The World Series matchup is set. The Nationals and Astros will face off, beginning on Tuesday in Houston. The Nationals will be making their first appearance in the Fall Classic in franchise history, while the Astros are making their third -- but second in three seasons. In 2017, we saw Houston win its first title in franchise history. Now, the Nationals are looking to do the same and get themselves off the list of teams to never win a World Series.
Here are 25 facts you should know about these star-studded teams before they battle in Game 1.
IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME COMIN’
1) Though its fanbase was split geographically along the way, Washington’s National League pennant still was historic. The Nationals/Expos franchise played 50 full seasons from 1969-2018 before punching its first World Series ticket, the longest any Major League franchise has had to wait for its first league pennant. The Rangers (previously the Senators) were the previous record-holders after playing 50 full seasons before capturing their first AL pennant in 2010, and the Astros waited 43 full seasons before playing in their first World Series in ‘05.
2) Citizens of the Washington D.C. metro area have waited even longer -- 86 years, in fact -- since the city last hosted a World Series. Friday’s Game 3 will mark the first Fall Classic game in Washington since the New York Giants beat the Senators, 4-3, in Game 5 to close out their championship in 1933. A crowd of 28,454 at Griffith Stadium watched that contest, which took two hours and 38 minutes and saw each team use just two pitchers. Not a single player on either team’s roster is still alive today.
3) Astros starter Zack Greinke is playing in his first World Series after debuting in 2004, ending the second-longest drought in terms of years by any active player (Oliver Pérez, ‘02). Greinke’s teammate, Joe Smith, was the active leader in regular-season games pitched without a World Series appearance (782) before Houston claimed the AL pennant.
4) Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman will finally play in the World Series, too, ending a 15-year run that tied for the longest of any active position player without a Fall Classic appearance. It’s also been a long wait for NLCS MVP Howie Kendrick (14th season), Asdrúbal Cabrera (13th) and "Baby Shark" sparkplug Gerardo Parra (11th).
5) There’s no shortage of first-round Draft talent in this World Series. In fact, each team has a starting pitcher who was a No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft -- the Nats’ Stephen Strasburg, who went first overall to Washington in 2009 and the Astros’ Gerrit Cole, who went first overall to the Pirates in 2011. Only two pitchers who were first overall picks in the June Draft and signed in that year have ever made a World Series start: David Price (drafted first overall by the Rays, and pitched for the Red Sox in the 2018 Series) and Mike Moore (drafted by the Mariners, pitched for the A's in in 1989 and 1990).
The presence of Cole and Strasburg will mark the first time two pitchers taken first overall appeared in the same World Series. Thus, there’s never been a matchup of two such pitchers -- which could very likely happen, depending on how the rotations shake out.
6) Another evident connection when looking at these rosters? The Detroit Tigers alums. Max Scherzer, Aníbal Sánchez and Justin Verlander were all teammates on the Tigers from midseason in 2012, when Sánchez was acquired from the Marlins, through the end of the 2014 season, after which Scherzer left in free agency for D.C. The team made the postseason each season that it had all three on the roster -- in 2012 through 2014. Those squads never won a World Series -- but they got to the Fall Classic in 2012, where they were swept by the Giants. In 2013, they lost in six in the ALCS to the Red Sox, and in 2014, it was an ALDS sweep at the hands of the Orioles.
And that isn’t the only set of teammates. Patrick Corbin and Greinke played together on the D-backs from 2016, when Greinke arrived in free agency, through 2018, after which Corbin left as a free agent. They didn’t pitch in the same postseason ever, as Corbin did not get a chance to pitch in 2017 when the D-backs played in the NL Wild Card Game and NLDS, but they did pitch in the regular season together.
7) If Verlander faces either Scherzer or Sánchez, it will be just the second time in history two starters who were teammates from one World Series faced each other in a future World Series, both on new teams. The only time it happened was in the 2005 World Series, when José Contreras and Roger Clemens, who had been teammates on the 2003 Yankees, faced off in the World Series -- Contreras with the White Sox and Clemens with the Astros.
8) If Corbin faces Greinke, it would be the third time that two starters who pitched as teammates in the regular season at any point pitched against each other in a future World Series, both on new teams. CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, teammates in Cleveland, faced off for the Yankees and Phillies, respectively, in the 2009 World Series. And the Contreras example above, of course, applies to having been regular-season teammates as well.
This applies to Verlander against Scherzer or Sánchez, too, of course -- but they also pitched in the same World Series together.
9) Astros star Alex Bregman has a close connection to Washington baseball. His grandfather, Stan, was a D.C. lawyer who convinced Minneapolis businessman Bob Short to purchase the expansion Washington Senators (the second iteration of the franchise) in 1968. Stan Bregman also convinced Short to hire the legendary Ted Williams to manage the Senators in ‘69. Bregman’s father, Sam, played baseball at Walter Johnson High in Bethesda, Md.
