Astros seek World Series dynasty as Nats hunt fairytale title

Washington (AFP) –


An upstart Washington Nationals squad will try to end the US capital's 95-year Major League Baseball title drought when the 115th World Series opens Tuesday against the Houston Astros.

Two impressive sets of starting pitchers are the feature attraction as the Nationals, who overcame a 19-31 start to reach their first World Series, meet an Astros club trying for a second title in three seasons. No team has done better since the New York Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000.

"We want to be able to be a dynasty," Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. "To do that we have to win, win, win. We have to go out there and keep doing that."

The Nationals had not won a playoff series since 1981, when they were the Montreal Expos. But since relocating from Canada in 2005, they had lost four times in the division series before finally breaking through.

"All the things in the past, all the failures, and losing in the first round, it just makes it sweet," said Nationals second baseman Howie Kendrick, the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player.

"To see a team like us continue to grind, I think the mixture of people that we do have is what makes us so good. I wouldn't change anything about the past because this is just unbelievable."

The best-of-seven showdown will start in Houston then move to Washington for game three on Friday, the first World Series game in the US capital since 1933, when the Senators lost to the New York Giants.

"This right here, to me, tops everything I've ever been through," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "I'm so proud of the guys. They could have folded. They didn't. It means a lot to all of us."

Washington's original Senators became the Minnesota Twins after the 1960 season while a replacement expansion club relocated to become the Texas Rangers in 1972.

- Cole comfort for Astros -

Houston Astros star pitchers Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke will be tested against Washington's starting rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin.

"I'm thrilled," Cole said. "We're going to have some great pitching matchups. They have a lot of talent. They are going to be a really tough opponent. It's going to be a fun series for sure."

Houston game one starter Cole, 3-0 in the playoffs with a 0.40 earned-run average (ERA), is 19-0 in his past 25 starts with a 1.59 ERA and 258 strikeouts over 169 1/3 innings. He went 20-5 this season and led the major leagues with 326 strikeouts. The Astros have won his past 16 starts.

Washington ace Scherzer is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in playoffs, allowing one run on five hits and five walks with 18 strikeouts over 14 innings. He lost his only prior World Series start in 2012 with Detroit. Scherzer went 11-7 with a 2.92 ERA this season with a major-league best ratio of 7.364 strikeouts per walk issued.

Houston's hitters will be ready for the challenge, including clean-up batter Alex Bregman and star second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League Championship Series MVP.

"We're always feeding off each other, helping each other," Altuve said. "That's why we're going to the World Series."

- 'Made our own luck' -

The teams did not meet in the regular season.

The Astros boast a deeper bullpen of relief pitchers than Washington but the Nationals have Houston native Anthony Rendon, who has a hit in eight consecutive playoff games, as third baseman.

"You've got to catch some breaks," said Nationals slugger Ryan Zimmerman. "In the years past, maybe we didn't catch those breaks. We caught some breaks this year, but more importantly, we took advantage of those breaks. So kind of made our own luck."

The Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series but lost to eventual World Series winner Boston in last year's American League Championship series.

"We hung a banner two years ago. We want to hang another one," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Winning drives this team. It's really all that drives us. The players do an unbelievable job of pushing one another.

"Last year we got (close to) the World Series and that was deemed a disappointment. And that pisses off major league players. And so we came back this year and got back to the World Series and we're going to try to tack onto the resumes of a lot of these guys."