Make no mistake, the Nationals are a formidable foe

5 reasons the Astros will win their second World Series title

Astros World Series
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.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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