Bernie On the World Series: As the Fall Classic Shifts to D.C., the Astros Are In Deep Trouble

After getting walloped by the Washington Nationals for a 12-3 beating in World Series Game 2, the Houston Astros had a players-only meeting.

Evidently the purpose of the summit was to pull themselves together and stay confident despite losing the first two games at Minute Maid Park.

The attempt at positive reinforcement was a good idea. The Astros are in a precarious spot after falling down 0-2 to open the best-of-seven World Series. And now the Houston delegation will travel to Washington D.C. for the next two — or possibly three — games.

The Astros have much to worry about.

Here is a partial angst list:

1. Teams that win the first two games have gone on to win 44 of 55 World Series. In all best-o-seven postseason series, teams that go up 2-0 have won the series 85 percent of the time.

2. In all MLB postseason series played in the current 2-3-2 format, teams that take Games 1 and 2 on the road have prevailed 22 of 25 times, 88 percent. And MLB road teams that grab a 2-0 advantage have won the last 10 postseason series in the 2-3-2 format.

3. To pull this off, the Astros will have to replicate the historical comebacks of the 1985 KC Royals, the 1986 NY Mets, and the 1996 NY Yankees. All three won the World Series after losing the first two games at home.

4. You may have notices: the Astros aren’t hitting. Their robust lineup scored an average of 5.68 runs per game during the regular season and led MLB in batting average (.274), OBP (.352), and slugging pct. (.495). But in their 13 postseason games the stalled Astros are averaging 3.69 runs and hitting .216 with a .292 OBP and .370 slug.

5. The Astros have a .175 batting average with runners in scoring position this postseason. And the performance has gotten worse. After batting .264 with RISP vs. Tampa Bay in the ALDS, the Astros have gone 8 for 63 (.127) with men in scoring position in the ALCS and World Series combined.

The timely hitting isn’t there.

Contrast to Washington; the Nationals are out of their minds right now at money time, batting .314 with a .422 OBP and .465 slug with RISP. An .887 OPS with runners in scoring position during the postseason? That’s effing sick.

6. Houston’s acclaimed contact skills and plate discipline are failing, at least so far. During the regular season Astro hitters had the lowest strikeout rate (18.1%) in the majors. This postseason they’ve struck out 25 percent of the time.

7. If Houston can recover to make a dramatic comeback to win the World Series, they’ll have to stage the rally against the hottest entity in the baseball universe. With Wednesday’s trouncing at Minute Maid, the Nationals have won eight consecutive games, which ties an MLB postseason record. The Nationals haven’t lost a series since losing two of three games at St. Louis on Sept. 16-18.

Since then the Nationals have ransacked opponents on the way to a 20-3 record. Victims include the 93-win Indians, the 89-win Brewers, the 106-win Dodgers, the 91-win Cardinals, and the 107-win Astros.

8. Washington’s formidable rotation is standing in the way. During the Nationals’ 10-2 postseason run Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez have combined for a 2.23 ERA in their 12 starts. They’ve limited batters to a .185 average and weak .570 OPS — punctuated by a nasty strikeout rate of 12.63 per nine innings.

9. The Astros’ own heralded rotation is wobbling. In losing the first two games to Washington starters Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander were smacked for nine earned runs in 13 innings for a combined 6.92 ERA. Verlander is the only starting pitcher in World Series history to have a career 0-5 record. His ERA in those five starts is 5.73.

Before encountering the stubbornly resistant Nationals and absorbing the defeats in the first two games at Houston, Cole and Verlander were a combined 45-13 this season including the AL playoffs. And according to MLB.com Cole and Verlander had not been officially charged with the loss in back-to-back games all year.

Question: If the Astros stay alive and have the chance to give the ball to Verlander later in the series, will his tank be depleted? Since the Astros utilized JV on short rest against Tampa Bay in the AL Division Series he’s 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA in four starts. (That includes the short-rest gig at Tampa.)

Verlander, 36, has thrown 253.1 innings this season — postseason included — his most work since 2012. Cole, 29, should be fine. But keep in mind that he’s pitched a career-high 243 innings this year including postseason. And Houston Game 3 starter Zack Greinke, 36, has a 6.43 ERA in three postseason starts this month.

10. The Astros may have to go with a so-called bullpen game in Game 4, presumably with the capable Brad Peacock handling the early innings. It could work, yes. But at least for now the Nationals have Anibal Sanchez and Patrick Corbin in line to start Game 3 and Game 4, respectively. Corbin has made four appearances as a reliever this postseason, and was stretching (not throwing) in the bullpen before the 7th inning in Game 2.

But with the Astros unraveling in the top of the 7th, and the Nationals capitalizing for an 8-2 lead, manager Dave Martinez didn’t have to put Corbin to work. That was a double win for the Nationals, who didn’t have to burn Corbin. That said, If Martinez has a clear chance to put Game 3 in the bag and take a 3-0 series lead by using Corbin out of the pen, he’ll likely go for it. Hey, when your team can go up 3-0 over the Astros, then fret about Game 4 later.

The Nationals will be returning as conquering baseball heroes on Friday night, bringing a 2-0 series lead back to their home ballpark for the first World Series game played in The District since Oct. 7, 1933.

“I think we’ve kind of defied the odds to this point,” third baseman Anthony Rendon said after Game 2. “And I think (playing in Houston) would have been a success if we came in and stole one game, obviously. But we know the series isn’t over.”

No, but it’s getting late for the Astros. The Nationals have three home games to work with starting Friday. Win two, and it’s over.

Thanks for reading…

-Bernie