HOUSTON — This much is certain regarding the 115th World Series.
There will be no talk of the Astros or Nationals bullpenning their way through games.
No talk of the perils of pitchers staying in for the dreaded “third time through the order,” no scripted formulas for bullpens “bringing us home” after a lead gained in the fourth or fifth inning.
“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,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said Monday.
The Nationals, of course, would say the same, and it starts right off the bat in Game 1 with a matchup of aces any fan of the sport should be anticipating.
Gerrit Cole, a co-favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award after going 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA, starts for the Astros against the Nationals’ Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner.
Hinch said Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58), the other AL Cy Young co-favorite, will start Game 2, followed by former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke (18-5 with a 2.93 ERA between the Diamondbacks and Astros) in Game 3.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez said he will go with Stephen Strasburg (18-6, 3.32) in Game 2 and has not made up his mind for Games 3 and 4. He has good options, as in some order it likely will be Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.25) and Anibal Sanchez (11-8, 3.85).
“Starting pitching’s always at a premium,” Strasburg said. “It costs a lot of money to get that in free agency. I think both of these organizations have obviously put together some strong rotations, and as a pitcher myself, I think it’s great to be able to watch a lot of these guys during the course of the season go about their business.”
Cole’s season, particularly the last four months of the regular season and into October, has been otherworldly. He went 11-0 with a 1.51 ERA in his last 13 regular-season starts, striking out 143 and walking 16 in 89 2⁄3 innings in that stretch, and has not lost a game since May 22. In his last 25 starts, he is 19-0 and the Astros are 23-2.
Cole went 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP in two starts in Houston’s five-game victory over the Rays in the ALDS, striking out 25 in 15 2⁄3 innings. He wasn’t as sharp in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Yankees, allowing four hits and walking five, but still struck out seven in seven scoreless innings in the Astros’ 4-1 victory.
“I faced him in Pittsburgh. He’s a different pitcher now,” said Ryan Zimmerman, a National since the club’s first season in Washington in 2005. “He’s changed some things up a little bit. He had great stuff in Pittsburgh as well, but he’s obviously one of the best pitchers in the game. Hasn’t lost in a while. But if you want to win the World Series and be the best, you have to beat the best guys, and these guys [the Astros] have a few of them.”
As do the Nationals, starting with Scherzer. Though the 35-year-old righthander wasn’t quite as good as in past seasons, he still went 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA, striking out 243 batters in 172 1⁄3 innings.
“I personally am a big fan of starting pitching,” Cole said with a smile of the prevailing story line for this series. “I grew up wanting to become a starting pitcher and I’m a starting pitcher now. And there are a lot of really good starting pitchers on the other side of the field, guys that kind of emulate the role in terms of longevity, durability, creativeness, tenacity, grit.
“And so just a pleasure to share the field with them on the greatest stage at this point. And best of luck to them.”