Cinderella vs. the Baseball Giants

Cameron Mays ‘21

The time has come once again where baseball fans around the world wait in anticipation, or bitterness as the best teams from the National and American Leagues battle it out in the World Series. This year, it is the Washington Nationals representing the National League and the Houston Astros representing the American League. Both teams had wildly different years, but right now, they both need to win just four games to be crowned baseball’s best.


The Washington Nationals started the season in a very dark spot. After losing their star player, Bryce Harper, to the Philadelphia Phillies to the tune of $330 million for 13 years, the Nationals started their season 19-31, which landed them the fourth-worst record in all of baseball, putting them10 games out of first place in the National League East. Their pitching, mostly the bullpen, which was the worst in baseball, drove them to the bottom of the standings. However, they turned the whole season around. MVP candidate Anthony Rendon led the offense and Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer powered the pitching staff. Since that point in May, they went 74-36 which was ultimately good enough to secure the first National League Wild Card spot ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers. In the Wildcard game, down 3-1, an error by the Brewers right fielder led to a three-run play, propelling the Nats to a 4-3 victory. 


After escaping from the Wildcard game, many thought their season would end in the next series, the NLDS, for two main reasons. Firstly, the Nationals had never won a playoff series in their 50 years as a franchise in both Montreal and Washington DC. Because of the opponent that the Nationals had to play this year, the Los Angeles Dodgers, most thought that this trend would continue. The Dodgers were by far the best team in the National League, and had basically secured their playoff spot when the season started. Also, the Dodgers had been to the World Series for two consecutive years, even though they lost both times. 


Despite these factors, that Nationals had other plans. After going down 2-1 in the series without home-field advantage, the Nationals won the final two games: game four in Washington and game five in Los Angeles. The baseball world was stunned as Howie Kendrick hit a 10th inning grand slam to seal the series for the Nationals, sending them to the NLCS where they would play the Saint Louis Cardinals.


The thrilling end to the NLDS must have motivated the Nationals, as they steam-rolled the St. Louis Cardinals in a four-game sweep. Three out of four of the National’s pitchers that series went over seven innings. Not only did they go over seven innings, but Anibal Sanchez and Max Schezer both had no-hitters going into the seventh. The Cardinals could not touch them. And just like that, the Nationals were on their way to their first Fall Classic ever.


On the American League side of things, the Astros had a much different journey. Coming off of a season where they lost to the World Series champion Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, the Astros were determined to regain their place as baseball’s best. From the start, the Astros were clearly the best team in the American League. They excelled, powered by two Cy Young candidates in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and the best offense in baseball. Unlike 2017, they also had one of the best bullpens in baseball. They finished the season with 107 wins, 10 games ahead of the Oakland Athletics and in a prime position to make a postseason run.


Playing the AL Wild Card winner Tampa Bay Rays, the Astros handled them in five games (the division series only play five games, not seven like the championship and World Series). The series was mostly uneventful, even though it did go to game five. The lost both of the road games to an upstart Rays team, showing some that the Astros struggles on the road might hurt them further down the road. 


The ALCS was much more interesting. The Astros faced the 103 win New York Yankees who won the AL East for the first time since 2012. In game one, the Yankees looked like the much better team, as they crushed the Astros 7-0 in Houston. After the loss, the Astros regrouped, and in the next game, won 3-2 in 11 innings, thanks to a walk-off home run. Riding the momentum from that game, the Astros won the next two games 4-1 and 8-3, putting New York on the ropes in front of their home crowd. After losing 4-1 in New York to cut their series lead to 3-2, the teams headed back to Houston to play game six. Another thrilling game took place where Jose Altuve crushed a ninth-inning walk-off home run and booked the ‘Stros ticket to the World Series.


The predictions for the champions are pretty straightforward like last year. On paper, the Astros are the better team by far. They have a much better offense, and their pitching is slightly better than the Nationals. Also, they have the home-field advantage which is an important factor. Everyone knows that they are the apex predator in the MLB, and it will be very hard for the Nationals to knock them down on the food chain.


However, the Nationals have the intangibles that have made their playoff run so special. After such a Cinderella storyline, it is hard to count them out. They have shown that their pitching is dominant and that they can produce runs when they need them the most. Fueled by their incredible and improbable playoff run, they have a real chance at surprising the Astros and winning the series. Everyone counted the Nats out from the start, and look where they ended up. Sometimes, it is better to look past the numbers and focus more on things that cannot be calculated by a statistic.


Despite the argument that some might make about looking past the statistics, most sources agree that the Astros will win. The Astros are the highest favored team to win the World Series in 12 years according to major sportsbooks, and 22 out of 29 ESPN analysts chose the Astros to win. 


No matter who you think will win, the series is certain to be great. Great hitting and pitching will be on display for however many games the series goes, so make you do not miss it!