A grueling 162-game regular season is in the books. Two Wild Card games, four Divisional series’ and a pair of Championship series’ later, the Fall Classic has arrived.
The Houston Astros, fresh off winning a battle of the American League titans over the New York Yankees, will butt heads with the upstart Washington Nationals who looked dead in the water at least a few times to this point.
The first would be their 19-31 record through the first 50 games of the regular season. The second would be their 3-1 eighth-inning deficit to the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wild Card game. A Juan Soto line drive into right field changed that in a hurry.
The third, and most recent, would be an identical 3-1 deficit to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of their National League Divisional Series on October 9th. Back-to-back home runs – on consecutive pitches, no less – from Anthony Rendon and Soto quieted an electric Dodger Stadium crowd before Howie Kendrick’s 10th-inning grand slam sent the Nats to the NLCS against all odds.
As a result, the Astros are the heavy favorites in the 2019 World Series, listed as big -225 favorites to win their second World Series championship in three years. With Houston as the heavy favorite and a team of elite superstar talent, it’s not a huge surprise to see the top six World Series MVP favorites representing the AL side of this matchup.
The unworldly Gerrit Cole who enters the World Series sporting a 0.40 postseason ERA in 2019 to go along with a 12.97 K/9 clip. In layman’s terms, Cole has allowed one run and struck out 32 across 22.2 innings of postseason work to this point.
A couple of ALCS heroes are among the next five Astros on the list as Jose Altuve – Game 6 hero – is tied with George Springer for second at +700 odds while Carlos Correa – Game 2 hero – is listed fifth at +850.
The World Series MVP can also come out of nowhere. I mean, how many people had Steve Pearce on their radar to win the 2018 World Series MVP? The answer is probably similar to the number of people that picked Howie Kendrick to win this year’s NLCS MVP. For what it’s worth, Kendrick is listed at +2800 to win the 2019 World Series MVP.
As a result, we need to give careful consideration to our pick here. All six Astros at the top are good bets, but keep in mind the Nationals have an MVP-caliber talent in Anthony Rendon who sits at +1000 to win the prestigious honor while 2019 AL MVP challenger Alex Bregman sits beside him at the same odds. Heck, Juan Soto has twice been a hero for the Nationals already in these playoffs and he’s all the way down at +1600 odds, behind 10 other players in this series.
At the end of the day, it’s a very hard kick at the can here. There’s future Hall of Famers up and down this list and picking one of many is simply an arduous task. However, there is one name that I have zeroed in on that provides both value and plenty of realistic upside to take home the crown. Of course, his team will need to win the title as well, but anything is possible at this juncture.
*Odds courtesy of MyBookie
Stephen Strasburg (WSH): +1400
The Houston Astros lineup is as vaunted as it gets. I mean, Carlos Correa posted a 143 wRC+ in the regular season and is hitting seventh in the batting order these days. There is All-Star talent up and down the lineup and the Nationals simply don’t stand a chance if they engage in a slugfest with the best offense in baseball this season according to their .355 wOBA and 40.8 WAR – by far the best numbers in the league.
Of course, the Nationals are in tough to win this thing as per their +185 series price and lack of homefield advantage. That said, they aren’t going to win this one with their bats against the three-headed monster of Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. As far as I can see, their best chance of winning this series is if their own elite trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin can find a way to out-duel the Astros. To be honest, it’s a wildly talented rotation on both sides and the best we’ve seen go head-to-head in the World Series for some time.
While we know Cole is starting Tuesday night’s Game 1 from Houston, the Nationals have yet to announce their Game 1 starter. It could be any of the three named above, but my guess is that they want to get their best pitcher out first to not only get the early-series lead but to also be available for possibly starting three games in this series.
And their best pitcher has been Stephen Strasburg.
Entering the World Series, the 2009 first overall pick has posted a 1.64 ERA to go along with a 13.50 K/9 clip. Yes, Scherzer has been good with a 1.80 ERA himself while Corbin has scuffled in a pair of outings in these playoffs and owns a 7.43 ERA. We can’t rule out right-hander Anibal Sanchez, either, who almost no-hit the Cardinals en route to a Game 1 NLCS win.
Strasburg recovered from allowing two runs to the first two batters in Game 7 of the NLDS against the Dodgers to pitch six innings of three-run ball against the best offense in the NL this season. He was their big-game pitcher then and I believe he will be their big-game pitcher in this World Series, possibly getting the ball three times or at least twice and perhaps an appearance in a possible Game 7 down the road.
It’s not just these playoffs where Strasburg has been phenomenal. Let’s not forget he’s coming off a 3.32 ERA, 3.25 FIP and 3.17 xFIP from the regular season while showing the most stamina he’s displayed in years with 209 innings pitched – the second most he’s accrued in a single season behind the 215 he hurled in the 2014 campaign.
Furthermore, Strasburg has been dominant in the postseason throughout his big league career. He pitched 14 innings of shutout baseball in the 2017 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs and five innings of one-run ball in the 2014 NLDS against the San Francisco Giants. All told, the San Diego State product has posted a 1.10 ERA across 41 innings of postseason work to go along with a 12.51 K/9 rate.
It’s that resume that should get him the starting nod in Game 1. If it doesn’t I’m still okay with this as he’ll start two games in this series should it go to six or seven games. If he can come out and pitch the way he’s pitched in his postseason career and shut down the best offense in baseball en route to a World Series upset, Strasburg has a very good chance of winning World Series MVP.
At +1400, I think we’re getting nice odds on the right-hander with a realistic avenue to winning this prestigious award.