World Series Game 6 Preview: Do Astros take it back?

Justin Verlander
Getty Images

The task is pretty simple for the Astros: win tonight or tomorrow night and they’re World Series champs.

For that matter it’s pretty straightforward for the Nationals too: lose again and your season is over. The “not losing again” thing, of course, is less simple to pull off.

But doing difficult things is not impossible, especially in this World Series. Just last Friday morning the Astros were staring the possibility of 0-3 in the face and were about to play three games on the road. All they did was outscore the Nationals 19-3 over those three games and win them all, one victory of which came with a rookie starter on the hill. The Nationals now have their co-ace, Stephen Strasburg on the hill and — pending his health — could send out Max Scherzer in a winner-take-all Game 7 should Strasburg prevail tonight.

But first the Nats bats, in a deep freeze since the middle of last week, need to wake up. And they need to do it against Justin Verlander.

The GameWorld Series Game 6: Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros
The Time: 8:07 PM Eastern
The Ballpark: Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
The Network: Fox
The Starters: Stephen Strasburg vs. Justin Verlander

The Upshot:

It’s doable. Verlander is just 1-3 with a 4.15 ERA this postseason and last time out, in Game 2, he coughed up four runs on seven hits in six innings to take the L. Strasburg, meanwhile, is 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in October and tossed six strong innings in that Game 2 win.

For all that Verlander did in the regular season, he seems pretty mortal at the moment. And he is 0-5 with a 5.73 ERA over six career World Series starts. Streaks like that are made to be broken — Verlander has simply had slow starts to games and you feel like he’s one adjustment away from, you know, not doing that — but the Nats have gotten to him before and can at least have some confidence that they can get to him again.

Obviously, though, it all comes down to the Washington bats. Trea Turner has been cold as ice at the top of the lineup. Anthony Rendon is not getting the job done either. Juan Soto homered on Sunday night after going 0-for-Games 3 and 4, but he’ll need to put together a full game himself. Nothing Strasburg can do on the hill tonight will matter if the Nationals’ offensive woes continue. They simply have to hit the ball again.

If they do — and if Strasburg keeps things close — it will be all-hands-on-deck out of the Washington bullpen. Figure to see Game 4 starter Patrick Corbin in relief. Pending Max Scherzer’s health he could either be used for a short relief stint tonight or — and this would be risky — Aníbal Sánchez could be used in relief with Scherzer held for a Game 7 start. That seems rather unlikely as, if you do that, and he has more neck spasms, the Nats would be without good options in a Game 7. And heck, Scherzer may not be able to pitch at all given how debilitated he was on Sunday. I’m just pointing out that, when a team’s back is up against the wall, every option is on the table, so if Game 6 is close, Dave Martinez needs to do absolutely everything he can to get to Game 7 and hope to figure out how to deal with it tomorrow.

Which is to say: Game 6 could be a wild one.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.