HOUSTON — One week ago tonight, the Nationals stunned the Houston Astros and the collective baseball world by taking Game 1 of the World Series. The next night, they did the same in Game 2, by an even wider margin, and took, what looked like, a commanding 2-0 lead. Oh, what a difference a week makes, as the Nationals have failed to win since leaving Houston and now are one loss away from elimination. In order to extend their season for one more night, Washington needs Stephen Strasburg, ironically the healthiest member of their rotation, to run his record to 5-0 this postseason.
Contrary to the current sentiment around the country, the Nationals actually have more going in their favor in Game 6 than one might think. First of all, they are sending their co-ace Stephen Strasburg to the mound. Stras is undefeated this postseason with a 1.93 ERA and the Nationals are also a perfect 5-0 as a team in his appearances including his 3 innings of relief work in the Wild Card game against the Brewers. He has struck out 40 batters in just 28 innings of work in October and has not failed to make it out of the 6th inning in any of his 4 starts.
Justin Verlander, in stark contrast, is 1-3 this postseason with an ERA of 4.13. The Astros are also 2-3 in his 5 starts. On top of all that Verlander is 0-5 with a 5.73 ERA during career in the World Series and has the privilege of being the only pitcher to lose his first five World Series decisions. He has faced his opponent twice in each round this October and has faired much worse the second time around. Against the Rays in the ALDS, he went 7 innings with zero earned runs and 8 strikeouts in his first matchup. Then 4 days later, he was lifted after 3.2 innings and charged with 4 ER in a loss that sent that series to the limit. Against the Yankees in the ALCS, he won his first start, going 6.2 inning and striking out 7 while allowing only 2 ER. Then in Game 5, 5 days later, he went 7 innings but gave up 4 ER and lost despite racking up 9 strikeouts.
Strasburg has only faced the Dodgers twice the postseason but he won both games and went 6 strong, logging quality starts in both. The righty said of facing the Astros the second time around, “really, it comes down to execution of pitches. [The batters’] approaches might change a little bit, but the important thing is to go out there and pound away and trust your stuff.” His stuff has gotten him this far, maybe it can carry him through one last start to put his team back on even ground for a Game 7.
Another thing going in the Nationals’ favor is when World Series have been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has only gone on to win the next game 46% of the time. In essence, Washington has, historically, a 54% chance to win Game 5. If this holds true and the Nationals do advance to Game 7 and Max Scherzer is a go, his game day scratch Sunday could end up being a blessing in disguise. The reason being that it sets up a Game 7 between Zack Greinke and the Game 1 winner Max Scherzer, rather than the Nationals having to turn to the losers of Games 3 and 4, Anibal Sanchez or Patrick Corbin or even having to cobble together a bullpen game. Obviously, like AJ Hinch said after Game 3, “it’s the World Series, every game is a bullpen game” but having Max Scherzer on the mound against a stud like Greinke is much more desirable, at least on paper, than any other alternative.
The Nationals’ situation seems worse than it is because of the context of being up 2-0 and now trailing 3-2, but they still control their own destiny. They are not as bad as they were in Game 3-5 and the Astros, clearly, are not as bad as they were in Games 1-2. The Astros won 107-games in the regular season are probably the best team over the collective of the past three seasons. For those reasons, the expectations of a sweep, no matter how hot the Nationals were after the 2-0 start, was an unreasonable expectation, and this turn around by Houston should have surprised no one. All that being said, the Nationals are still very much alive and would do well to stick to their mantra of “go 1-0 today.” If they do come back and win Games 6 and 7 they will have the honor of becoming the very first team in Major League history to ever win a World Series by only winning road games. No one else has ever done that but in this season of Washington being counted out numerous times, it would be a fitting end to the season for them to make history once again to hoist the Worlds Series trophy as champions of the world.
First pitch Tuesday night set for 8:07 pm.