The Greatest Series No One Saw
November 1, 2019
We’ve had a few days to digest the incredible post-season we just witnessed. Incredibly, this was the third worst TV-rated World Series in history. Guess what: if you weren’t watching, you likely missed the greatest World Series ever.
It will take some years for many people to appreciate, especially since the media seems to be intent on describing this as a fluke, but it had everything one could hope for:
1) titanic pitching matchups facing excellent, versatile offenses (it was the first time in history Cy Young winners faced off in a Game 7 and the Astros were the first team to lead the league in both striking out opposing batters and their own batters striking out the least),
2) unlikely heroes coming up huge in big moments (Jose Urquidy’s magnificent Game 4 start),
3) dramatic comebacks (the Nats fell behind in both of the final two games only to come back to win late),
4) controversial calls (the strikezone in several games, the Turner interference call) ,
5) controversial managerial decisions (Hinch not going to Cole in relief in Game 7),
6) gutsy performances (Scherzer’s Game 7 start with a pinched nerve in his neck, Greinke’s brilliance in Game 7 after struggling badly in the postseason)
7) and epic moments that will be burned into our conscience for decades (Juan Soto’s monster home run off Gerrit Cole in Game 1, the first base bat flips of Bregman, then Soto).
This Series also featured a ton of future Hall of Famers.
It does not take any speculation to place both Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in the Hall of Fame when they conclude their careers. Scherzer has accumulated three Cy Young awards, a 20-k game and two no-hitters including one in which he struck out 17 batters. He’s one of 19 pitchers since league play began in 1903 to strike out 300 batters in a season, and in a couple of years should become the 19th pitcher in history to record 3000 strikeouts. Verlander has already crossed the 3000 K threshold and is also a member of the 300 K club for a season. He has thrown 3 no-hitters (one of only 6 to have done that) and has a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP and a Cy Young to his credit. However, one could make a strong argument that his Cy Young total should be four instead of one, as he has narrowly and sometimes controversially came in second three times. And he could add another this year.
Nor does it take much imagination to project Juan Soto as a future Hall of Famer. Sure, it’s still very early in his career (he’s only 21), but the aptly nicknamed ‘Childish Bambino’ has a career batting line of .287/.403/.535. Only five players in history have done that at such an early age: Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams. That’s pretty inner circle.
Stephen Strasburg is projectable into the Hall. He might win the Cy Young award this year, but he’ll certainly be among the finalists. Max Scherzer didn’t peak until he was 31, which is what Strasburg turned this year. Roy Halladay took a similar path on his way to a first ballot induction. Stras is certainly building a post-season legacy worthy of John Smoltz and Curt Schilling: he became the first pitcher to ever go 5-0 in any postseason, and that includes three of the five elimination games. In Game 6, he was the first pitcher to allow two or fewer runs while going 8⅓ innings since Curt Schilling in 1993. He will probably only need one Cy Young and continued health for the next five years to make his case. There’s a similar argument to be made for Gerrit Cole, who is two years younger than Strasburg. He looks well on his way to making his way into Scherzer/Verlander territory as one of the best of his generation.
Nor does it take a great deal of imagination to see Zack Greinke making it. He’s already got one Cy Young and a sustained level of excellence for the last decade. He’s got a chance to top 3000 Ks and his career 66.7 WAR ranks 39th all-time, just 5 points behind Verlander and 8 ahead of Scherzer. He’s never been as dominant as the other two, but there’s great value in consistent excellence.
That’s six extremely likely to make the Hall, which would make the Series a great showcase. But we’re just getting started.
Jose Altuve is just 29, has an MVP to his credit and several post-season highlights. The most similar batters through their age 29 seasons are Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar and Derek Jeter, all either in or certain to be in. Middle infielders who have 100 homers, 250 stolen bases, a .350 on base and 30+ WAR by their age 29 seasons are: Hanley Ramirez, Robert Alomar, Joe Morgan and Altuve.
