The 115th World Series gets underway Tuesday at Minute Maid Park, with the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals vying for the Commissioner's Trophy in this best-of-seven series.
Houston won 107 games in the regular season and were the big favorites heading into the playoffs, but it's been far from easy in October. The Astros were forced to a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Rays in the ALDS and just edged out the Yankees in six games in the ALCS.
Meanwhile, Washington has fought its way to the Fall Classic for the first time in franchise history. The Nationals rallied to beat the Brewers in the wild-card game, did the same against the Dodgers in the NLDS and then swept the Cardinals in the NLCS.
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Here's how the USA TODAY Sports baseball staff sees the Fall Classic playing out:
Bob Nightengale – @Bnightengale
Astros in 7
I’m veering off my spring-training prediction of Nationals winning the World Series over the Astros. The Nationals' starting quartet has been phenomenal, but the Astros simply are a more complete team. They haven’t even hit in the first two rounds, and still made it to the World Series. It’s impossible to believe it will last. There’s also the matter of the lengthy layoff. It crushes teams. And it could be the deciding blow to the Nats’ lineup. Washington has to win at least one of the first two games in Houston to make this intriguing.
Gabe Lacques – @GabeLacques
Astros in 5
Make no mistake: The Nationals can certainly win this. Manager Dave Martinez indicated an aggressive stance regarding use of his starters out of the bullpen, to go for the kill early and also put the keep in the hands of his trusted sextet of pitchers: Starters Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and Anibal Sanchez and relievers Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. But the Astros put too much pressure on opponents, take too good of at-bats, and ultimately expose the weakest underbelly of their opponents. In the end, their desire for a dynasty – and a deeper core of trusted pitchers – wins out.
Jesse Yomtov – @JesseYomtov
Astros in 5
As the only person in this crew to have picked every series correctly (no big deal), I'm going to stick with my prediction from the beginning of the month – and that's not a knock on the Nationals. Every game in this series should be a close one. The strong individual performances from the Nationals' starters and hitters are entirely sustainable, but they're going to have rely more on their relievers than they have to this point – and that's where the team's luck may finally run out.
Steve Gardner – @SteveAGardner
Astros in 6
The combination of dominant starting pitching and a restricted-flight baseball will have runs in short supply during this series – and will also make for close, exciting games. If any team has a chance to match the Astros’ excellence on the mound, it’s the Nationals. The Gerrit Cole-Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander-Stephen Strasburg matchups should be epic. However, it’ll be extremely difficult for the Nationals to duplicate the .393 average with runners in scoring position they produced in the NLCS. The Astros’ ability to make consistent contact will be the difference in the series as their relentless offensive attack – one that led the majors in on-base percentage AND fewest strikeouts in the regular season – will make the most of their scoring opportunities.
Scott Boeck – @ScottBoeck
Astros in 6
The Nationals starting rotation has been dominant this postseason. And yes, their starters are all well rested, but the long layoff could come back to haunt them. MVP candidate Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Yordan Alvarez combined to bat .138 in the ALCS against the New York Yankees. All reasons to pick the Nationals, but all trends that will come to an end. The Astros bats will wake up en route to a second title in three years.
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