A position-by-position look at the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros going into the World Series, starting tonight (Tuesday) at Minute Maid Park:
Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman. The longtime face of the franchise, Zimmerman was Washington’s first draft pick in 2005 after the team moved to the nation’s capital from Montreal. The fan favorite has been through all of the Nationals’ ups and downs, from a string of painful early playoff exits to the feel-good story of his first trip to the World Series this season. A converted third baseman, he’s been hampered by injuries much of the past six years — including shoulder problems that affect his throwing. But at age 35, he’s become an everyday player again during a solid postseason.
Astros: Yuli Gurriel. From a family of baseball royalty in Cuba, the highly touted Gurriel got a $47.5 million contract and has established himself as a productive RBI man during three full years in the majors. He took off in late June and put together a big 2019 season, with 31 homers, 40 doubles, 104 RBIs and an .884 OPS. He was slumping in the AL Championship Series against the Yankees until his three-run homer got the Astros going in the Game 6 clincher.
Nationals: Howie Kendrick. The consummate pro, Kendrick is more than just a veteran presence at 36. A smart hitter and versatile defender, he batted .344 with 17 homers, 62 RBIs and a .966 OPS in 370 plate appearances this season. Then he won the deciding Game 5 of the Division Series at Dodger Stadium with a 10th-inning grand slam, and took home NLCS MVP honors after hitting .333 with four doubles and four RBIs in the four-game sweep of St. Louis. He has plenty of playoff experience, but this is Kendrick’s first chance to play in the World Series.
Astros: Jose Altuve. What else can you say about this clutch little big man who remains the heart and soul of the Astros? Generously listed at 5-foot-6, the 2017 AL MVP is simply one of baseball’s best players — no matter the size. Altuve put Houston back in the World Series with a walk-off homer against Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 of the ALCS and was selected series MVP. He’s hitting .349 with five homers, eight RBIs, 10 runs and a 1.184 OPS this October. He has 13 career postseason homers, most by a second baseman.
Nationals: Trea Turner. A terrific leadoff hitter with pop and one of the fastest players in the majors, Turner is often the engine that makes the Nationals go. He was 35 for 40 on stolen bases attempts this year and is 159 for 189 in his career.
Astros: Carlos Correa. After rib and back injuries limited him to 75 games this season, Correa made an impact with two big home runs and five RBIs in the ALCS. His walk-off homer in Game 2 at home tied the series and swung the momentum in Houston’s favor. Dropped in the batting order for now, Correa hit just .171 during the playoffs. But the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year, drafted first overall in 2012 out of Puerto Rico, is a rare talent.
Nationals: Anthony Rendon. Born and raised in Houston, the steady Rendon went to college there at Rice after attending high school a few miles from Minute Maid Park. He lives in the Houston suburbs during the offseason, and now gets to face his hometown team in the World Series. Perhaps overlooked and underrated for a while, Rendon is an all-around player who is finally beginning to get some accolades and attention after a spike in home runs and RBIs this season. He made his first All-Star team and is a contender for NL MVP honors. He led the majors with 126 RBIs and ranked third in the NL with a 1.010 OPS. During the playoffs, he batted .375 with five extra-base hits and seven RBIs. The 29-year-old is poised to become a prized free agent this winter, and word is he turned down $210 million from the Nationals.
Astros: Alex Bregman. Coming off a huge season (41 homers, 112 RBIs, 1.015 OPS) that could warrant the AL MVP award, Bregman has been walked 10 times in 11 playoff games. He’s got a great eye at the plate, so it’s no surprise. But the cocky 25-year-old, already a two-time All-Star in three full major league seasons, can certainly wreck a game with his swing in the cleanup spot.
Nationals: Kurt Suzuki or Yan Gomes. Washington signed Suzuki and traded for Gomes last offseason to give the team two front-line catchers who could share the load. Suzuki was more productive at the plate, but Gomes is 4 for 13 (.308) with three RBIs and seven strikeouts this postseason while Suzuki is 1 for 20 with eight Ks. Suzuki hurt his left hand and head when he was hit by a pitch in Game 5 of the Division Series against the Dodgers, but returned during the NLCS.
Astros: Robinson Chirinos or Martín Maldonado. Chirinos was signed as a free agent last December and hit 17 homers. Maldonado, who won a Gold Glove in 2017, began the year with Kansas City, played four games for the Cubs and was acquired by Houston in a July 31 trade. Maldonado has been catching Gerrit Cole and is 4 for 13 in the postseason. Chirinos catches Justin Verlander and is 2 for 22 with a homer and 10 strikeouts.
Nationals: Juan Soto. In his second big league season, Soto had 34 homers, 110 RBIs and a .949 OPS. The 20-year-old cleanup man seems to rankle certain opponents with his antics in the batter’s box during intense at-bats, but he’s one of the game’s most impressive and polished young hitters. He’s delivered several clutch swings this October, including a tying homer off three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium.
Astros: Michael Brantley. Another unassuming star who doesn’t garner that much attention, Brantley has been a great free-agent signing for Houston at $32 million over two years. He posted an .875 OPS with 90 RBIs and played 148 games after injuries derailed him for a couple of years in Cleveland. Now in his 11th season, the four-time All-Star gets to play in his first World Series after sitting out three years ago with the Indians because of a right shoulder ailment.
Nationals: Victor Robles. A talented 22-year-old, the speedy Robles plays a strong center field and has power in his bat. He hit 17 homers during the regular season and stole 28 bases. After missing five games, Robles returned from a hamstring injury in Game 3 of the NLCS and homered. He also singled and scored twice. Robles went 5 for 16 (.313) during the playoffs and scored four runs, but he’s not always smart on the bases.
