The results are in. The Astros are winning the 2019 World Series. As a community, we may only be 63% certain, but even for those 100% locked into A.J. Hinch’s club getting to four wins before the Nationals, there are plenty of storylines to follow in this year’s World Series. MASN’s Mark Zuckerman did us the favor of putting together a list. The star power of these two starting staffs alone could (and will) entertain for days, and though the power of these rotations is enough, there are some tasty subplots not far below the surface.
The first being the heart-wrenching showdown of former teammates. There’s Max Scherzer/Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander from the 2012 pennant winner in Detroit. There’s also Patrick Corbin and Zack Greinke, with Greinke serving as the “big bad” in a series of Corbin’s ex-teammates from Arizona. Corbin has already vanquished fellow ex-Diamondbacks A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt.
But there’s more. Take Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, who probably won’t face off head-to-head until free agency, arguably the top two targets on the open market. Though if recent reports prove prescient, they may not match up there either. Still, the two former first round picks will be compared to one another until one or the other signs their next contract.
Cole can just as easily find comparison with Scherzer, his likely game 1 counterpart and career track doppelgänger. Scherzer signed his massive free agent deal with the Nationals the offseason after he turned 30-years-old. Cole is a year younger, having just turned 29, but Scherzer piled up just 44 more innings at the time of his free agency. Max was 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA/3.39 FIP, 9.6 K/9 to 2.8 BB/9 at the time of his free agency. Cole’s record is 94-52 with a 3.22 ERA/3.06 FIP, 10.1 K/9 to 2.4 BB/9.
If there’s an owner out there who hasn’t yet realized the comparison, game 1 should drive home the point. It’s a scary thought, but Cole could turn out to be an even better version of Scherzer. Both had some ups-and-down with their debut franchise (Diamondbacks for Scherzer, Pirates for Cole) before coming into their own for a playoff contender while pitching behind an ace (in both cases: Verlander). If the Nats can pull off a win, Cole will enter free agency as Max did, having played in and lost one World Series.
The game 2 starters – Verlander and Strasburg – have a little before-and-after to them as well. Verlander was the 2nd overall pick of the Tigers in 2004, Strasburg 1st overall in 2009. Verlander signed an extension with the Tigers while still under contract in March the year after the Tigers lost in the World Series. Strasburg has an opt-out this winter, and it’s been presumed that he will levy that opt-out into an extension with the team that drafted him as well.
Verlander, of course, reached the World Series for the first time in his first full season as a starter in 2006. Strasburg was held out of the postseason in 2012, his first full season as a starter. For continuity’s sake, I’m absolutely willing to make the gigantic leap here that Stras’ postseason participation would have led to a World Series berth in 2012. Had Stras and those Nats actually made the World Series, they would have faced off against – who else – Verlander’s Tigers.
By that time, Verlander, 29, was 124-65 over 232 starts with a 3.40 ERA/3.41 FIP. Strasburg, 31, is 112-58 over 239 starts with a 3.17 ERA/2.96 FIP. They’re not identical athletes, of course, but their career tracks to this point are relatively aligned. The real takeaway here is this: if the Nationals lose this series, as predicted, and Stras re-ups in DC, as predicted, look for that hefty contract to hit the trade block in 4 or 5 years, and expect Stras to lead whichever team that is smart enough to trade for him (let’s be honest, probably the Astros) to a championship or two. Granted, I’m working pretty hard to hammer these comparisons home, but everyone has to reckon with their younger selves at some point, and it’s fun to think we get to watch Verlander and Scherzer do it on a World Series stage.
Zuckerman also lists Ryan Zimmerman and Jose Altuve as interesting juxtapositions given their long-term status as the face of their respective franchises. The two organizational soldiers clearly occupy different stratospheres within baseball’s talent hierarchy: at 29-years-old, Altuve’s 38.5 career bWAR already eclipses the 37.8 bWAR accrued by the 35-year-old Zimmerman. Still, both became the face of their respective franchise at a critical juncture – Zimmerman as the Nationals first draft pick following the move to DC, Altuve as the lone holdover from the Astros days in the National League. Just as Altuve has appeared in every season the Astros have been in the AL, Zimmerman has appeared in each of the Nationals 15 seasons in the capital. Both have had their share of the limelight in this year’s postseason.
Both teams also field homegrown third baseman who are MVP candidates in 2019. Anthony Rendon was the 6th overall selection of the 2011 draft, while Alex Bregman went 2nd overall in 2015. Neither may be the odds-on favorite to take home the hardware, but both are deserving. Bregman rocked a .296/.423/.592 with 41 home runs, 1.015 OPS, 168 wRC+ while leading the league with 119 walks. Rendon merely hit .319/.412/.598 with 34 home runs, 1.010 OPS, 154 wRC+ while leading the league with 44 doubles and 126 RBIs. Neither player strikes out, they both play a good third base, and it’s not hard to fathom this series coming down to a big hit from one of them or the other.
Either team’s victory would add a fascinating chapter to their organization’s narrative. For the Nationals, a World Series win would cap off a year of ultimate redemption. Twice in the same week they notched the unequivocal biggest win in franchise history, first by finally surviving a do-or-die game in the Wild Card, later in winning their first playoff series with another late-game comeback, this time against the Dodgers to win the NLDS. By the time they got around to sweeping the Cardinals out of the NLCS, big playoff victories were practically old hat. Not to mention, of course, that winning the big prize the first season post Bryce Harper is the best case scenario for the vindictive among us.
For the Astros, they have a dynasty on the line. By modern standards, you may already consider this team a dynasty for winning two pennants in three seasons, but plenty of teams have achieved that level of success this decade alone, including the Dodgers, Rangers, Cardinals, Royals, and Giants. The Dodgers (2017, 2018) and Rangers (2011, 2011) never took home the ultimate prize, of course, but only the Giants of 2010, 2012, and 2014 managed to win multiple rings.
To the above potential narratives, we can add Juan Soto’s 21st birthday in game 3, the old school versus new school debate incarnate should Anibal Sanchez face a bullpen game in game 4, and the more straightforward old versus young debate in the form of each team’s designated hitter: Yordan Alvarez for the Astros versus whichever old fool the Nats decide to deploy in the role (Howie Kendrick, Zimmerman, or Asdrubal Cabrera, most likely).
For those not interested in all the hoopla, there’s still a good ole fashioned sporting competition to enjoy. This should be baseball at its finest. There’s lots to focus on in this series, but which narrative strikes your fancy? And which narratives did we miss?
(poll link for app users)