HOUSTON -- To nobody's surprise, three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is officially the Game 1 starter for the Washington Nationals. He'll face off against Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole, who is riding a streak of 19 consecutive winning decisions, in the first showdown between two powerhouse starting rotations.
Both pitchers have excelled so far in the postseason. Scherzer is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 27 strikeouts in three starts and one relief appearance (20 innings). In the division series against the Dodgers he allowed one run in seven innings, and against the Cardinals in the NLCS he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, finishing with one hit, no runs and 11 strikeouts over seven frames.
Cole, meanwhile, has won all three of his postseason starts and has allowed one run in 22 2/3 innings with 32 strikeouts. The two hard-throwing right-handers arguably have the best pure stuff of any starters in baseball. Cole had the second-highest average fastball velocity among starting pitchers at 97.1 mph and set a record for starters by striking out 39.9 percent of the batters he faced in the regular season.
Scherzer had the 10th-highest average fastball velocity at 94.9 mph and the third-highest strikeout rate in the regular season.
"I've been in the situation, faced really good pitchers here in the National League over the years: Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, those guys," Scherzer said. "You just know you've got to come out there, you're going to be throwing up zeros. And you've got to try to match the intensity from your opponent. And Cole's had a terrific year. So obviously it's going to be one heck of a challenge."
Overall, Scherzer went 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA in 27 starts in the regular season. He did miss time in July and August with a back strain and bursitis in the scapula beneath his shoulder and had a 4.74 ERA after returning from the injured list in late August, but he has appeared to be at full strength in October. It was the first season in his career in which he failed to make 30 starts. Cole went 20-5, leading the AL with a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts.
Cole said he most admires Scherzer's determination that has helped him build a potential Hall of Fame resume.
"I feel like that word kind of covers how he competes, how he prepares, Cole said. "You have to be determined to be durable. My gosh, he's as durable as they come. You have to be determined to be prepared. And he's as prepared as they come. And then his presence on the mound is determined. He's got a job to do, and he wants to go out and do it and just put the blinders on and get after the ball."
The Nationals struggled to a 19-31 record early, but have excelled ever since, including a sweep of the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
"I love this team we have here in '19," Scherzer said. "I speak to our group the most of how much clubhouse chemistry we have, we're just playing good baseball together. We're really firing on all cylinders. And there's just -- we've got some mojo going, that's the easiest way to describe it. That we just seem to be playing great baseball together, and anybody who gets their number called just continues to step up and perform for the team."
The Astros enter as the heaviest betting favorite to win the World Series since 2007, but MVP candidate Alex Bregman says facing Scherzer and Strasburg obviously will be a big challenge.
"They have multiple plus pitches. They throw all of them. They have confidence in all of them. They are super tough," Bregman said. "They are two of the best pitchers in the game. Patrick Corbin is unbelievable as well and so is [Anibal] Sanchez. It's going to be a fun series."
The Astros faced some unconventional strategy in the first two rounds as the Rays and Yankees both relied heavily on their bullpens. They'll face a more old-school approach in the World Series.
"If you want to do well against the Nats, you've got to beat their starters, and then make them make decisions as the game goes on," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "If you sit back and kind of wait for the bullpen or wait for them to make a decision, you'll look at Strasburg and Scherzer throwing 120, 130 pitches and you'll be too deep in the game to make up a difference. Those guys getting 21, 24, 27 outs is a real possibility for them. And that makes it tough either way."
Nationals manager Dave Martinez didn't announce a Game 3 starter, leaving open the possibility that Patrick Corbin could pitch in relief if needed in Game 1. He's made three relief appearance along with two starts in the postseason. "We shall see," Martinez said about Corbin perhaps coming out of the bullpen before he starts a game.