HOUSTON — It required only one weekend for the Astros to reclaim their identity, to rediscover the elements that paved the way to their 107-win season and status as World Series favorites.
That their reversal unfolded so hastily should not have come as a surprise. The Astros came to life at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., outscoring the Nationals 19-3 to erase a 2-0 deficit in the World Series and head back to Minute Maid Park with a 3-2 series lead in advance of Game 6 on Tuesday.
On the ropes as recently as last Thursday, the Astros came out punching once the series switched venues and seized momentum almost as quickly as they surrendered it.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but I love our feel for the moment and feel for this team,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Everybody talks about culture and chemistry, and when you have it, you love it. When you see it on the other side, you’re envious of it. And we just have a way of playing today.”
Houston will turn to veteran right-hander Justin Verlander (1-3, 4.15 ERA this postseason) to close out the Nationals and secure the Astros’ second championship in three seasons. Verlander will oppose Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg (4-0, 1.93 ERA), with the two combatants from Game 2 striving to gain an edge against lineups familiar with their repertoires.
“Yeah, it becomes more difficult,” Verlander said of facing a team twice in one series. “I think there’s adjustments both ways. But I think those opposing guys, once they’ve seen you three, four at-bats, it’s a little bit easier for them to make adjustments, and having seen your off-speed stuff and tracked it. You just need to execute a little bit better.”
Strasburg added: “Really, it comes down to execution of pitches. Their approaches might change a little bit, but the important thing is to go out there and pound away and trust your stuff.”
For Verlander, a surprising 0-5 with a 5.73 ERA over six career World Series starts, the aim for Game 6 is simple. He has scuffled settling into starts this postseason, allowing a total of nine first-inning runs to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series and Washington last Wednesday.
Strasburg, meanwhile, faces the challenge of maintaining his stuff through what will be the final start of an extended campaign. He has logged a career-high 237 innings this season, 17 more than his previous high of 220 in 2014 when he paced the National League with 242 strikeouts.
“Yeah, it’s definitely uncharted territory,” Strasburg said. “And I’m just trying to continue to do what I’ve tried to do all year, is just take it one day at a time and just listen to the body.”
Washington plans to keep doing what worked prior to the Astros regaining their championship form. The Nationals had won eight consecutive postseason games before falling in Game 3. They went from upstarts to juggernauts and now, down in the series, are seeking past magic.
“You know what, I honestly think that our guys — they just come out and play,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “They don’t even think about any game. You listen to them now when we walked in, and they’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to go to Houston and win that first game and get to Game 7.’
“I told them the focus is Game 6. We’ve got Stephen Strasburg on the mound. I like our chances, you know, keeps us in the ball game. Who knows what can happen?”
–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)