The late Earl Weaver once said “momentum is only as good as the next day’s starter.” If that is true, then the Nationals, fresh off their stunning Game 1 victory over Gerrit Cole and the Astros should feel confident in their momentum with co-ace and 3x All-Star Stephen Strasburg on the mound tonight. The former #1 overall pick looks to continue his stellar work this postseason and help his team take a commanding 2-0 World Series lead back home to Washington.
That being said, the Astros try to split the first two home games by sending out their own co-ace, former Cy Young and AL MVP Justin Verlander. If Game 1’s Scherzer/Cole matchup was one for the ages, then Strasburg/Verlander is one for the ageless. Both Strasburg (31) and Verlander (36) are on the wrong side of 30 when it comes to the current trends in baseball. However, both have put up some of their best numbers this season, and look like they are both aging like a fine wine, leading each of their respective leagues in wins this season despite their “advanced age.”
Strasburg, paced the National League with 18 victories this season putting together arguably one of the best seasons of his career. The San Diego native went 18-6, carried an ERA of 3.32 and mamas 251 strikeouts in 209 innings. The 18 wins were a career high and the 209 innings was the 2nd most in his career, no small feat for a guy who’s durability has been questioned since he was infamously shutdown prior to the Nationals’ 2012 playoff run (or lack thereof). This postseason Strasburg has gone 3-0 with an ERA of 1.64 and a microscopic 0.86 WHIP, striking out 33 batters in only 22 innings.
Verlander, who has experienced a rebirth of sorts since coming to Houston in late 2017 leading the way to Houston’s World Series victory. He has gone 42-15 in 73 starts since going the Astros rotation. This season he compiled a record of 21-6, an ERA of 2.58 (his best since 2011), a career best 0.80 WHIP and a whopping 300 strikeouts (also a career high) in 223 innings, his 12th 200+ inning season in his 14 year career. Verlander hasn’t been as untouchable this postseason, having gone just 1-2 with a 3.70 ERA. However, he is still as formidable of an opponent as the Nationals could ever face in a Game 2 including Clayton Kershaw, whom they faced in Game 2 of the NLDS.
As for how each pitcher has fared against their opponent, the Nationals hold the edge in that category as well. In limited at bats (34) against Strasburg, the Astros batters have only recorded 5 hits (.147) and Alex Bregman is the only Houston starter with an extra base hit (one double) off the righty. Bregman and Jose Altuve combine for 4 of the 5 Houston career hits off Strasburg.
The Nationals batters have many more at bats against Verlander, 274 to be exact. Nationals Asdrubal Cabrera, Brian Dozier, Adam Eaton, Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki all spent time in the AL Central Division and have all faced Verlander a minimum of 31 times with Cabrera having seen him the most with 71 career at bat against JV. Suzuki is a career .333 hitter against him in 42 at bats and Cabrera has 21 hits off Verlander, including 3 home runs. The Nationals as a team have a career .248 average against him so he is definitely the more known commodity of the two starters.
It remains to be seen how Verlander attacks the Nationals 20-year old phenom, Juan Soto, the 3 RBI hero fo Game 1. Soto has never faced Verlander, but he had never faced Gerrit Cole either before last night and he blast a 417 opposite field moon shot and 2-run opposite field wall banger off him in his 2nd and 3rd at bats against him, respectively. It will be power vs power when this battle of youth vs experience takes place tonight in Houston.
Coming into the World Series, recent historical trends were against the Nationals. Teams that swept the LCS since 1985 were 1-7 in the World Series and the team with more rest prior to the Series were 12-12 since the advent of the Wild Card, including 1-6 since 2012. After Washington’s Game 1 victory, the historical trends flipped to their favor. The last ten teams to come from behind to win Game 1 have gone on to become World Champions. While 18 of the last 22 Game 1 winners overall have won the whole thing, Houston lost Game 1 in 2017 before defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in 7 games.
Historical trends are just that, trends, not absolutes and past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. If the Washington Nationals lived by trends, they would have folded up shop when they were 19-31 on May 23rd (ironically the day after Gerrit Cole’s last loss before Game 1) or when they trailed late with Clayton Kershaw on the mound in Game 5 of the NLDS, but this is a new year and the 2019 Washington Nationals have been bucking trends all year. Why should the World Series be any different?