Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
And then there were four.
With the wild-card games and divisional series in the rearview, only the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals remain in the hunt for the 2019 MLB crown.
While the Yankees made quick work of the Minnesota Twins (as per usual), the Astros, Nationals and Cardinals all had to scratch out five-game series wins. Will New York benefit from the extra rest, or might the team find itself a tad rustier than the rest after going five full days between games?
Championship Series Odds
Houston Astros -175 (wager $175 to win $100)
New York Yankees +150 (wager $100 to win $150)
Washington Nationals -120
St. Louis Cardinals +100
Per Caesars Sportsbook.
Championship Series TV Schedule
Game 1: Oct. 12—New York at Houston, 8 p.m. ET on Fox
Game 2: Oct 13—New York at Houston, 8 p.m. ET on FS1
Game 3: Oct. 15—Houston at New York, TBD on Fox or FS1
Game 4: Oct. 16—Houston at New York, TBD on Fox or FS1
Game 5*: Oct. 17—Houston at New York, TBD on Fox or FS1
Game 6*: Oct. 19—New York at Houston, TBD on Fox or FS1
Game 7*: Oct. 20—New York at Houston, TBD on Fox or FS1
Game 1: Oct. 11—Washington at St. Louis, 8 p.m. ET on TBS
Game 2: Oct 12—Washington at St. Louis, 4 p.m. ET on TBS
Game 3: Oct. 14—St. Louis at Washington, TBD on TBS
Game 4: Oct. 15—St. Louis at Washington, TBD on TBS
Game 5*: Oct. 16—St. Louis at Washington, TBD on TBS
Game 6*: Oct. 18—Washington at St. Louis, TBD on TBS
Game 7*: Oct. 19—Washington at St. Louis, TBD on TBS
Championship Series Predictions
Astros Down Yankees 4-3
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
While history may hold the Yankees as MLB’s biggest winners, it’s the Astros who enter with more familiarity of what’s at stake.
Houston is playing in the ALCS for the third consecutive season and is hoping for its second World Series title in that stretch. All three of those campaigns featured at least 101 victories, topping out with this year’s 107.
“I think this is the best team we’ve had here, by far,” Alex Bregman told USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale. “If we win the World Series this year, I think we have a chance to be one of the best teams of all time.”
Houston is loaded, but so is New York. The Yankees won 103 games (third-most behind only the Astros and Dodgers), and they scored an MLB-best 943 runs. Those numbers grow even more impressive when considering all of the injury hurdles this team had to clear along the way.
On paper, the pitching staff looks like Houston’s biggest advantage. While the Astros—who feature co-aces Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, plus one heck of a third wheel in Zack Greinke—had this season’s third-lowest ERA, the Yankees were only 14th in the category.
That said, the playoffs came at the right time for New York’s staff.
Luis Severino didn’t debut in September and has only surrendered two earned runs over four starts. James Paxton had his best month in September and tallied eight punchouts across 4.2 innings in Game 1 of the ALDS. The extra rest, which this team probably needed, could deepen the bullpen if it helps veteran CC Sabathia make the ALCS roster. The lineup could also be boosted by Aaron Hicks.
These are two of the best teams in baseball. This matchup is a dream, and this series should be phenomenal.
But it’s hard to pick against Houston. The lineup is ludicrous, the rotation is ridiculous at the top and the bullpen has several reliable arms ahead of steady closer Roberto Osuna.
The Astros’ shot at making history triumphs over the Yankees’ hopes of recreating it.
Nationals Hold Off Cardinals 4-2
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Is it possible for two teams in the same series to feel like destiny is on their side?
The Nationals earned their first-ever series victory by knocking out the 106-win Dodgers. They faced series deficits of 0-1 and 1-2, trailed 3-1 entering the eighth inning of Wednesday’s winner-take-all Game 5 but tied the contest by homering on back-to-back pitches off three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. Utility player Howie Kendrick completed the comeback with a 10th-inning grand slam.
Just like we all drew it up, right?
The Cardinals, a .500 team through the season’s first half, scored the fewest runs of any playoff team. They were gasping for air after dropping two of the first three games of the NLDS (scoring one total run in their two losses) and trailed by a run in the eighth inning of a potential elimination game. They rallied to win that contest in extra innings and then suddenly sprinted to the finish line with 10 first-inning runs in their 13-1 Game 5 victory.
Momentum is surging for these squads, and as Sam Fortier noted for the Washington Post, the similarities don’t stop there:
“The Cardinals, in some ways, resemble the Nationals. Both teams were hobbled to varying degrees to start the season only to rebound. Both teams rely on mostly veterans with some youth. Both teams are led by old-school managers who deploy flexible utility players (Washington’s Howie Kendrick, St. Louis’ Tommy Edman) and embrace parts of the game that analytics suggest are detrimental. They like sacrifices and bunts. They tied for the NL lead in steals with 116. They talk about run production with the word ‘manufacture’ instead of ‘math.’“
St. Louis has experience on its side and maybe the hottest pitcher in baseball. Jack Flaherty, who compiled a 1.12 ERA in the second half (including the NLDS), is in line to start Games 3 and 7. If this series goes all seven, his arm and a rocking Busch Stadium could prove the difference-makers.
But our crystal ball sees Washington escaping before that.
The Nationals have three of the top four starters in this series, with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin all landing among the NL’s top 10 pitchers in ERA and among its top four in strikeouts. Washington might also have the two best bets in this series in Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, who combined for 68 homers and 236 RBI.
Washington has some question marks—namely, bullpen depth and the health of starting center fielder Victor Robles—but it has a higher ceiling, and that should be enough to advance.