Odds are, this World Series will be done in a hurry. That’s what the analytics say. And the people counting money in Las Vegas agree.
It’s been a dozen years since betting lines have started off so lopsided. The Astros are that good, and the Nationals are that thin.
You have a team that won 107 games and is two years removed from its last World Series title playing against a team that was 12 games under .500 in May and barely survived both the wild card game and the National League Division Series.
So why risk a week’s worth of midnight bedtimes for a potential rout?
Because this matchup has the slightest whiff of history about it. It’s not just the backdrop of Washington’s 95-year quest for a World Series title, or the Nationals’ penchant for flirting with elimination or the idea of two starting pitchers potentially dominating October. It’s all those things, and more.
Here are five storylines to keep in mind as Game 1 draws nearer.
Artistry at 99 mph
Offense sells in the regular season, no doubt about that. Fans show up early to watch batting practice, not to see pitchers warming up in the bullpen.
But come October, there is something magical about two aces trading out for out, inning for inning. It’s John Smoltz and Jack Morris throwing matching zeroes in Game 7 of 1991. Or Don Drysdale and Dave McNally in Game 4 of “66. Or Bob Feller and Johnny Sain in Game 1 of “48.
This World Series has that potential. Between them, the Astros and Nationals have six starting pitchers who had WARs (wins above replacement) of 5.0 or higher this season, according to baseballreference.com. In the last half-century, there has never been another Series with that many stars in the two rotations.
Three of the starters (Houston’s Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, and Washington’s Max Scherzer) are likely Hall of Famers. Two others (Houston’s Gerrit Cole and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg) are former No. 1 picks with Hall of Fame potential.
Manager Dave Martinez is keenly aware that Washington’s best chance is with Scherzer and Strasburg throwing as close to nonstop as possible. Between them, they’ve already accounted for nearly 47 percent of Washington’s postseason innings through 10 games. The possibility they will be coming out of the bullpen at key moments will loom over every game.
Four wins from a legacy
The Astros have put together three consecutive 100-win seasons, a feat matched by only five other franchises in baseball history.
Win this World Series, along with their 2017 title, and Houston fans can begin preparing the argument that this is one of the most dominant teams in MLB history.
On the other hand, if the Astros fall short, they’ll look suspiciously like the 1969-1971 Orioles or the 1988-90 Athletics or the Braves of the 1990s. All of those teams won one World Series title, but are better remembered for failing to win more.
An October for the ages
Time, injuries and limited attention spans have dimmed our appreciation of Jose Altuve. From 2014-17, Houston’s second baseman was as good as any player not wearing a Mike Trout jersey. He won three batting titles, led the AL in hits all four seasons and won a couple of stolen base titles for good measure.
It’s not like the world soured on Altuve, but his numbers dipped the past two seasons and teammates such as George Springer, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez began grabbing more of the headlines in Houston.
The last two weeks have changed all of that.
Cole has probably been Houston’s most important player in the postseason, but Altuve has reminded the rest of the world that he’s still in his prime. In the divisional and league championship series, Altuve has hit .349 with five home runs in 11 games, including a walk-off shot to win the pennant against the Yankees.
The greatest players always give us moments that live forever. This postseason feels like Altuve’s time.
Introductions are in order
The list of players who have hit more than 50 homers and drawn more than 150 walks before their 21st birthday is interesting.
Hall of Famer Mel Ott was the first one. And for the next 90 years, he was also the only one.
Until Juan Soto.
Washington’s left fielder, who turns 21 on Friday, has not gotten the kind of attention Aaron Judge has in New York or Ronald Acuna in Atlanta, but he’s shown a combination of power and patience that is practically unprecedented at this age.
Soto is also a bit of a flake, challenging pitchers with his antics in the batter’s box. Love him or hate him, he is impossible to ignore when he has a bat in his hands.
Something to think about in Tampa Bay
The ultimate test of a fan’s love:
Can you cheer for your team in another city?
That’s the question fans in Montreal will have to ask themselves tonight. The Expos left Montreal after the 2004 season to become the Nationals, the only franchise relocation Major League Baseball has seen in the last 45 years.
The answer seems to be:
While Montreal is eager to reacquaint itself with baseball through a partnership with the Rays, the city has never seemed to embrace the Nationals as a part of the city’s heritage. Part of that was the disgust over the way ownership allowed the franchise to wither during its final years in Montreal. Part of it was Washington’s utter lack of respect for the team’s history. The Expos had retired the jerseys of three players; Washington had used all three numbers by its second season.
Maybe there’s some lingering bitterness in Montreal. Maybe it’s simply apathy after moving on.
And maybe, one day, Tampa Bay will be able to relate.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.