Some people don’t watch baseball after the St. Louis Cardinals are eliminated from championship contention. That’s fine. You’re allowed. I am not one of those people, and many of you reading this are not one of those people. But after you spend an entire season being almost singularly devoted to one specific baseball team, it can be difficult to shift to another team. But if you want to watch the 2019 World Series, you are going to have to do just that. And you should, because tonight begins what appears to be a compelling matchup for the 2019 Fall Classic.
We will get a matchup tonight of quite possibly the two best starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, as Gerrit Cole takes the mound for the Houston Astros and Max Scherzer takes the mound for the Washington Nationals. The two teams are each so frontloaded with high-end starting pitching that this feels like a classic World Series. Maybe bullpenning, the practice of just firing 100 mile-an-hour relievers all game, is actually an optimal strategy, as had been preached for the last few seasons. But there’s also something endearing about the superstar dueling aces. And after years of the former, we now get to the latter.
If I had to make a pick for who will win the World Series, I’d have to pick the Astros. I think they have a slight starting pitching edge, a moderate starting lineup edge, and a huge bullpen edge. This isn’t to say that I don’t think the Nationals could win the World Series–it wouldn’t completely blow me away if they did–but if you make me pick between the two, I’m going to defer to the team that won 107 games over the team that won 93.
But ultimately, what I think will happen will have little bearing on my enjoyment of the series. So I have to pick who I want to win. Here is my breakdown of rootability, from a Cardinals-centric focus.
Which team will make the most ex-Cardinals happy?
Both the Nationals and Astros have one ex-Cardinal on their roster, and neither has won a World Series, so seeing him win a championship would be heartwarming. While Matt Adams, the former starting first baseman turned Washington National who helped author a memorable postseason home run off Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 of the 2014 National League Division Series, was a Cardinal for the longer of the two, now-Astros utility infielder Aledmys Diaz was an All-Star as a Cardinal. It’s really a matter of quantity versus quality, and I don’t have an answer. If I had to give an edge to one, I’d go with Aledmys Diaz, because he’s the player more likely to get a big hit in a World Series game–he had eight postseason plate appearances so far as opposed to three from Adams. But I don’t have to give an edge, so I won’t.
Which team has more bad blood with the Cardinals?
The more recent examples, of course, is that the Washington Nationals just swept the Cardinals out of the NLCS, and I personally did not care for that. However, outside of some Juan Soto crotch-grabbing that I’ve already mostly forgotten, I don’t think this really rose to the level of other temporary Cardinals rivalries–even the NLDS against the Braves had more of it. Nationals fans still absolutely hate the Cardinals more than the inverse is true because of Pete Kozma (and Daniel Descalso, who has inexplicably escaped the ire of Nationals fans by and large) in the 2012 NLDS.
Seeing as the Houston Astros are in a different league than the Cardinals, younger fans probably don’t feel any contempt for them. But as somebody who came of age as a Cardinals fan in the aughts, I still haven’t forgiven the Houston Astros. They were far and away the NL Central team I hated the most. I didn’t really hate most of the players–what kind of monster could hate Jeff Bagwell or Craig Biggio, or latter-day killer B’s (and future Cardinals) Lance Berkman or Carlos Beltran? Truthfully, the Astro I probably hated the second-most was Roger Clemens, and I didn’t really hate him that much. Moderately annoying? Sure. But whatever.
But Jeff Kent? Regarding Jeff Kent: you do not, under any circumstances, gotta hand it to him. Also, his mustache was stupid. For me and fans of a certain age, advantage Nationals. For fans for the last two weeks, probably advantage Astros. For the rest of you, probably another push.
What team’s World Series victory would be the most annoying from a “now THIS is how you win a World Series these days” perspective?
Every year, whatever team just won the World Series is supposedly the archetype of how you win a title. In 2015, the Kansas City Royals proved that it’s all about speed and three good relievers. In 2016, build your farm system around young, cost-controlled position players, like the Chicago Cubs. In 2017, burn down everything in your rebuild, like the Astros. In 2018, um, spend money like you’re about to lose it all like the Boston Red Sox.
With the Astros, the same lesson would be learned, even if the fact that the Astros have maintained their success has demonstrated they had more up their sleeve than drafting Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman (though that certainly helps). Acquiring Yordan Alvarez or becoming magicians with starting pitcher career resurgences is a different skill altogether.
With the Nationals, however, there is a potentially very idiotic lesson to be gleaned–don’t sign Bryce Harper. It doesn’t matter that Bryce Harper did have a good 2019 with the Philadelphia Phillies, nor that he was made expendable because of the emergence of Juan Soto, nor that his absence from the payroll meant the team was able to sign Patrick Corbin, a pitcher who fit a more pressing need for the team. Instead, we’ll get a bunch of takes about how Well Actually, Playing Players Is Bad. This would be gross and stupid, even if avoiding the Harper contract is perfectly defensible in the particular case of the Nationals. Advantage: Astros.
Which Cardinals-related hindsight theory is going to be more annoying?
This is a tough, tough battle. On one hand, you have “the Cardinals should have signed Max Scherzer”, a take that has emerged years after Scherzer’s 2014-15 free agency, during which the St. Louisan (who probably wasn’t going to take a significant hometown discount, guys!) became arguably the biggest bargain free agent pitcher ever. In retrospect, yes, signing Max Scherzer would have been a good idea, but that’s true for every single team in Major League Baseball–pitchers aren’t usually better in their early thirties than their late twenties and he is a rare exception to that rule. Also, at that time, the Cardinals had a surplus of starters–this was the off-season they traded Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward, and until Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright traded injuries, Carlos Martinez was supposed to pitch out of the bullpen. And even so, the Cardinals rotation still had a sub-3 ERA–only two other starting rotations this century have managed that.
But the Astros have an even less plausible one–that the Cardinals should’ve pushed John Mozeliak aside to keep now-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. You know, when the Astros were hiring Jeff Luhnow to be their general manager. In 2011. On December 8. Barely a month after the Cardinals had won the World Series. If the Cardinals were the kind of organization where winning the World Series and building an impressive farm system along the way isn’t enough to keep your job, why would Luhnow even want the job? This is a take I heard precisely zero times in 2011 and have heard almost daily over the last couple years. Advantage: Nationals.
Which team winning the World Series would make it more likely for the Cardinals to sign one of the top-tier free agents?
The Astros have Gerrit Cole; the Nationals have Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg. I think the one most likely to be a Cardinal (note: I don’t think any are likely) is probably Cole, for various reasons that merit more discussion than a throwaway in this post, but for the Nationals, there’s two of them. In this case, I think a scenario where the Astros win the World Series would drive Gerrit Cole’s value into the stratosphere, but at the same time, the Nationals might get a bit brazen, as they did not only with Bryce Harper but with Jordan Zimmermann, that they don’t need Strasburg, or especially Rendon. Advantage: Astros.
Which team has a closer that was once suspended 75 games by Major League Baseball for domestic violence, at which point said team traded for him because they used a horrible act of violence and cruelty for their own benefit?
The Nationals’ top relievers are Daniel Hudson, a journeyman starter who has found a second life as a relief pitcher, and Sean Doolittle, who has worked with LGBT-related charities. The Astros’ top reliever is Roberto Osuna, who was once suspended 75 games by Major League Baseball for domestic violence, at which point the Astros traded for him because they used a horrible act of violence and cruelty for their own benefit.
These teams are very similar teams. The Astros have some of the coolest players in Major League Baseball, but so do the Nationals. The Nationals do not have Roberto Osuna.