YOUNG AND OLD
11) Juan Soto, who will celebrate his 21st birthday during Game 3 on Friday, could become the third-youngest player to start a World Series game in the cleanup spot. The only players who were younger? Miguel Cabrera (2003) and Ty Cobb (1907).
12) Soto will also get the chance to hit a postseason birthday homer, something that hasn’t happened much. There have been just three players to homer on their birthdays in the postseason: Kolten Wong in the 2015 NLDS, Evan Longoria in the 2013 ALDS and Willie Aikens in the 1980 World Series. Aikens is the only one with a multi-homer game on his special day.
13) Nationals reliever Fernando Rodney will be 42 years and 218 days of age to start this set, meaning he would be the 10th-oldest pitcher to appear in a World Series. He’d be the oldest pitcher to come out of the bullpen at that age since 42-year-old Joe Niekro tossed two innings of relief for the Twins in Game 4 of the 1987 Fall Classic.
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
14) The Nationals might have dominated the Cardinals in the NLCS, but now they’ll have to buck recent history. Just one of the past eight clubs (the 1995 Braves) who have swept an LCS have gone on to win the World Series, and the last five teams to do so are 0-5 in the Fall Classic.
15) Dating back to the first full season of the Wild Card Era in 1995, teams that entered the World Series with more rest are an even 12-12. But recent history is more unkind; per research by Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post, the 2018 Red Sox are the only one of the last 10 teams with more rest who went on to win the Fall Classic.
Teams with at least six full days of rest before Game 1, as is the case with the Nationals, have lost each of their last five World Series appearances. They also went 2-3 in the opening games of those series.
16) Since 2006, only twice has the team that clinched its World Series berth first gone on to win the World Series: the 2008 Phillies and 2018 Red Sox.
17) Conversely, the fewest days of rest that any team has entered the World Series with in the Wild Card Era is two, and those teams are 2-2 in the Fall Classic. The most recent two such clubs, the 2012 Giants and 2006 Cardinals, each handily beat their World Series opponents.
18) The World Series has been tough on newcomers lately. The Nationals will be the seventh franchise to make its Fall Classic debut in this century, and the last four (2010 Rangers, ‘08 Rays, ‘07 Rockies and ‘05 Astros) have come up empty-handed. The last franchise to win its first-ever World Series game was the ‘01 D-backs, who pounded the Yankees, 9-1, in Game 1 before going on to claim that classic seven-game set.
19) The Nationals will enter the World Series on a six-game winning streak. They’re just the fourth team to enter the World Series on a winning streak of six or more games that postseason (therefore, in the Divisional Era), along with the 2014 Royals, 2007 Rockies and 2006 Tigers. None of those previous three teams went on to win the World Series.
20) The Astros’ 14-game advantage on the Nationals during this year’s regular season hasn’t been that big a leg up in recent times. This will be the eighth World Series of the Wild Card Era in which one team won at least 10 more regular-season games than their opponent, and the previous seven “favorites” went just 4-3 in the Fall Classic. The Nats can look to the 2006 Cardinals (83 wins) for inspiration, as they were the last club to defeat a World Series opponent (the 95-win Tigers) with at least 10 more regular-season victories.
STARS WILL BE OUT
21) Cole enters the World Series with 358 total strikeouts in 2019, the most by anyone since Randy Johnson (419) in 2001. His dominant start to the postseason (3-0, 0.40 ERA, 32 strikeouts) has extended history. The Astros are a perfect 16-0 in Cole’s last 16 starts.
22) The pitching in the series is elite, there’s no question. In fact, this is the first World Series since 1945 to feature six of the top 20 qualified pitchers in ERA, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That’s Cole (third), Verlander (fourth), Scherzer (eighth), Greinke (ninth), Corbin (13th) and Strasburg (16th).
23) ALCS hero José Altuve and his teammate George Springer are staging an October home run derby, much to the chagrin of their opponents. The pair enter this series tied for the Astros’ franchise record with 13 postseason home runs apiece, and they’re moving closer to even more history. Those 13 dingers tie them with Alex Rodriguez for 10th all-time in American League postseason history, and next up is Babe Ruth with 15, then Nelson Cruz, David Ortiz and Jim Thome at 17. Manny Ramírez holds the all-time American League record with 24 postseason homers, and overall record with 29 total including both leagues.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
24) This is just the second playoff matchup between teams from Houston and Washington in any of the four major North American professional sports leagues. In 1977, the NBA’s Houston Rockets defeated the Washington Bullets, four games to two, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
25) The Astros and Nationals both play Spring Training games at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla., and they opened their Grapefruit League schedule with an exhibition game there on Feb. 23. Per the Baseball Hall of Fame research staff, this is just the second World Series matchup featuring teams that share a common Spring Training site. In 1942, the Cardinals beat the Yankees in five games after the clubs began the year sharing Waterfront Park (now Al Lang Field) in St. Petersburg, Fla., for their Spring Training games.