And, the latest elimination in game five of the NLDS at home against the St. Louis Cardinals is the most embarrassing moment of my 25 years as a Braves fan. I have a feeling many fans will agree with that assessment. The Braves were eliminated before they even stepped to the plate for their first at-bat of the game as Braves starting pitcher Mike Foltynewicz (who was excellent in game two of the series) and reliever Max Fried (who was a very good starting pitcher throughout the regular season) allowed the Cardinals to bat around and score a record 10 times in the top half of the first inning.
There was no coming back from that. It’s such a certainty that I’m actually writing this in the fourth inning of the game and it’ll likely be published before the final out is made.
The incredible embarrassment I’m feeling as a Braves fan right now isn’t just because it’s the ninth straight first round bow out or because they didn’t even give themselves a chance in the do-or-die fifth game of the series, but also because there shouldn’t have even been a fifth game of this series. The Braves could have had a sweep in three games had the bullpen not imploded late in game two of the series and they had the series win in reach in game four when the game got away from them again and they let what would’ve been a game-winning run stranded on third base after All Star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. tripled to lead off an inning and the offense couldn’t move him a measly 90 feet.
There was also the play of perennial All Star Freddie Freeman, the greatest first baseman in Braves franchise history, who looked like an also ran the entire series and choked on the biggest stage possible.
But, choking on the biggest stage possible is the Braves modus operandi. It’s who this team has traditionally been. It’s the team that won 14 consecutive divisions and only brought home the World Series trophy once, despite having potentially the greatest rotation in the history of baseball led by three hall of famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz who annually shared the Cy Young Award between them. Atlanta is the sports town of the ultimate sports choke of all-time when the city’s football team the Falcons couldn’t hold a 28-3 lead late against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI less than three years ago. It’s Choketown U.S.A. and the Braves have been at the center of it for most of the last 30 years.
But we remain fans because the team has had stellar players like the three aforementioned pitchers and hall of fame third baseman Chipper Jones, and Freeman and some of today’s most fun players to watch in Acuna and Ozzie Albies. It’s a team that you know is going to be in contention more often than not – which is easier to root for than say the San Diego Padres or Mariners. But it’s a team you can’t trust to do anything after game 162. Anything at all, except for disappoint. And that’s hard on a fan-base.
by Julian Spivey
If I had an MVP vote this would be the top five on my ballot
1. Cody Bellinger (Los Angeles Dodgers)
The National League Most Valuable Player race has pretty much been a two-way race between Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and reigning N.L. MVP Christian Yelich and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger since the early part of the season. Many of the numbers between Bellinger and Yelich are close, which is impressive for Yelich since he missed most of the final month of the season. But I’m giving the MVP to Bellinger with the biggest factor being that his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is nearly two full points higher than Yelich’s, with the final month of the seeing likely playing into that a bit. Bellinger hit .305 this season with 47 home runs and 115 RBI.
2. Christian Yelich (Milwaukee Brewers)
Yelich just missing out on back-to-back MVPs for me (he very likely could do it in real life) might have a lot to do with missing most of the final month of the season after breaking his shin fouling a ball off of it. It also doesn’t help that the Brewers were shockingly the hottest team in baseball over the season’s final month without him. Yelich had a 7.1 WAR in 2019 with a tied for batting crown .329 average, 44 homers and 97 RBI. Yelich potentially would’ve led the N.L. in homers without missing so much time.
3. Anthony Rendon (Washington Nationals)
Anthony Rendon had perhaps quietest potential MVP campaign in 2019 leading the Washington Nationals offense to a somewhat surprising playoff berth after seeing where they were at the All Star break. Rendon led the National League with 126 runs batted in to go along with a career-high 34 homers, a .319 batting average and a WAR of 6.3. Bryce Harper left a big hole in the Nats lineup, but Rendon more than filled it.
4. Freddie Freeman (Atlanta Braves)
It’s kind of sad, but true, but one of the things that’ll probably keep Freddie Freeman from ever winning an MVP is the fact that his WAR at 4.4 is a lot lower than other candidates. The unfortunate aspect about that is that first baseman kind of get screwed in overall WAR because it’s not as important a position defensively as many others. Freeman has been the guy keeping the Atlanta Braves lineup so consistent over their surprising back-to-back National League East Division titles and with a .295 average, and career highs with 38 homers and 121 RBI he should still be right in contention for the honor.
5. Ronald Acuna Jr. (Atlanta Braves)
If Freddie Freeman is No. 4 on my list than his teammate Ronald Acuna Jr. is basically 4b for me or I wouldn’t even have an issue flip-flopping them … but I’ll slot him in at No. 5. Acuna’s batting average was 15 points lower than Freeman’s and he drove in 20 fewer runs, but he hit three more bombs and has a WAR more than a full point higher playing a more defensively important position. The aspect of Acuna’s game that almost had me place him above his elder teammate was his league leading 37 stolen bases, coming up just shy of the fifth 40 homer/40 steals season in MLB history.