Posted on October 23, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Washington Nationals Juan Soto
Image via nypost.com

Game 1 of the 2019 World Series gave us a little bit of a surprise. The Nationals helped to prove that Houston ace Gerrit Cole is human on their way to a 5-4 win. That shifts all of the pressure onto the Astros, who want to avoid losing the first two games of the series at home before heading back to Washington for three games over the weekend. 

Bullpen Survival

Washington starter Max Scherzer gave max effort on just about every pitch he threw in Game 1. He ended up holding the Astros to just two runs despite getting himself into plenty of trouble. That left the Washington bullpen to cover four innings, which they were able to do. Patrick Corbin, who is likely to start Game 4, contributed an innings while Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle both got four outs each to close out the game. The problem is that the Nationals are going to have to lean on Hudson and Doolittle to pitch in a lot of big spots. The more Houston hitters see them, the more likely they are to have success, and so the Washington bullpen remains a question mark in this series.

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Pitching Matchup

The Nationals will hope that Stephen Strasburg can continue to go deep in games. He’s gone at least six innings in all three of his postseason starts, going 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA along the way. Strasburg was at his best in his last start against the Cardinals, allowing just one unearned run over seven innings while striking out 12. Obviously, the Houston lineup poses more challenges than the St. Louis lineup did. However, in his only experience facing most of Houston’s hitters, Strasburg tossed six shutout innings against the Astros in 2017, meaning most of the hitters he’ll face in Game 2 haven’t seen much of him.

Meanwhile, the Astros will look to Justin Verlander in a must-win game. Verlander was outstanding in his first postseason start against the Rays, but his performance has gone downhill since then. The biggest concern is that he’s given up five home runs over his last three starts and been the losing pitcher in two of them. That’s not to say that the Astros don’t have faith in him, but they may not be able to expect an ace-like performance out of him.

X-Factor

The two X-factors in Game 2 are Asdrubal Cabrera and Kurt Suzuki. These two Washington veterans have faced Verlander more times than anyone else in the lineup, including key figures like Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. More importantly, Cabrera and Suzuki have had success against Verlander. Cabrera is 21 for 76 (.276) with nine extra-base hits while Suzuki is 14 for 42 (.333). Given the success of those two against Verlander, Washington’s lineup looks a lot deeper than you would think.

Prediction

Game 1 showed that both teams are capable of scoring runs, especially at Minute Maid Park. Both starters could be vulnerable early on, which could put this game in the hands of the two bullpens. That shifts the edge to the Astros, who only needed two innings from their bullpen in Game 1 and have more relief options. Houston wins 7-5.

Note: This prediction is the opinion of the author and not necessarily the prediction of Jon Price or Sports Information Traders.

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