MLB Postseason

World Series: 5 biggest questions facing Astros, Nationals

HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 19: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros is mobbed by Alex Bregman #2, Carlos Correa #1 and Yuli Gurriel #10 as he approaches home plate after hitting a walk-off home run against the New York Yankees to winGame 6 of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 19, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals kick off the World Series on Tuesday in Houston with Gerrit Cole facing off against Max Scherzer.

The league’s hottest team against the league’s best team. That’s the 2019 World Series.

The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros begin the Fall Classic on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park after having come down different paths to get here. The Nationals lost 31 of their first 50 games before going on a run to their first NL pennant in franchise history.

The Astros, meanwhile, were favorites all season long and ended the year with the best record in baseball.

This World Series features plenty of compelling storylines, star players looking for their October moment, and potential unsung heroes. As both teams prepare for first pitch at 8:08 EST on Tuesday, here are the five biggest questions hanging above this Fall Classic.

1. How did the Nationals turn their season around?

On May 23, a Thursday afternoon at Citi Field in New York, the Nationals blew an eighth-inning lead and fell to the Mets 6-4. That loss dropped them to 19-31, twelve games under .500 and the second-worst record in the National League at the time, ahead of only the Miami Marlins. The entire team seemed to be having a Bryce Harper hangover.

Something happened to this Nationals team after that loss, though. Since May 23 the Nationals have the most wins in baseball with 82, one more than the team they’ll meet in the World Series, the Houston Astros.

Buster Olney, host of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast, links the Nationals resurgence to one key moment: the return of Trea Turner.

Turner fractured his finger in a game against the Phillies on April 2 while attempting to lay down a bunt. He missed nearly seven weeks, returning to the lineup in May, and the Nationals offense hasn’t looked back.

“When you go up and down that roster, (Max) Scherzer is a Hall of Famer, (Stephen) Strasburg, if he puts together another three years he’s going to be a Hall of Famer,” Olney says. “Anthony Rendon might be the best pure hitter in baseball besides Mike Trout right now. And Juan Soto, it’s hard to find a comp for him in baseball history.

“They just needed to get back to re-focusing and just letting that talent come through, and I think that’s what’s happened since Turner came back.”

For the first two months of the season, the Nationals collectively hit .251 but .273 since the start of June. In the second half, they scored 433 runs and batted .278, both marks second in baseball behind only the Astros. The Nationals ended the season on an eight-game winning streak, had a dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Brewers in the Wild Card game and in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers before sweeping away the Cardinals to get to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

They might appear like a team of destiny, but the Astros are looking like a potential dynasty in the making. Houston finished the year with an MLB-leading 107 wins, their third straight 100-plus win season. They had a winning percentage above .650 in every month except June where they went 15-12. The Nationals have to scratch and crawl their way here, but the Astros always expected to be in this position, chasing their second world championship in three seasons.

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