After a grueling 162-game regular season and an exciting three rounds of playoffs, we are finally here! The World Series kicks off tonight in Houston as the American League champion Astros host the National League champion Washington Nationals in game one of the Fall Classic. Every World Series is special, but this is the first time in Major League history that five of the top ten pitchers in terms of strikeouts will be playing in one series. There will be plenty of swinging and missing in this one!
The Astros find themselves in the series after winning a Major League-high 107 games in the regular season, and they will have home-field advantage in this series. The Astros were the champion of the American League West Division. Houston went the distance with a plucky Tampa Bay Rays team in the ALDS, eventually defeating them in five games to advance to the championship series. In the ALCS, the Astros took six games to defeat the New York Yankees.
For Washington, they had a very different path to the World Series as they qualified as the first wild card in the National League. The Nats had to beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild-card round and then knocked off the top-seeded Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS in five games. The NLCS was a breeze for Washington as they held the St. Louis Cardinals to just six runs in four games enroot to a four-game sweep. The extra rest was much needed for Washington as they used several of their starters in relief during all rounds of the playoffs, and with the extended break, they were able to rest their best guys and set their rotation for this series.
Starting tonight for the Astros is Gerrit Cole (20-5 2.50 ERA), and for the Nationals it is Max Scherzer (11-7 2.92 ERA). The game total over-under is set at six and a half runs. The Astros are big -194 home favorites. First pitch is scheduled for 5:08 PM PST from Minute Maid Park in Houston.
What Gerrit Cole has been able to do in this postseason has been truly remarkable. On a team that is stacked with elite starting pitching, Cole has stood out as head and shoulders above the rest. Cole has made three starts in the playoffs so far and is 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA. He has racked up thirty-two strikeouts in just twenty-two and two-thirds of an inning pitched.
And this was all fairly expected as the former number one overall draft pick was lights out all season long and is the favorite to the win the American League Cy Young Award. Cole finished the regular season with 326 punchouts. Cole had struck out double-digits guys in eleven straight starts before striking out only seven in his last start. The 29-year old right-hander will pitch tonight on extra rest as he last pitched against the Yankees on October 15th. You can go ahead and pencil Cole in for seven-plus innings of stellar work right now.
On the opposing mound, you have a guy that has been nearly as good as Cole this offseason in Max Scherzer. Scherzer missed significant time to injury this season but is healthy now and pitching very well in the playoffs. The Nats have called on him to start games, come out of the bullpen, ad pitch on short rest, and he has shined each and every time.
In four postseason appearances this year, Scherzer is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA, and more importantly, the Nationals have won each of the four games he has pitched in. In his last start, he was really special as he threw seven innings and allowed just one hit and no runs while striking out eleven. It was the second consecutive start where Scherzer pitched seven innings and picked up the win. You can expect Cole and Scherzer to duel well into the night tonight in Houston.
WOW. What a starting pitching matchup we have in store for you tonight. And the sickest thing about it is that this might not even be the best starting pitching matchup we see in this series as we have Verlander versus Strasburg on deck tomorrow night and then Corbin versus Greinke in game three. Runs are going to be very hard to come by in this series as this is one of, if not the, best starting pitching World Series we have ever seen.
So, who wins tonight? I’ll be honest, this one is too close to call. Cole has been unhittable, and at home, he is even better. The Astros had one of the best home records of all-time in the regular season, and I just can’t bring myself to bet against them in Houston right now. Normally I would always want to back Max Scherzer getting dog money. And at the current price, it is hard not to love getting one of the best pitches of his generation at such a huge price. But Cole and Astros have been too good.
This is a classic spot where I will stay away from a side, as I just don’t have a strong enough opinion to back it up with dollars. But I do have a fairly strong opinion on the first five total. For those of you that may not know, a first five total bet is where you bet on how many runs will be scored in just the first five innings of a game. The Nationals have very well documented bullpen problems, and that scares me off of taking the under on the full game total.
I doubt Washington will use either of their listed game two or three starters in relief tonight, meaning that if Scherzer comes out of the game, it will have to go to the bullpen, and they just can’t be trusted. But in those first five innings, we likely won’t have to worry about either bullpen coming into play as both of these starters should be around late into the game.
The first five total is just three and a half runs, and that is mighty low, as low as you are ever going to see it. But with two guys that are strikeout machines on the mound, baserunners are going to be rare, so it has a shot to stay under. So, that is where I will make my play tonight, on the under three and a half runs in the first five innings.