Will extra rest help or hurt Nats in World Series?

Nine of last 10 teams to clinch pennant first lost in World Series

October 22nd, 2019

When the Nationals step the to the plate Tuesday to face Gerrit Cole and the Astros in Game 1 of the World Series, it will be Washington's first game in exactly one week.

The six-day layoff will be the longest stretch the Nationals have gone without a live game since they opened their Spring Training schedule on Feb. 23 -- against, of all teams, the Astros. Houston, meanwhile, had just two days off between its thrilling ALCS-clinching victory and Tuesday's Game 1.

Thus, it's hard to ignore the annual question of whether that extended rest will benefit the Nationals -- or their counterparts.

"I don't know if that's an advantage or a disadvantage," said Astros center fielder George Springer. "I can probably assume that they're going to be ready to play. I mean, it's the World Series, you're not going to not be ready to play. But we have been playing since early February, so any time off will for sure benefit your body, so I don't know. I don't know if it's an advantage for them, a disadvantage for us or whatever the case -- but it's the World Series, so we're both going to be ready to play."

Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon didn't stop short of calling it an advantage for his club, saying the extra time off was a welcome treat.

"I don't know, I can't predict the future, it definitely helps us," Rendon said. "We play 162 games in a season and you play Spring Training, too -- and you tell me how you feel after it. So these six days have definitely been beneficial in trying to get our bodies back."

Since the postseason expanded to three rounds in 1995, the overall numbers suggest minimal impact -- teams with extra rest entering the World Series are an even 12-12. Those numbers, however, are far more slanted against well-rested teams in recent years.

Over the last 10 World Series, the team to clinch its pennant first is just 1-9 in the Fall Classic. The lone exception came last year when the Red Sox (five days off) defeated the Dodgers (three days) in five games. Prior to Boston's victory, the less-rested team had won nine consecutive World Series.

"I joked around after we clinched, I told them, 'Hey, I'm going to give you guys a day off,'" said Nationals manager Dave Martinez. "And they all laughed, especially Anthony [Rendon]. He said, 'Just one?' And I said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Our work is not over.'

"We've got to come back, and we schedule 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 conditioning, a lot of running activities, and they hit. They hit a bunch. So we're ready to go."

As for the length of Washington's layoff, no team has won a World Series after having at least six days off after the LCS since the 2008 Phillies. Since those '08 Phillies, five teams ('16 Indians, '15 Mets, '14 Royals, '12 Tigers and '09 Phillies) have had at least a six-day gap between the LCS and World Series -- and all five have lost.

Of course, the Nationals come into this year's Fall Classic coming off a dominant sweep of the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nats did not trail at any point over the four games, while outscoring St. Louis, 20-6.

"Getting [six] days off is a long time without seeing pitchers. Your timing can get messed up," said Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. "The rhythm of the team can get messed up. I feel like they were playing great baseball. It was so much fun to watch. ... They were putting great at-bats together as a team, their defense was on point. [Six] days might hurt, it might not. We'll find out [Tuesday]."

So coming off such a dominant sweep should help the Nationals buck that recent trend, right? Again, history suggests otherwise.

The Nationals became the ninth team to advance to the World Series by sweeping a best-of-7 LCS. Only one of the previous eight (1995 Braves) went on to win it all. The other seven not only lost the World Series, but most were knocked off in convincing fashion. Three were dealt a sweep of their own, including the 2007 Rockies, who had won 21 of their last 22 games before promptly losing four straight to the Red Sox following Colorado's nine-day layoff following its NLCS sweep.

"I look back at the Rockies-Red Sox when they [the Rockies] had maybe a little too much time off," said Astros outfielder Josh Reddick, who was in his first professional season in Boston's Minor League system in 2007. "But you never know."

World Series result for previous teams to sweep best-of-7 LCS:
2015 Mets: Lost, 4-1
2014 Royals: Lost, 4-3
2012 Tigers: Lost, 4-0
2007 Rockies: Lost, 4-0
2006 Tigers: Lost, 4-1
1995 Braves: Won, 4-2
1990 Athletics: Lost, 4-0
1988 Athletics: Lost, 4-1

The main issue coming out of the long break for those clubs was the offense. Those eight teams hit a combined .190 in Game 1 of the World Series, while scoring an average of 2.3 runs. None of the eight scored more than four runs in the series opener.

Those bats didn't wake up much as the series continued. Even including the champion Braves, the eight teams listed above hit a combined .210 with a .600 OPS in the World Series. They scored just 2.9 runs per game en route to going a combined 10-30 (6-28 outside of the 1995 Braves).

"For me personally, I like less days off," said Astros outfielder Michael Brantley. "As a hitter, the more pitches I see, the more consecutive days, I like my chances better. But for them, I'm sure they did a great job preparing for us and doing whatever they did to stay ready for us. I just look forward to [Game 1]."

This year's Nationals team shares one key similarity with that 1995 Braves club. Atlanta leaned heavily on its pitching staff in the World Series, starting a Hall of Fame trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz in Games 1-3, respectively. Maddux earned a complete-game victory in Game 1, while Glavine tossed eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 series-clinching win in Game 6.

The Nationals will roll out a superstar starting trio of its own against Houston in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. At the same time, the Astros figure to counter with their own star-studded rotation of Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.

Cole, who the Astros avoided using by wrapping up the ALCS before a seventh game, will be pitching on six days' rest. Though he has a 0.40 ERA in three starts this postseason, his only career playoff start on extended rest came in Game 2 of last year's ALCS against the Red Sox in which he allowed five runs (four earned) over six innings. Verlander, meanwhile, will be pitching on regular rest in Game 2 as a result of the Astros' brief layoff.

As for the Nationals, their starters will all be pitching after more than a week off, starting with Scherzer, who will be coming off nine days' rest in Game 1. He has two career postseason starts in which he had more than a week of rest, both coming in the 2012 postseason with the Tigers. Scherzer posted a 3.00 ERA with 18 strikeouts over 12 innings in those two starts.

Strasburg, meanwhile, made only one start this season after more than seven days off. Coming out of the All-Star break on eight days' rest, the right-hander tossed six scoreless innings against the Phillies on July 12. Corbin, likewise, had one such start this season -- he limited the Phils to one run over seven frames on June 19 on seven days' rest.