As the World Series shifts back to Houston, the Astros are one win away from becoming champions. But since the visiting team has won every game so far, the Nationals have things right where they want them, right?
We asked three of our national baseball writers — Jeff Passan, David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle — some of the burning questions heading into Tuesday night’s Game 6.
1. You’ve seen the Nats at their best this postseason, but they’re struggling now. What’s missing and can they rediscover it in time?
Look, there’s nothing a heavy dosage of Stephen Strasburg in Game 6 and hopefully a healthier Max Scherzer in Game 7 can’t solve (or even an effective Anibal Sanchez). Obviously, however, they have to figure it out at the plate after scoring three runs in three games at home. As a team that relies heavily on its stars, that points to Anthony Rendon needing a big final two games. He’s hitting .200 in the series and while he’s hardly what you would call struggling — he’s had a couple of hard outs and just two strikeouts — he’s the guy the offense is built around. He led the majors in RBIs. It would help if leadoff man Trea Turner can get on base to give Rendon more RBI opportunities. Turner is hitting .136 in the series and just .205 in the NL Championship Series and World Series combined. — David Schoenfield
2. Who is one guy on the Nats who needs to pick it up?
Aside from the offense, I think the Nats are going to need something from Patrick Corbin and/or Sanchez the next two games. As much as you want to dream on Strasburg pitching a complete game, it’s not going to happen. He’s gone 6, 6, 7 and 6 innings in his four playoff starts. That means Dave Martinez probably has to expect three innings from his bullpen in Game 6. Who do you really trust beyond Sean Doolittle? That’s where Corbin and Sanchez might play a role — and again in Game 7. — Schoenfield
3. Why aren’t the home teams able to score in this series and will that change in Houston?
The pitchers will dictate that, just as they have the rest of the series. I wouldn’t expect a high-scoring Game 6 with Verlander and Strasburg going and both bullpens benefiting from the rest on Monday. However, if the Nationals win Tuesday, you could see Game 7 becoming an offensive game. There is nothing wrong with the Houston offense right now after the Astros put up 19 runs over the weekend in D.C. They flourish at Minute Maid Park. If the Astros struggle to score, it won’t be because of the hitters or any issues with playing at home. It’ll be because of Stephen Strasburg. — Bradford Doolittle
4. Justin Verlander has lost two close-out games already this postseason. Will Game 6 be different?
Verlander has gotten off to slow starts in his past couple of outings, then settled down and pretty much pitched like Justin Verlander. There are a couple of trends with him that just don’t seem likely to hold up for very long. One, there are the slow starts, which have been more related to command than stuff and aren’t evident when looking at the larger track record of his regular season. You have to figure he’ll make adjustments. The other is simply his 0-for-6 showing when it comes to earning his first World Series win. Expect to see a sharp Verlander in Game 6. Will he win? Well, his opponent — Strasburg — is pretty good too. — Doolittle
5. Will we see Max Scherzer again in this series?
Not even Max Scherzer himself knows the answer to this question. It all depends on how he wakes up feeling Wednesday. The Nationals could have a better sense Tuesday, the 48-hour mark since he received a cortisone shot in his neck. If it is no longer “locked up,” as he said it was Sunday when he missed his Game 5 start, Scherzer could theoretically go. On the other hand, he could not raise his arm, his wife needed to dress him and he said he literally had to roll out of bed. It wouldn’t be a miracle if he pitches, because Scherzer is incredibly tough and incredibly driven. Especially with it being a Game 7. But is it likely? Let’s put it this way: With past injuries of similar severity, he always missed at least one full turn in the rotation. If there is a Game 7, and Scherzer does pitch, it will be all the more impressive. — Jeff Passan
6. What’s better for baseball: the Astros winning their second title in three years or the Nats winning their first title in Game 7?
Why do I get the hard questions! Let’s consider both scenarios. If the Astros win, they join the Giants — who did it twice — as the only team to win two championships in three years this century. After the ALCS, Alex Bregman told me in the clubhouse: “We’re just a group of guys ready to make a dynasty in Houston.” Two of three is an awfully good start, and dynasties aren’t bad for sports; they give the other franchises a bad guy to chase. And it’s impossible to look at the Astros and dislike the brand of baseball they play. Their talent is overwhelming, their product amazing. They might be the most-enjoyable-to-watch team of the decade. On the other hand, there always will be a segment of people who loathe that Roberto Osuna is on the team, and the Astros’ behavior throughout the entire Brandon Taubman incident was abhorrent. The Astros winning, then, would register as polarizing.
If the Nationals win, they will have done so with inferior talent, as heavy underdogs, in extreme come-from-behind fashion and having created history (no team ever has won a World Series without taking at least one home game). It has been nearly 100 years since a team based in Washington, D.C., captured a World Series title. There’s no other way to say it: The Nationals are a really good story.
So purely objectively, looking at upside and downside, zero bias involved: Washington is the answer. — Passan