CLOSE

SportsPulse: The Houston Astros are returning to the World Series for the second time in three years after defeating the Yankees, but must go through a red-hot Nationals team if they want to hoist the trophy.
USA TODAY

HOUSTON —  We are going to see some old-school baseball in this 115th World Series featuring the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

You want pitching the way it was meant to be – you know, where starters are actually starters and relievers are relievers? You’ve got it.

It’s all-world Gerrit Cole vs. future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer in Game 1.

It’s future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander and all-world Stephen Strasburg in Game 2.

It’s 238-stirkeout lefty Patrick Corbin vs. future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke in Game 3.

“What this is, is the making of a classic,’’ former World Series champion manager Jim Leyland told USA TODAY Sports. “Everybody is looking forwards to this. It’s great for baseball. Look at the matchups. It’s baseball at its best, and the way the game was meant to be played.

“You need horses to win championships. What I personally believe is that your best bullpen is a seven-inning starter. You’re then only using your bullpen because you want to, not because you have to.

“These two teams are proving how valuable good starting pitching means to teams. This has got a chance to be a hell of a matchup.’’

NATIONALS: History not on Washington’s side after LCS sweep

RENDON: Nationals’ MVP candidate returns to his home town

This will be the first World Series since 1945 to have six starting pitchers who finished the year among the top 20 in ERA, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, with four in the top 10 

“It’s definitely old-school style,’’ Nationals second baseman Brian Dozier said. “There’s going to be no openers or any of that stuff. When you get to this stage it seems like its always the best of the best, but it really is. This is truly the best pitching in the game.”

It’s the first time that five of the top-10 strikeout pitchers in the regular season will meet in the World Series, led by Cole and Verlander, who finished 1-2, with these two teams also finishing first and second in total strikeouts.

The last World Series featuring the top two strikeout pitching staffs was in 2001 when the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees met, featuring the likes of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina.

“Well,’’ says Astros MVP candidate Alex Bregman, “at least it gives you an excuse if you go 0-for-4.’’

He laughed.

Well, kind of.

“Hey, if you want to win the World Series, and be the best,’’ Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmermann says, “you’re going to have to beat the best. And these are the best.’’

Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who watched the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees  intensely utilize their bullpens in the last two rounds, will know what to do with himself in the World Series. He and Nationals manager Davey Martinez can sit back, put their feet up, and watch these starters go deep into games every night.

“I think they should take their starter out after the third inning, to be honest,” Hinch joked.

Considering the Nationals bullpen had a 5.66 ERA during the season, the Astros may lay out the red carpet for the Nats’ relievers.

“You definitely have to have some guys there to pitch deep in games, because if your starters only go a couple of innings,’’ Corbin said, “that’s a lot of innings you’re going to have to eat up, especially in a seven-game series. It catches up to teams. If your bullpen is throwing six to seven innings, it’s going to be pretty tough.’’

Indeed, there’s a reason two teams with dominant rotations are the last ones standing. You can try “bullpenning” in small stretches, but eventually it catches up.

It was the Milwaukee Brewers’ woefully thin starting rotation that eventually caught up with them, with reliever Josh Hader unable to protect a two-run lead in the wild-card game, which would have eliminated the Nationals three weeks ago.

“That’s why this matchup is so good for the game,’’ Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki says. “The two teams that are playing in the World Series went out and got the best starting pitchers in the game, and look at what they got now. So hopefully it doesn’t shy teams away from shelling money out for good starting pitching. You need it. You rely on your bullpen, you’re going to kill these bullpen guys, and shorten their careers. Teams are putting a lot of stress on their arms.

“Look at Hader. He has a lot of innings, and its only his second full season in the big leagues. Poor guy.” 

Yet, with the innings that Astros and Nationals’ starting rotations racked up, their bullpens were largely spared the stress, and feel relatively fresh for late October.

“That’s how we won in 2017,’’ Astros reliever Will Harris said, “having that strong starting rotation. It allows A.J. not to have to extend any of us. Really, it’s like having a good quarterback in the NFL. The whole team feeds off it.’’

But who knows, , it might make life a little easier for hitters knowing they won’t have to see a different pitcher every time they step to the plate.

“I’m the last person that’s going to tell you it’s ‘easier’ to face Scherzer and Strasburg in the first couple games,’’ Hinch said, “just because they’re traditional pitchers. We’ll see how much ‘easier,’ it is to face a guy a second and third time, but with the type of pitching that we’re going to face out of the rotation with the Nats, I’m not sure you can use the word ‘easier.’

“If you want to do well against the Nats, you’ve got to beat their starters, and then make them make decisions as the game goes on. If you sit back and kind of wait for the bullpen, you’ll look at Strasburg and Scherzer throwing 120, 130 pitches and you’ll be too deep in the game to make up a difference.

“Those guys getting 21, 24, 27 outs is a real possibility for them.’’

And it’s not only a possibility, but a virtual guarantee for Cole, who’s on one of the most incredible runs in history. The dude is 19-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his last 25 starts.

Now, he’ll be taking his act to baseball’s biggest stage, where he’ll be making his first World Series appearance – after watching his first one as an 11-year-old kid in 2001, rooting for the Yankees.

“It was probably the only time most people felt some empathy for the Yankees,’’ Cole said. “That was an unbelievable series getting to watch Randy and Curt Schilling work. I personally am a big fan of starting pitching. I grew up wanting to become a starting pitcher and I’m a starting pitcher now.

“It’s stuff you dream as a little kid.’’

Just like back in the day, says Astros pitcher Collin McHugh. 

“I grew up watching [Greg] Maddux, [Tom] Glavine and Smoltz in the 90’s watching them go against those Yankees starters,’’ McHugh says, “and this will be like bringing back old-school baseball memories. We need that in 2019. I think it’s a fun, new way of watching baseball that probably a lot of young fans haven’t been able to like sink their teeth into for awhile.

“Bullpens have been in vogue the last few years, but to go out there and see the anomaly, seeing the horses go through a lineup three times, and get better as the game goes on, it’s going to be fun.

“Any team in baseball would love to have the embarrassment of riches these two teams have.’’

Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions