The 2019 World Series begins Oct. 22, when the Houston Astros host the Washington Nationals at Minute Maid Park. The Nationals, who had never won a playoff series before 2019, are undoubtedly the underdog: Their 93–69 regular season record was only second-best in the National League (NL) East and 14 wins worse than the Astros. Nevertheless, the team has captured the hearts of many baseball fans this postseason, from taking down the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series (NLDS) to fun antics from 20-year-old Juan Soto, who has to drink grape juice instead of champagne with his teammates to celebrate because he’s still underage. On the other hand, the American League (AL) was always between the Astros and the New York Yankees, so Houston’s spot in the World Series comes as no surprise.
Fangraphs gave the Nationals a 7.2 per cent chance of winning the World Series at the beginning of the season; by May 24, that number had fallen to just 1.5 per cent. However, the team went 73–38 for the rest of the season to clinch the first NL wild card spot. They defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 4–3 after eighth-inning heroics from Soto to advance to the NLDS against the 106-win Dodgers. It took them all five games, but the Nationals upset Los Angeles with a Howie Kendrick grand slam in the tenth inning of Game 5. Washington then dominated every moment of the NL Championship Series (NLCS) against the St. Louis Cardinals: They allowed just one run and four hits through the first two games in St. Louis before returning home to win 8–1 and 7–4 in Games 3 and 4, respectively.
The Nationals have relied heavily on starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sánchez and relievers Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle, so their extra four days of rest are a critical factor. Beyond Hudson and Doolittle, however, their bullpen is lacking, so they will need long outings from their starters for a chance at the title. Elsewhere, they have solid players in Soto, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Victor Robles, but their lineup is otherwise unremarkable.
If the tale of a team that went from a .392 win percentage to NL champions in five months is not compelling enough for fans wondering who to root for in the 2019 World Series, perhaps their quasi anthem is. Since Gerardo Parra made the Billboard Hot 100 single “Baby Shark” his walkup song in mid-June, Washington has gone all-in. From the little shark keychain hanging in their dugout to adult fans wearing shark costumes to games, “Baby Shark” has an awesome presence at Nationals Park, which has got to be worth something.
The Astros have a kid-friendly creature of their own: Their mascot Orbit is notorious for playing pranks on opposing teams’ players. However, they also have arguably one of the best teams of all time. Fangraphs gave them a 17.8 per cent chance to win it all before the season even began and a 35.2 per cent chance before the start of the playoffs.
The Astros have few weaknesses. Starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander have been lights-out from the mound, and though Zach Greinke has had two bad outings this postseason, he is still a good option to turn to. AL MVP candidate Alex Bregman owns the second-highest Wins Above Replacement by Baseball Reference (bWAR) in the league, and George Springer, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, and Yuli Gurriel all put up strong offensive numbers this season. Josh Reddick, Robinson Chirinos, and AL Rookie of the Year candidate Yordan Álvarez have been struggling in the postseason, however.
According to Fangraphs, the Astros have a 72.1 per cent chance of winning, but Soto and the Nationals will not go down easily. This series will feature outstanding pitching performances, late-inning dramatics, and a lot of emotion. Ultimately, the Astros will claim their second World Series title.