The best overall team in baseball against a team that should’ve been in the World Series years ago. What’s at stake? The Astros are trying to cement their status as the team of the future. The Nationals are fighting to preserve their history-altering run.
From the Giants fan perspective, you can’t go wrong rooting for either team. Both have obvious strengths (starting pitching). They’re neither the Yankees nor the Dodgers. The Nationals feel like good representatives for the National League. Doug correctly pointed out that they’ve been the team most worth rooting for all along. Meanwhile, Brady, in a rare show of wrongness felt they were the eighth-worst team in the postseason. But the Astros used to be NL Westers — they’re cool, too.
Beyond that, both teams reflect ideologies the Giants have sought to pursue. The Nationals model is the one Bobby Evans wanted the Giants to follow; the Astros model is where Farhan Zaidi hopes to copy in some way for the Giants.
That doesn’t automatically mean the Nationals’ model is “wrong” or stuck in the past, just that the Giants misunderstood what made it work or took too long to model themselves after. The Nationals had a better player development system in place than the Giants did and they got that way in part because of their Montreal Expos carryover but mainly because they were really bad for a long time after moving from Montreal to Washington (640 losses from 2005-2011) and got smart, talent development-wise along with the rest of the league.
Meanwhile, the Giants were already showing the fruit of their development labor and transforming into a winner based on the best practices of the previous generation. Only in the past five years or so have they picked up on the important of international development. Prior to that, the $6 million they spent on Lucius Fox, a top-10 international prospect in 2015, didn’t get them anywhere while Juan Soto — the #22 prospect in 2015 — signed with the Nationals for $1.5 million and is now an All-Star.
The Giants’ lack of player development, specifically where hitters are concerned, speaks for itself.
The Astros didn’t get this way just because they were bad. Even though Jeff Luhnow inherited Jose Altuve, he still had to rebuild the entire development system including the front office culture. That worked, and now that model is being replicated throughout the league, either directly (through staff defection) or indirectly (through the obvious nature of analytics).
An easy story line for the World Series between the Astros and Nationals is how the Astros are so technologically advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic while the Nationals are an old school team that plays and manages from the gut over a computerbot. That’s not a good story line, but it will almost certainly be one. But that doesn’t mean it’s lopsided.
The Astros are the most advanced organization in baseball. They are the best team in baseball, and they got this way through the innovation of creative destruction. But the Nationals are the proto-Astros, too. They were really bad and got really lucky with the timing of their being bad (Ah! Bryce Harper was the best hitter available the year they had the #1 overall pick) and then they developed the talent that they had.
In both cases, they have owners who are willing to spend to stay at the top of the heap.
Some day, the Giants might be in a position to compete in the postseason in the same way these teams are able to compete: with power and depth.
Let’s make this more about the Giants
The Nationals feel a lot like the Giants playoff teams. They weren’t the best team in the field when they got in and they’re not the on-paper favorite for the World Series. It’s a lot easier to imagine them as one of those scrappy teams from 2010-2014, instead of an elite NL unit like LA or, uh... LA? You know, the Nationals have been on the NL elites for a while — in the regular season. This is their first year to flex late into the postseason and they’re setup to do well in this World Series.
They haven’t won easily, and because of that it feels tempting to compare them to the Giants’ 2010 team; but really, they’re a mix of all three World Series teams.
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez as a four-headed starting monster is a really easy 1:1 comp with Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Sanchez, even if the Nationals’ quartet is far, far better than the Giants’. Washington’s rotation had the best fWAR of any rotation in baseball this season with 21.4. The Astros were fourth with 19.4. That 2010 Giants rotation was just the 13th-best in baseball (13.1), which can, in part, be attributed to Barry Zito and Todd Wellemeyer’s combined 258 innings.
