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The Nationals eke out a nail-biter in Game 1

The battle of aces didn’t live up to the hype, but it was still entertaining!

World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game One Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

For the second time in three years, the Houston Astros are in the World Series. And for the second time in three years, a member of the Houston Astros organization did something incredibly dumb and offensive that’s cast a shadow over the whole thing. The Astros are an exciting team, with a lot of incredible talent—some old (Justin Verlander, Zach Grienke), some new (George Springer, likely MVP Alex Bregman). The Astros should be commended for building a perennial World Series contender just a few short years after posting back-to-back-to-back 100-loss seasons.

And yet, here we are.

There are bigger concerns if, in its race to be relevant again, the Astros organization has abandoned its moral makeup for the sake of winning, but that’s a question for another article. For now, we have a World Series game to recap.

This game was supposed to be a pitching showdown, with both teams throwing double-checkmark-caliber starting rotations. Gerrit Cole has been one of the best pitchers this season, and of course, Max Scherzer was a part of the original double-checkmark crew. This was going to be the pitching duel of pitching duels.

Or maybe not.

Scherzer led off the game with a walk to Springer, which isn’t good. Then Jose Altuve hit a single. Then there was a wild pitch. And then, Yuli Gurriel hit a double, because of course it had to be Gurriel.

There is no doubt that the Nationals come into the series as the underdogs. Never mind that their rotation has been on fire. Never mind that they have Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon. This team, much like the 2010 and 2014 Giants teams, is deeply, deeply flawed. After the first inning, we were finally going to see this team crack.

But…they didn’t crack. Scherzer managed to get out of the first inning without further damage, and though he was far from perfect after that, he didn’t allow another run. After Soto struck out on high cheese in the first, he came back to homer off Cole in the fourth and double in two more runs in the fifth. A Ryan Zimmerman home run and an Adam Eaton RBI single later, and suddenly, Cole was tagged for five runs—the first time since May 22.

May 22! Cole has basically treated other teams this season the same way Clayton Kershaw treats the Giants. If the Nationals stand a chance at winning this series, they had to do the seemingly impossible.

And for at least one game, that’s exactly what they did.

I have never seen a team in the playoffs distrust its bullpen as much as the Washington Nationals. (Well, maybe the 2016 San Francisco Giants, but let’s not talk about that.) After the Great Bumgarnering of 2014, managers have shown a greater willingness to uses their aces as glorified relievers—sometimes to their own detriment.

But whereas those instances felt gimmicky, the Nationals have turned the gimmick into a regular feature. Not just because it’s been particularly effective, which it has. If you remove Patrick Corbin’s dismal appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the top three starters have combined for 6.2 innings, 12 strikeouts, and zero runs.

No, the real reason Dave Martinez keeps running out his starters—even when their arms are falling off—is because the Nationals bullpen is completely unreliable. Over the regular season, the team’s bullpen finished in the bottom five in FIP (4.94) and second to last in ERA (5.68). ERA is always a bit misleading when it comes to relievers, but we’re talking 500+ innings here.

Yeah, the Nationals bullpen is bad.

When Scherzer was pulled after a gutsy five innings (112 pitches), it made sense that Corbin came out to protect the 5-2 lead. And he had no trouble doing so, striking out Carlos Correa and Martin Maldonado and getting Aledmys Diaz to ground out.

But Corbin still has to start at least one game in this series, and the Nationals only have so many starters, so eventually the bullpen had to step up.

First up was Tanner Rainey! Come on, Tanner, you can—

Haha, that’s okay, you still have a two-run lead—

/Rainey walks two hitters.

Oh boy.

Daniel Hudson managed to stanch the bleeding, with an assist from Trea Turner that saved a run, but he was knocked out during a second inning of work after Springer once again pummeled a ball that was inches away from tying the game.

Of course, if Springer had been running out of the box, he probably ends up with a triple and scores on Jose Altuve’s flyout. But also of course, it would’ve been a home run if MLB hadn’t replaced the juiced balls, but hey, it’s not like affecting the outcome of World Series games with a last-minute change is that big of a deal.

I can’t close this recap without talking about Soto. The dude is only 20 years old. Twenty! What the heck were you doing when you were 20? Not playing in the World Series, that’s for sure.

Soto is officially the second youngest player to hit a home run in his World Series debut, just about a year behind Andruw Jones.

And the thing is, he’s not even close to hitting his prime. He put up incredible numbers in his rookie season last year, at the tender age of 19. He then followed it up by being even better in his second season. He is only 20.

Thankfully, Soto turns 21 this Friday, so if the Nationals win the series, he’ll be able to enjoy the champagne.