Anthony Rendon is just reaching his peak after a few injury-riddled campaigns, but could very well join he rarified club of .300/.400/.500 hitters. Of the 19 hitters who accomplished it, thirteen are in the Hall of Fame and another is Mike Trout, who will no doubt be there once his career is over. Another is Larry Walker, who might find his way in. The others are Ken Williams, Joey Votto, Manny Ramirez and Todd Helton. If Rendon plays the next four years (the duration of his peak) the way he’s played the past three years (.310/.397/.556), he’ll certainly get strong consideration. About the only thing stopping him might be an interest in doing something other than baseball after he turns 35 (something he has mentioned jokingly).
Alex Bregman’s two closest comps through age 25 are Jim Thome (Hall of Famer) and Nolan Arenado (likely HoFer). Of the 47 infielders who are not currently active who accumulated 20 WAR before they turned 26 as Bregman has, twenty-six are in the Hall of Fame, two more will be (Jeter and Adrian Beltre), one might (Alex Rodriguez) and a couple others should be (Dick Allen, Bobby Grich).
Trea Turner also has an outside shot. Shortstops who’ve
accumulated 50 homers and 100 steals with a .350 on base by their age 27 season are a pretty elite group: Alex Rodriguez, Barry
Larkin, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Hanley Ramirez, George Brett, Roberto
Alomar and Jose Altuve. Granted,
We’ve yet to see Carlos Correa’s best years and we’ve only glimpsed at half a season of Yordan Alvarez, who at 22 looks capable of a magnificent career.
The record for most Hall of Famers playing a single World Series is 13 set in 1932: nine from the Yankees and four from the Cubs. Since the introduction of multiple rounds of playoffs in 1969, the record for one World Series was set in 1983 and tied in 1996 with seven. At worst, the 2019 Series featured six probable Hall of Famers, and best case as many as twelve.
It also showcased a World Series-winning team for the ages: The Washington Nationals.
The Nationals became the first team in history to beat two 105+ win teams in the post season (The Dodgers team they beat in the NLDS had won 106). They were the first team to ever win eight consecutive road games in a postseason. Along those same lines, they became the first team in major American sports history (MLB, NHL, NBA) to win four road games in a final series. And that’s saying something because the Astros were 60-21 at home during the regular season. Only twelve other teams had ever won as many as 60 home games in a season. Ironically, of those 13 teams including the Astros, only five went on to become champions. The Nats were the first team ever to win four elimination games in a single post season; they won five, trailing entering the 7th inning of every one. They are only the second team in baseball history to win a World Series after being 10 games under .500 during the regular season. Coming into Game 7, the team that scored first was 25-14 in deciding games. That stat is now 25-15 with the Nats final comeback win.
Since May 23, when they were 19-31, the Nats have gone 86-43 (including playoffs) and have the best record in baseball. Over that duration, they have scored more runs and allowed fewer than the Astros, who became one of only six teams to win 100 games in three consecutive seasons. In 1914, another team was 12 games under .500 and then rallied to get to the World Series. That team was known then and is still known now as the Miracle Boston Braves. No other team in the 105 years since has come from so far below .500 to reach as many as the Nats’ 93 regular season wins this year. But this team is not like the Boston Braves. That team had only two Hall of Famers on it: Johnny Evers and Rabbit Maranville. Dolf Luque was a rookie who would later go on to win two ERA titles but that year he contributed only 8 innings. Compare that to this Nationals team that could have has many as five Hall of Famers on the roster plus nine former All-Stars (Yan Gomes, Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Zimmerman, Brian Dozier, Asdrubal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick, Sean Doolittle, Patrick Corbin, Fernando Rodney). No, this team was not a miracle. What they did defied the odds, no question, because it is incredibly difficult to win so many games on the road. But if there ever was a team equipped to do the impossible, this team was it because it was loaded with players who knew how to perform in the biggest situations. That’s precisely why they were All-Stars.
Other post-season notables: Howie Kendrick hit the pivotal two-run homer in Game 7 of the World Series, but also the grand slam that beat the Dodgers in Game 5 of the divisional series. In doing so, he became the first player to ever hit multiple go-ahead home runs in the seventh inning or later of an elimination game during a single postseason. Pretty remarkable for a player whose career was thought to be over two years ago when he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Given all that, please, show me another World Series with as much drama, as many truly great players and surprising outcomes as this one. I’ll save you the time: you can’t.