HOUSTON - The Nationals could’ve gotten cute with their World Series rotation, sticking with the order that led them to a National League Championship Series sweep of the Cardinals and saved up their two best horses for potential Games 6 and 7.
In the end, manager Davey Martinez decided to keep thing simple and just go with his best guys right out of the chute against the Astros’ comparable aces.
Max Scherzer will start Game 1 of the Fall Classic on Tuesday night, with Stephen Strasburg on the mound for Game 2, Martinez revealed this afternoon, setting up what should be back-to-back elite pitching matchups at Minute Maid Park to begin this series.
Scherzer and Strasburg will be facing two of baseball’s best: The Astros today announced Gerrit Cole as their Game 1 starter, with Justin Verlander in Game 2. Zack Greinke, no slouch himself, will pitch Game 3 on Friday night in Washington against a to-be-determined opponent.
“They’re all-in,” Martinez said. “They’re ready. These guys are excited to be here, and let’s go have some fun.”
Having just enjoyed a six-day break between postseason rounds, Martinez had the ability to line up his rotation however he liked. There may have been some temptation to go with Aníbal Sánchez in Game 1, just as the Nationals did out of necessity in the NLCS, with Scherzer and Strasburg to follow (putting the two big right-handers on track to start Games 6 and 7 if needed).
But with everyone well rested, Martinez opted to send his three-time Cy Young Award winner to the mound for Game 1.
This will be Scherzer’s fourth start, and fifth appearance, of this postseason, and he has progressively been better each time out. After opening the NL wild card game against the Brewers allowing a pair of early homers, the 35-year-old then excelled in a pair of NL Division Series outings against the Dodgers (one out of the bullpen). And in Game 2 of the NLCS, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Cardinals.
All told, since those three quick runs he gave up in the first two innings of the wild card game, Scherzer has allowed one run on six hits over his subsequent 18 innings this month.
This is Scherzer’s 21st career postseason appearance, his second in the World Series. He previously started Game 4 of the 2012 Fall Classic, his Tigers facing elimination, and departed after allowing three runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings, the Giants eventually winning in the 10th inning to sweep the series.
The Nationals will need Scherzer at his best Tuesday night, with the electric Cole on the mound for the Astros. The 29-year-old right-hander and possible American League Cy Young Award winner has allowed just one run on 10 hits, striking out 32, in 22 2/3 innings this postseason. He hasn’t been charged with a loss since May 22, a span of 25 starts.
“I’ve been in the situation,” Scherzer said. “Faced really good pitchers here in the National League over the years: (Clayton) Kershaw, (Jacob) deGrom, those guys. You just know you’ve got to come out there, you’re going to be throwing up zeros. And you’ve got to try to match the intensity from your opponent. Cole’s had a terrific year, so obviously it’s going to one heck of a challenge.”
Cole would’ve started Game 7 of the ALCS had the Yankees extended the series. Jose Altuve’s bottom-of-the-ninth homer off Aroldis Chapman allowed the Astros to save Cole for Game 1 against the Nationals, though they still would’ve been in good shape with Greinke starting Tuesday night had the ALCS gone the distance.
“Certainly getting to start the series with Gerrit and J.V. and Greinke lined up is nice,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “We did have a pretty good backup plan if we were pushed to a Game 7. But it’s hard to think of many guys better than that trio to kick off a World Series.”