Make no mistake, the Nationals are a formidable foe

5 reasons the Astros will win their second World Series title

photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros and Washington Nationals square off in the World Series with a championship on the line. While the Astros are favored, the teams are closer than many think, and the Nats have that "team of destiny" look about them. But if all things are equal, the Astros should squeak out a victory. Here are five reasons it could happen:

1) Been there, done that

The one big edge the Astros have is they have been here before. The core players were all part of the 2017 title, and the stage will not be too big for them. A.J. Hinch has managed the team to a title before, so there should be no surprises. Make no mistake, the biggest stage can cause even the best players to wither. (Just ask Yordan Alvarez about that ALCS). So experience is huge, and the Astros have a big edge here.

2) Tougher path?

The Nationals upset a Dodgers juggernaut in five games in round 1. Make no mistake, that was no small feat. But the Cardinals put up little fight in the NLCS, allowing the Nationals to coast to the Series. Meanwhile, the Astros survived a five-game dogfight with a deep Tampa pitching staff, and knocked off perhaps the second best team in baseball by beating the 103 win Yankees in six games. They faced adversity in a big way twice and came out ahead. They will face a tough bunch of starting pitchers in Washington, but they have also faced strong arms in the first two series.

3) The bullpen. Yes, that bullpen

The Nationals may have an edge at starting pitcher as they go four deep as opposed to the Astros three, and all of them are pretty evenly matched with the Astros starters. But Houston has the better, deeper bullpen, and the later they get with a lead, the better chance they will have to win games than the Nationals. The pen was overmatched against Tampa and New York. It won't be against Washington.

4) The better lineup

Again, the Nationals are no joke. Anthony Rendon is a legitimate MVP candidate. Howie Kendrick has been a postseason savage. Juan Soto is one of the best young hitters in the game. But the Astros lineup top to bottom is more talented. They have not played like it in the postseason, but some of these guys are way overdue to wake up. Alex Bregman in particular is due for a breakout. And if they can get Alvarez going...

5) Jose Altuve and the offense

Despite the lineup's postseason struggles, Altuve has been consistent, effective and clutch. If nothing else, the Astros can depend on him no matter what. If any of George Springer, Carlos Correa, Bregman, Yuli Gurriel and Alvarez get going, the Astros should have enough offense to get by.

The bottom line

Washington can absolutely win this series. Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg are every bit the match for Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. Beating the Dodgers was no fluke. This team was every bit as good as the Astros over the second half of the season. But thanks to the five reasons listed above, the Astros should be able to pull it out. If not, there will be no shame in losing to this team and it has still been a hell of a year. But it very well could - and should - end with the ultimate prize.

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

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