Nats and Astros: how they got to the World Series

Baseball is best played in October. The air is cooler, the nights are darker, and under the bright lights, the play is better. So far, the 2019 Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason has been stellar, a mix of thrilling games, shocking upsets, fighting underdogs, and great lineups and rotations working together. As the American League champion Houston Astros and National League champion Washington Nationals are embroiled in the middle of a tight World Series, let’s look back at their paths to the Fall Classic.

With the best regular season record in baseball, the 107-win Astros entered the postseason as favorites to take back the championship for the second time in three years with a killer rotation that features Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, who could both take the Cy Young, no questions asked. Most of their 2017 lineup has remained, with 2017 World Series MVP George Springer, 2017 NL MVP Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman, who finished September with MVP-level stats.

But in the ALDS, the Astros had to get through the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card game and have the lowest payroll in baseball. The underdog Rays pushed the Astros to fives games in a best of five series, winning two elimination games before the Astros put it together to win Game 5 and head to the ALCS. Against the 103-win Yankees, the championship series for the AL pennant was a rematch of the 2017 ALCS, but this time it was clear the Astros were slightly better, winning in six games that featured two walk-offs, including Altuve’s series-winning home run.

The Astros met the Nationals in the World Series, a team that few expected to be in the conversation late in October. After losing franchise star Bryce Harper in free agency and a slow start to the season, the Nationals had little chance to even make it the postseason. But on the back of their two aces, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and a high-contact lineup with Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, the Nationals have defied expectations.

They defeated the Milwaukee Brewers in a come-from-behind win in the Wild Card and then pushed the heavy favorite Los Angeles Dodgers to five games in the NLDS. After two straight World Series appearances, a great regular season, and a stacked roster, the Dodgers were expected to cruise their way through the series. After trailing most of Game 5, the Nationals tied it up in the eighth, and then Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam in the 10th to advance the team to the NLCS. There, they cruised, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals en route to the World Series.

The two teams have quite a few similarities. They have two aces, with a great third option: Zack Greinke for the Astros, who was traded mid-season, and Patrick Corbin for the Nationals, who was signed in free agency in the off season. They have stars, like Altuve and Soto, a second-year player who just turned 21 and has burst onto the national stage in the last few weeks.

And so they clashed, the road team winning in the first four games to even up the series at 2–2, effectively resetting for a two-of-three series. Maybe it will go all seven games, like the best World Series do. Perhaps the Astros will assert their dominance like all the pundits expected, or the Nationals will continue on this great run they’ve had. Let’s grab our friends, bundle up in our late fall jackets, grab a foot-long hot dog, and watch the last baseball games of the year.