The Nationals’ lineup was only 8th-best by fWAR this year (26.0), while the Giants’ were 6th in 2010, 3rd in 2012, and 6th in 2014. It’s hard to imagine the Giants’ lineup being quite that good (2012 excepted). It’s a lot easier to imagine the Nationals being a top-5 lineup. The Astros had the very best lineup this year (40+ fWAR).
The Astros’ pitching staff was, collectively, about a win better than the Nats’ (23.7 fWAR to 22.3 fWAR) and they occupy #4 and #5 of baseball’s top five pitching staffs. If you figure that pitching is the equalizer in any seven-game series, then you’d figure this was almost a push. So . . . why does it feel a lot like the 2012 World Series where we had this:
(thanks to TRESKIES MCINTERNETPERSON for the link)
Worth pointing out that in 2012, the Tigers’ rotation was the best in baseball with 20.3 fWAR. The Giants were a distant 18th with 9.9 fWAR. And, technically, the Tigers’ bullpen had, over the course of the season, been four times better than the Giants (4.1 fWAR to 1.0). Detroit was the worst baserunning team and 6th-worst defensive team. The Giants were not.
That graphic for this series would go:
Another 2012 parallel here: days off. The Nationals last played a week ago. The Tigers had five days off between the ALCS and game one of the World Series. Their offense struggled to get going. Their pitching kept them in three of the four games, but the Giants still swept them.
Washington’s 103 wRC+ (just the measure of the lineups’ ability to hit, with baserunning and defense ignored) is on par with the 2012 Tigers’ 105. And just one of the last eight teams to sweep the LCS has gone on to win the World Series.
So, this feels a lot like the 2012 World Series. Right down to the presence of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez.
And yet, maybe this is the year the long layoff losing streak ends. There’s only one Pablo Sandoval versus Justin Verlander, but also, maybe this year it’ll be Victor Robles? Maybe the long layoff won’t bother Juan Soto? Maybe the Astros might find some complications playing in Washington, D.C in October and without the DH?
This is the greatest comparison between the Giants and Nationals: anything can happen. The 2010-2014 Giants are proof of that. You don’t have to be the best team going into the World Series. You just have to figure out a way to win it. And when there’s no tomorrow, that’s when teams find what they’re really made of — the Nationals have already been doing that for the entire month of October.
Hitter(s) to watch
Howie Kendrick was killing the Nationals with dreadful defense and negative offense (.594 OPS in 19 PA) before he hit that grand slam against the Dodgers in game 5 of the NLDS. Nobody will ever remember the Cardinals being in the 2019 NLCS in part because Kendrick hit .333/.412/.600 (5-for-15) with 4 RBI. He and Rondon were white hot the entire series, and unless Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and/or Trea Turner heat up in the World Series, the Nationals will need him to do it one more time.
Jose Altuve, the Patron Saint of Short Dudes.
Pitcher(s) to watch
Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals have come a long way since shutting him down in his rookie season, dooming their postseason odds. He’s been stellar this year and looks like the fully realized version of him from every scouting report and hype piece ever written about him: the prince that was promised.
Justin Verlander exorcised some World Series ghosts in 2017, but since then, he’s been really just okay. In 7 postseason starts, he has a 3.89 ERA with a 46/16 K/BB with 7 home runs allowed in 41.2 IP. That’s, uh, actually not too bad, but it includes his incredible 7 inning performance against the Rays in game one of the ALDS. Since then, he’s posted a 5.19 ERA in three starts (17.1 IP) with 21/5 K/BB and five home runs allowed. That’s still pretty darned good, but he’s not invincible.
Conventional wisdom suggests the Nationals will need to win a Verlander or Cole start if they have any shot of winning the series, and conventional wisdom suggests it’s Justin Verlander who might be the weakest member of the duo. Still . . . not that weak. Pretty damn good.
These are two really good teams — with the Astros being one of the greatest teams ever assembled — and we’ll all be lucky if this lasts seven games. What do you think?
Who will win the 2019 World Series?
This poll is closed