The World Series has moved to Washington. The underdog Nationals return home with a 2-0 series lead having beaten the Astros twin aces Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander in the opening two games of the series. But the Astros have, through their off-field misdemeanours over the last few days turned the weight of the nation against them.
Late on Saturday evening, in the immediate aftermath of wrapping up the League Championship Series an alleged altercation took place with one of the Astros’ executives making comments to a group of female supporters in relation to an Astros player who has recently served a 75 game suspension for domestic violence. Not surprisingly the issue got widely reported.
Leaving aside the stupidity of the comments, especially as the player concerned had just blown a two run lead at the top of the 9th innings and almost sent the Astros into a deciding game 7, the Astros made matters worse by issuing a statement which sought to discredit the reporters a move which has called the credibility of the whole organisation into question not just the executive in question.
Poor A J Hinch. As if the Astros manager didn’t have enough to worry about with his team trailing ahead of three games over the weekend in the capital he was forced to front up to the press as the story evolved.
The Astros were, in my opinion wrong to hire Osuna in the first place but have made their position morally indefensible over the last week. And it is a shame because this Astros team is one of the best baseball has ever seen and seemed, before the series started, to be on the verge of dynasty status.
Whether or not the off-field issues have affected the players is moot but there is clearly something wrong as neither pitching or hitting has been anywhere near the standards set over the last 3 years. And in the 6 run meltdown in the top of the 7th on Wednesday the Astros fielding didn’t exactly cover itself in glory.
There is no doubt Houston have what it takes to turn in round and if they can take 2 out of three in Washington we are set for a Series for the ages but they have a large hill to climb.
Having said all this it is simply not just a case of the Astros underperforming. Washington have been tremendous. They have gone 18-2 in their last 20 games and have won the last 8 against LA (to come from 2-1 down to clinch), St Louis (4-0 sweep in the LCS) and now the first two in Houston.
Their two aces, “Mad” Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg have been very good, the relief pitching way above expectation and the hitting has taken advantage of every small error by the Astros pitchers. Washington have a core of experience who have perhaps never got the recognition they deserve (if James Hildreth played baseball) who are relishing the biggest stage. They have embraced the post-season while their opponents seem to have become ever more afraid of it.
Before the series I was thinking 4-1 Astros. That clearly, like all my post season predictions, isn’t going to happen. If Houston win game 3 then all bets are back on but if they don’t I see very little chance of a comeback.
It might be a late night tonight!