The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals will meet tonight to open the 115th playing of the World Series at Minute Maid Park in a matchup of two of the premier pitching staffs in today’s game.
In an era where the long ball and offensive slugfests garner the most attention, when the Astros’ Game 1 starter Gerrit Cole was asked what it meant to have a matchup featuring top-of-the-line pitching, he shared his excitement.
“I personally am a big fan of starting pitching. I grew up wanting to become a starting pitcher and I'm a starting pitcher now,” Cole said at Monday’s media day at Minute Maid Park. “There are a lot of really good starting pitchers on the other side of the field, guys that kind of emulate the role in terms of longevity, durability, creativeness, tenacity, grit. (It’s) a pleasure to share the field with them on the greatest stage at this point.”
On the other side, Max Scherzer will get the ball to start the game for the Nationals and understands what it means to be part of a pitcher’s duel.
“(I’ve) faced really good pitchers here in the National League over the years; (Clayton) Kershaw, (Jacob) deGrom, those guys,” he said at Monday’s media day. “You just know you've got to come out there, you've going to be throwing up zeros and you've got to try to match the intensity from your opponent. Cole's had a terrific year so obviously, it's going to one heck of a challenge.”
Entering play on Tuesday, the American League held a 66-48 all-time lead over the National League although the latter has taken five out of the last nine. Since the New York Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000, the NL and AL are split, 9-9.
When the Boston Red Sox did not make the postseason, it guaranteed that MLB would not have a repeat World Series Champion for the 19th consecutive season, the longest such streak not only in Major League Baseball but also across all four major sports, topping an 18-year stretch in the NBA from the 1969-70 season to the 1986-87 season.
Connections between the two teams include a pair No. 1 overall pitching draft picks, who also share the same agent, between Washington’s Stephen Strasburg (2009) and the Astros’ Cole (2011), MVP-candidate third basemen in Anthony Rendon for the Nationals and Alex Bregman for Houston as well as longtime faces of the respective franchises with Ryan Zimmerman playing all 15 years of his career for Washington since the club moved from Montreal and Jose Altuve in his ninth year in Astro colors.
Speaking of Rendon, the Nationals’ third baseman hails from Houston and became just the second player to reach the big leagues out of Lamar High School although he did not sign with the Atlanta Braves who drafted him from there in the 27th round of the 2008 amateur draft.
Instead, he went to Rice University and played for the Owls where he compiled a .371 batting average in 187 games played with 52 home runs and 194 RBIs for a slugging percentage of .679. After his three seasons there, Washington drafted him with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft and he has since posted a .290 average over his seven years so far and registered a career-high in doubles (44) and RBIs (126) this year with the latter mark leading the entirety of MLB.
On top of all that, the two clubs shared a spring training stadium, the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, and already have a World Series rematch scheduled for Feb. 22, 2020, to kick off the league’s preseason.
The Nationals beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wild Card with a three-run eighth inning to advance them to a matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers who owned the best record in the National League. After winning that series in five games, Washington swept the St. Louis Cardinals in its first-ever NLCS appearance as the Nationals.
However, with the NLCS-clinching game coming back on Oct. 15, Washington manager Dave Martinez spoke about what it took to keep the team fresh with an extended amount of time off leading up to the biggest series of the year.
“I truly believe that these guys are fired up to be here. We played a lot of unbelievable games this year. We've come a long way,” Martinez said at media day on Monday. “They looked good yesterday and this whole week. I joked around after we clinched, I told them, ‘Hey, I'm going to give you guys a day off,’ and they all laughed, especially Anthony.
“He said, ‘Just one?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, our work is not over,’” Martinez recounted. “We've got to come back, and we scheduled workouts the next four days and these guys were all in. They got their work in. We did a lot of stuff in the training room. They did a lot of stuff in the weight room, strength and conditioning, a lot of running activities, and they hit. They hit a bunch, so we're ready to go.”
Since the League Championship Series went to a best-of-seven format in 1985, nine clubs, including the 2019 NL Champion Nationals, have swept their opponents to reach the World Series. Of the previous eight teams to accomplish a sweep before Washington this year, only one – the 1995 Atlanta Braves – went on to win the World Series.
Games 1 and 2 are scheduled to be played in Houston this Tuesday and Wednesday with Washington set to host Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If more games are needed, the Astros will play Games 6 and 7 as the home team at Minute Maid Park.