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World Series Game 1: There Will Be Strikeouts

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Twenty-eight teams will be home watching on TV. Two teams are left playing for the World Series title. The Washington Nationals, who looked like they wouldn’t even make the postseason as late as June, represent the National League. The Houston Astros, who for all but a brief couple of moments this year looked like the best team in all of baseball, represent the Junior Circuit. One of them will be crowned champion no later than a week from tomorrow. Tonight the World Series gets underway.

And boy, oh boy, does it get underway with a whale of a pitching matchup.

The Game: World Series Game 1: Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros
The Time: 8:08 PM Eastern
The Ballpark: Minute Maid Park, Houston Texas
The Network: Fox
The Starters: Max Scherzer vs. Gerrit Cole

The Upshot:

Gerrit Cole was 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts in 212.1 innings pitched, giving him a staggering 13.818 strikeouts per nine innings during the regular season. That’s the highest strikeout rate . . . ever. Max Scherzer’s season was interrupted by injury so his strikeout total was “only” 243, but his strikeout rate was 12.7 Ks per nine innings. That trailed only Cole in the majors this year and is the fifth highest rate ever. Yeah, the top of that leaderboard is littered with recent seasons, reflecting a massive change in the game over the past few years, but these two are still massively impressive strikeout artists, each of whom will be throwing fire tonight.

As for their postseason performance: Cole has continued his strong work, posting a 0.40 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 22.2 innings across three starts. If you combine the regular season and the postseason he is 19-0 over his past 25 starts with a 1.59 ERA which is absolutely ridiculous. Scherzer has struck out 27 batters in 20 innings with a 1.80 ERA in October, so neither have fallen off. What’s more, tonight both Cole and Scherzer go on extra long rest, as Cole has not pitched since October 15 and Scherzer has not pitched since October 12. So, you have to figure, each of them will have a little more giddyup in their fastballs. Which, actually, could be a problem if they’re too amped. I’m not sure how one tells Max Scherzer to calm down, though. You wanna tell him? I’m not tellin’ him.

Let’s see, what else: the Nationals open on the road but they’re 4-1 in postseason road games this year, so they don’t mind. It’s supposed to be a beautiful night in Houston but the Astros are keeping the roof closed so that it’ll be louder and crazier in there, so that’ll be fun. Given who is pitching, it’ll be one of those games where even a clean single causes the crowd to roar or fall silent for a spell, depending on who’s doing the singling.

Washington has never played in the World Series. These two teams, despite sharing a spring training complex in West Palm Beach, have not faced each other in a game that has mattered since 2017. As such, there will be an unfamiliarity with all of this on a couple of levels. Between that and a matchup of clubs that each have multiple strong starting pitchers, the 2019 World Series feels like something of a throwback going in.

Strangers meeting with aces dealing. How very . . . 20th century.

Rays’ Erik Neander named Executive of the Year

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At the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona on Monday, Rays GM Erik Neander was named the recipient of Major League Baseball’s Executive of the Year Award for the 2019 season. The Yankees’ Brian Cashman was the runner-up while the Athletics’ Billy Beane and the Twins’ Derek Falvey tied for third place.

Neander has worked for the Rays since 2017 but has operated in his current role since November 2016, taking over for Matthew Silverman who was promoted to president of the Rays alongside Brian Auld.

The Rays had, by far, the lowest payroll in baseball at $53.5 million, according to USA TODAY. Neander’s peers voting him Executive of the Year on the same today the league had to curtail its awarding of a prize belt to the team that suppressed salaries the most in arbitration is… certainly interesting timing.

At any rate, Neander’s Rays went 96-66 in 2019, finishing in second place in the AL East behind the 103-59 Yankees. The Rays claimed the second AL Wild Card and defeated the A’s to earn entry into the ALDS where they lost in five games to the Astros. It was the Rays’ first playoff appearance since 2013 and their regular season win total was second-most in franchise history behind the 2008 team (97).