WASHINGTON -- We didn’t exactly get the Max Scherzer-Gerrit Cole duel that the baseball world pined for in Game 1, and -- true to form in a World Series in which very little has gone to plan -- we definitely won’t get it in Game 5.
Scherzer was a late scratch with spasms in his back and neck, forcing the Nats to go with Joe Ross opposite Cole on Sunday night at Nationals Park, where President Donald Trump will be one of the attendees and where the Astros are suddenly surging and the Nationals are suddenly searching.
“Max, obviously, he pitched with a broken nose [against the Phillies in June], he's been hurt before, he's gotten through things,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “When he comes in and says he's hurt this bad, he's hurt. And I can tell you now he's very upset. He wants to be out there with his teammates. But hopefully we can get him back here for either Game 6 or 7.”
All eyes are on Ross in a difficult last-minute assignment. The right-hander, who missed half of 2017 and most of '18 with Tommy John surgery and made just nine starts for the Nats this season, is thrust into a tough task against a hot lineup.
“Joe has kind of done a little bit of everything this year,” said Game 2 winner Stephen Strasburg. “He's such a great competitor. He's such a great athlete. I trust his ability to prepare. I think that's one thing that having some of the struggles early on in the year with him, he really took another step as far as like preparation, doing his homework, and you just take notice of those things.”
The road team has won the first four games of the World Series for the first time since 1996 and just the fifth time overall. The superb starting pitching expected of these rosters hasn’t always lived up to the hype, and the deep lineups have both, for whatever reason, performed far better on the road than at home. The Astros salvaged the Series for themselves on Friday and Saturday, and now they enter Sunday with an unexpected pitching edge.
“There was a lot of noise around us losing the first two games, and rightfully so because the Nats had outplayed us,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “And I think we turned it around and now we've outplayed them for a couple of games, and now we have a three-game series, the winner of two of three wins the World Series.”
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 5 will be on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.
All games telecast on TBS, FOX and FS1 will be available to MLB.TV subscribers who are authenticated subscribers to the applicable network through a participating pay TV provider.
What are the starting lineups?
Astros: Hinch started designated hitter Yordan Alvarez in left field for Game 5, keeping Josh Reddick on the bench for the second game in a row, with Michael Brantley sliding to right field and George Springer to center. Martín Maldonado will catch Cole despite Robinson Chirinos hitting homers in consecutive games.
Nationals: The offense has gone quiet the past two games, a product of being unable to cash in their chances with runners in scoring position. They have been held to one run in back-to-back games, just the second time all season they’ve been held to one run or fewer in consecutive games (Sept. 13-14).
Who are the starting pitchers?
Astros: Cole (3-1, 1.82 ERA in the postseason) lost for the first time in five months when the Nationals beat him in Game 1, but he is 19-1 with a 1.79 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP with 264 strikeouts in 176 1/3 innings over his past 26 starts in the regular season and postseason.
Nationals: Ross entered in relief in the seventh inning of Game 3, and he delivered two blank frames after starter Aníbal Sánchez's four-run, 5 1/3-frame start.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Astros: Cole, of course, is capable of going deep into the game, which would be good news for the Astros. Closer Roberto Osuna didn’t pitch in Game 4 and is well rested, and Ryan Pressly hasn’t thrown since Game 2. Hinch has pushed Will Harris for 32 pitches in back-to-back games, but he will again be called upon to get key outs.
Nationals: Neither Sean Doolittle nor Daniel Hudson has pitched since Game 1, and with an off-day Monday, both should be available for multiple innings if needed. After watching the relief work in Game 4 from his middle relievers, Martinez will want to lean on these two in relief of Ross to close out the game.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Astros: Harris threw 25 pitches in Game 3 and seven in Game 4, but he’s Hinch’s self-proclaimed “panic button,” so it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be called upon in Game 5 in a pinch. Brad Peacock has pitched two games in a row, throwing 32 pitches in Game 4, so he could be down.
Nationals: Fernando Rodney has pitched on back-to-back days, but at 42 years old, he always tells Martinez he’s available to pitch when needed. Still, the Nats seem almost certain to stay away from Rodney, who served up Bregman's grand slam in Game 4.
Any injuries of note?
Nationals: Kurt Suzuki’s status is unclear after he left Game 3 with a right hip flexor injury, but the Nats decided he will remain on the roster, which should indicate they have confidence he’s healthy. He wasn't in the starting lineup, nor was Scherzer, who was scratched with back and neck spasms.
Who is hot and who is not?
Astros: Brantley (8-for-17) and Altuve (8-for-20) are red-hot in the World Series, with Chirinos (4-for-11, two homers) making the most of his first Fall Classic. Bregman’s grand slam in Game 4 was huge, but he’s 4-for-18 in the World Series, though two of the hits are homers. Correa is 2-for-15 but drew three walks in Game 4.
Nationals: The offense is a combined 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position over the past two games.
Anything else fans might want to know?
This is the 46th time in World Series history a series has been tied at 2-2. The last time was in 2017, before the Astros outlasted the Dodgers in an epic Game 5 and eventually won in seven games. … Of the previous 45 times the World Series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has gone on to win it all 30 times (66.7 percent). … This is the first time since the 1996 World Series that the road team has won the first four games.