WASHINGTON — On the Astros’ charter flight to Washington, D.C., last week, after they had fallen to an 0-2 deficit in the World Series, Houston hitters held discussions at 30,000 feet about how they had tried to do too much as individuals in the first two games of the series. If any team should trust that the next player in the lineup can meet the demands of the game, it’s these Astros.
In Washington, the Astros got back to being themselves. They outscored the Nationals 19-3 in their three-game sweep and are one win away from their second title in three years. They feature one of the most loaded lineups in major league history, performing something like the Yankees’ Murderers’ Row of the 1920s. In fact, by some measures, the only more effective offensive club in the history of the sport is the storied 1927 New York club.
The Astros finished the regular season with the second-best mark in weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which adjusts for era and ballparks, of all time. The ’27 Yankees produced a 126 mark as a team, meaning they were 26 percent above league average run-production efficiency. The ’19 Astros finished at 125 — and that’s the top of the list. For context, erstwhile Nationals star Bryce Harper produced a 125 wRC+ for the Philadelphia Phillies this season. The Astros are a team of Harpers. MLB has rarely seen anything like it.
|Season||Team||wRC+||Finish to season|
|1||1927||Yankees||126||Won World Series|
|3||1931||Yankees||124||Second in AL (missed playoffs)|
|1930||Yankees||124||Third in AL (missed playoffs)|
|5||2017||Astros||121||Won World Series|
|6||1976||Reds||120||Won World Series|
|1902||Pirates||120||First in NL (pre-World Series era)|
|1982||Brewers||120||Lost in World Series|
|2003||Red Sox||120||Lost in ALCS|
|10||1932||Yankees||119||Won World Series|
|2007||Yankees||119||Lost in ALDS|
While Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg were momentarily able to quiet the Astros’ bats in Houston, the Nationals ran out of elite-level performances back on their home turf. Another top Washington starter, Patrick Corbin, faltered in a crucial spot against the Astros’ lineup on Saturday, and Scherzer’s Game 5 start the following day was scratched because of neck and back spasms. Scherzer struggled to turn toward reporters during a pregame press conference on Sunday, and his status for the remainder of the series is unclear. The Nats sent their No. 5 starter, Joe Ross, out against the Astros on Sunday night, and the ballpark knew what he was up against: Ross received a standing ovation as he walked to the bullpen to warm up. The outpouring was not enough — the Nats were overmatched.
Legend has it that the 1927 Yankees intimidated the Pittsburgh Pirates with their batting practice display before Game 1 of the World Series en route to a series sweep. The Astros have plenty of power, ranking third this season in home runs. But the Astros offense doesn’t intimidate only through home run displays — it also features a nonstop barrage of quality at-bats. There are no breaks in the lineup. There are rarely easy outs. The Astros had the lowest strikeout rate in baseball this year and led MLB in on-base percentage (.352) — ahead of the No. 2 Nationals by 10 points. They rarely chase pitches, and that has continued in the playoffs.
The Astros are so deep that the Nationals, in the sixth inning of Game 3, elected to load the bases with an intentional walk to Michael Brantley so Nats reliever Fernando Rodney could instead face Alex Bregman, an AL MVP candidate. Bregman grounded out, but the following night he again faced Rodney with the bases loaded. Though Rodney made the pitch he wanted — a down-and-in, 93 mph sinking fastball that caught the corner — Bregman barreled it and sent it out to left for a grand slam that gave the Astros an 8-1 lead.
Bregman said he had been working on some mechanical tweaks that began to come together Saturday. “The one, I was trying to get the ball in the air and just drive in a run,” Bregman told reporters afterward. “I just think we’re better when we have fun, and we had fun the last two days.”
Make it three days. The Astros seemed to be loose and enjoying the moment on Sunday. Bregman was seen smiling and laughing on the field for batting practice before Game 5 with rookie teammate Kyle Tucker, who was part of his hitting group. On many teams, Tucker — who produced 38 home runs and 35 steals between Triple-A and the majors this season — would already be a staple. On the Astros, he’s a pinch hitter.
Washington’s Juan Soto isn’t the only elite-level young player in the Series. While 22-year-old Houston wunderkind Yordan Álvarez had struggled for much of October, he launched a two-run homer in the second inning on Sunday — one of three two-run homers crushed by the Astros in their 7-1 win — and would add two other hits.
“He’s done this the whole year, but this postseason, as he’s tried to find his way, it was nice to see him stay within himself,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
And batting seventh — seventh — for much of October has been Carlos Correa, who hit a two-run homer in the fourth on Sunday. The club’s shortstop posted a 143 wRC+ in the regular season — elite production for any hitter, let alone one manning the most athletically challenging position. He has the most home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits in postseason history before age 26.
“On the way here from the plane, I was talking to [teammate José Altuve], and I was like, José, we need to get our swagger back,” Correa said.
Even the Astros’ relatively weaker links are stars. And that’s a big reason why one of the great lineups in MLB history flew home to Houston, one win from a World Series title.
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