Astros: George Springer. The 2017 World Series MVP is dangerous at the top of the lineup. After missing time due to injury this season, he finished with 39 homers, 96 RBIs and a .974 OPS in 122 games. The three-time All-Star socked 12 leadoff homers, one shy of the major league record. His 41 combined homers between the regular season and postseason are the most ever for a leadoff hitter, surpassing his previous mark of 40 in 2017. Springer slumped to .152 (7 for 46) in the AL playoffs, but he hit two big home runs against the Yankees. His 13 postseason homers are tied with Altuve for the team record.
Nationals: Adam Eaton. The pesky Eaton helps to get rallies started from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He runs well and tracks balls down in the outfield, too. Healthy all season for the first time in three years with the Nationals, Eaton posted a .365 on-base percentage. He went 7 for 36 (.194) with three extra-base hits and four RBIs in 10 playoff games.
Astros: Josh Reddick. Never shy about speaking his mind, Reddick is 3 for 22 (.136) with a home run in his fourth straight postseason and seventh overall. He’s a fine fielder who won a Gold Glove in 2012 with Oakland and had a very productive season at the plate for Houston’s championship team in 2017. Reddick has some power but often sits against left-handers, with Jake Marisnick starting in center field and Springer shifting to right.
Nationals: Veteran switch-hitter Asdrúbal Cabrera (.260, 18, 91 in 131 games with Texas and Washington) and left-handed bopper Matt Adams provide a pair of credible options at DH against Houston’s right-handed starters. Cabrera had a .969 OPS and 40 RBIs in 38 games with Washington after coming over from Texas. He went 1 for 9 with two RBIs during the playoffs and didn’t get an at-bat in the NLCS. The strikeout-prone Adams hit .226 with 20 homers and 56 RBIs in 310 at-bats this season.
Astros: Yordan Álvarez. Big and powerful, Álvarez was acquired from the Dodgers in a 2016 trade that appears to be a steal. The 22-year-old left-handed hitter from Cuba was called up in June and put up huge numbers: .313 with 27 homers, 78 RBIs and a 1.067 OPS in just 87 games. He set the team rookie home run record and has a chance to be AL Rookie of the Year, but a slumping Álvarez went 7 for 41 (.171) with 19 strikeouts and one RBI in the playoffs — including 1 for 22 with 12 Ks in the ALCS.
Nationals: The most imposing rotation in the National League features three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, the Game 1 starter, followed by three-time All-Star Stephen Strasburg and $140 million lefty Patrick Corbin. Even crafty veteran Aníbal Sánchez carried a no-hitter for 7 2/3 innings in the NLCS opener at St. Louis and has a 0.71 ERA in two playoff starts this year. Washington starters boast a major league-best 2.04 ERA this postseason after permitting only four earned runs in four games against the Cardinals. Scherzer was slowed by a back injury this season but still joined Strasburg and Corbin in finishing among the NL’s top 10 pitchers in ERA, strikeouts and hits allowed per nine innings. Strasburg has a 1.10 ERA in 41 career postseason innings and can opt out of his contract to become a free agent this fall.
Astros: What a trio at the top in Cole, Verlander and Greinke, who was obtained from Arizona just before the July 31 trade deadline. Cole is 19-0 in his last 25 starts and hasn’t lost since May 22. That includes 3-0 in the AL playoffs, when he yielded one earned run in 22 2/3 innings with 32 strikeouts. A victory in the opener would give him the longest winning streak for a pitcher in one year. Cole was 20-5 with an AL-low 2.50 ERA and major league-leading 326 strikeouts during the season. He can become a free agent after the Series and is expected to command more than $200 million. Verlander went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA and a career-high 300 Ks. He led the majors with 223 innings pitched and threw his third career no-hitter. The right-hander is 14-9 with a 3.26 ERA in his postseason career, but 0-4 with a 5.67 ERA in the World Series. Greinke was spotty during the playoffs and the Astros are expected to go with a bullpen game in Game 4 as they did in Game 6 of the ALCS. Rookie right-hander José Urquidy could be a big part of that again.
Nationals: A weak spot all season, the relief corps looks different in October. Washington’s bullpen ERA of 5.68 was the worst in the NL and ranked 29th in majors. To help cover for that, the Nationals used Strasburg, Scherzer and Corbin in relief during the playoffs. The unit has been more reliable in the postseason, with lefty Sean Doolittle regaining his All-Star form and Daniel Hudson supplanting Doolittle as an effective closer. Tanner Rainey has a live arm and 42-year-old Fernando Rodney, the oldest active player in the majors, offers tons of experience. But there are still plenty of question marks for this group, especially the further down the depth chart it goes.
Astros: Hard-throwing closer Roberto Osuna was 38 for 44 in save chances this season with a 2.63 ERA. He was having a solid postseason, too, before giving up a tying, two-run homer to DJ LeMahieu in Game 6 of the ALCS. Osuna recovered for the rest of the ninth inning, though, and he’ll need to bounce back in the World Series. Houston’s bullpen has several answers and is better than many realize — the unit’s 3.75 ERA ranked second in the majors behind Tampa Bay. Will Harris is a stingy setup man who is pitching well. Josh James has a big arm, submariner Joe Smith is tough on right-handers and versatile Brad Peacock is experienced in postseason games. Ryan Pressly, an All-Star this season, got some very important outs against the Yankees but aggravated his surgically repaired right knee in the ALCS finale. He said he’ll be ready for the World Series.