The 2019 World Series is packed with storylines (the Nationals’ Fall Classic debut, the Astros’ chase for dynasty status and the absolutely insane caliber of starting pitching for both sides, to name a few), and if this showdown between Houston and Washington meets the expectations going in, the baseball world could be in for an instant classic.
On the eve of Game 1, MLB.com’s experts weighed in with their predictions. Here’s how they see the 115th World Series playing out.
Who will win it all?
The 2019 Astros are one of the most complete teams in recent years. The American League Cy Young Award is a toss-up between their co-aces, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke is an overqualified No. 3. Their offense, on a league-adjusted basis, rivaled the 1927 “Murderers’ Row” Yankees for the most potent in modern history. Houston was the first team to lead the Majors in pitching strikeouts while also striking out the fewest times on offense.
So despite an excellent opponent in the Nationals, and despite getting all they could handle from the Rays and Yankees in the AL bracket, the Astros were picked by 37 of the 46 MLB.com experts (80.4%) who were polled.
The Astros won 14 more regular-season games than the Nationals (about the same size as the gap between the Nationals and Rangers, who finished six games below .500), but both clubs have elite starting rotations and lineups. The difference, in the opinion of several polled, might lie in the bullpens. Nationals manager Dave Martinez leaned heavily on his four starters and two relievers (Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson) through the first three rounds.
“I really, really, really want to pick the Nationals [really],” says MLB.com columnist Anthony Castrovince, “because it would be a heck of a story and because they have the ability to neutralize the greatest of the Astros' strengths [the rotation]. But I don't think that they can keep getting 90% of the outs from just six pitchers [especially against this lineup].”
Many respondents also cited the Nationals’ long layoff after sweeping the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. Washington will have rested for six full days, to be precise, and league champions with that much time off before Game 1 have lost each of their last five World Series appearances. Still, some feel the narrative surrounding the Nationals -- left for dead early in the season and now bringing the Fall Classic to Washington for the first time since 1933 -- might be enough to overcome that.
“The Nationals have that ‘team of destiny’ feel to them,” says MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand. “Washington is the only team that can go toe-to-toe with Houston when it comes to a starting rotation."
How long will the series go?
Each of these teams had to gut out a winner-take-all Game 5 in the Division Series round, and the Astros’ six-game, battle-of-the-titans thriller against the Yankees in the ALCS felt more like seven. If our poll holds true, we’re in for another long-series treat with the Astros and Nationals.
Astros in 6 games: 24
Nationals in 7 games: 7
Astros in 5 games: 7
Astros in 7 games: 4
Nationals in 6 games: 2
Astros in 4 games: 2
“The depth of the Nationals’ rotation could push it to six games, but I don’t think they can outlast the Astros’ offense,” says Indians beat reporter Mandy Bell, echoing the opinion of several others. Four of the past six World Series have lasted at least six games -- including seven-game classics in 2014, ’16 and ’17 -- and the majority of respondents think this year’s Series will follow suit.
Who will win MVP?
The Nationals might have to beat Cole twice in this series to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy, and that’s way easier said than done, considering he’s riding a Major League-record 19-decision winning streak into this matchup. He’s the overwhelming favorite for World Series MVP in our poll.
Gerrit Cole, RHP, HOU: 20
Max Scherzer, RHP, WSH: 5
Alex Bregman, 3B, HOU: 5
George Springer, CF, HOU: 4
Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU: 3
Carlos Correa, SS, HOU: 3
Anthony Rendon, 3B, WSH: 3
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, WSH: 2
Yordan Alvarez, DH, HOU: 1
The Yankees made Cole look as mortal as he’s appeared in weeks in Game 3 of the ALCS, and he still finished with seven scoreless innings. That game broke Cole’s record streak of 11 straight starts with double-digit strikeouts, and the 358 punchouts he’s tallied for the year are the most any pitcher has carried into a World Series since Randy Johnson (419) in 2001. Johnson was the difference in the D-backs’ classic seven-game victory over the Yankees that year, and the narrative surrounding Cole’s all-time campaign is starting to have that same feel.
“The Nationals have enough starting pitching and are patient enough to not be ruined by the layoff,” says Rockies beat reporter Thomas Harding. “But, simply, this is Gerrit Cole's time.”