Astros Vs. Nationals: Five Things We Learned From World Series Game 1

The Washington Nationals began their first-ever World Series on the front foot, taking a surprise 1-0 lead in the series after winning Game 1 in Houston 5-4.

Trailing by 2-0 in the first inning, the Nationals forced their way back into the game and tied the score in the top of the fourth inning as Juan Soto crushed an enormous 417-foot home run off Astros ace Gerrit Cole.

The Nationals left-fielder wasn't done either, hitting a two-run double in the fifth inning as Washington opened up a 5-2 lead and then saw off Houston's comeback.

Here's five things we have learned from Game 1.

Juan Soto could be a hard matchup for Houston

It seems obvious to suggest Soto could have a major impact in this series after his performance in Game 1.

The 20-year-old became the second-youngest player in baseball history to hit a home run in his first World Series game and the fourth-youngest player to homer in the Fall Classic.

Soto's monstrous 417-foot hit off Gerrit Cole in the fourth inning was arguably the first time the Astros ace had found himself on the back foot in the postseason so far.

According to MLB data, Soto ranks second in the majors in OPS on pitches in the upper half of the zone, the area in which—as pointed out by ESPN's David Schoenfield—the Astros tend to direct four-seam fastballs.

It will be intriguing to see how Justin Verlander—Houston's starter in Game 2—deals with Soto on Wednesday night.

Starting pitchers struggle

Ahead of Game 1, this World Series was heralded as potentially the greatest pitcher matchup in history.

For the first time, the Fall Classic features five of the top 10 pitchers in strikeouts during the regular season, as well as six of the top 20 pitchers in terms of ERA for the first time since 1945.

The series opener, however, didn't live up to the hype as Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer combined to allow seven runs and 13 hits over their 12 innings.
Cole, who recorded a strikeout rate of 39.9 percent this season—the highest ever by a starting pitcher—saw his 19-game winning streak come to an end after 25 starts.

Scherzer also endured a difficult day at the office in Game 1, but got out trouble when it mattered.

With Justin Verlander facing Stephen Strasburg, Game 2 is also expected to be a pitching matchup for the ages. Will it live up to expectations?

Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros
Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros walks of the field after retiring the side during the third inning against the Washington Nationals in Game One of the 2019 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 22 in Houston, Texas. Mike Ehrmann/Getty

The Astros need George Springer to fire

Springer set an MLB record by hitting a home run in his fifth consecutive World Series game, threatening to spark an Astros revival in the seventh inning.

Springer hit just .152/.235/.283 through the first two rounds of postseason and Houston desperately needs him to fire on all cylinders to derail Washington's pitchers.

Concerns over Washington's bullpen remain

While Scherzer was below his best in Game 1, the main concern for the Nationals will be how ordinary their bullpen looked.

Sean Doolittle retired all four batters he faced, but Daniel Hudson gave up three hits in 1 1/3 innings. More worryingly, Tanner Raney gave up a home run to George Springer in the seventh inning and allowed two walks, while getting just one batter out.

One of the big question marks hanging over Washington heading into the World Series was the over-reliance on its starters.

As Joe Sheehan pointed out in his newsletter, up until Game 1 the Nationals had used just six pitchers to cover 89 percent of their innings in the postseason.

Strasburg and Scherzer went from pitching 15 and 12 percent of innings during the regular season to 24 and 22 percent during the postseason.

Washington needs its bullpen to contribute if it is to keep his stars fresh.

How hard is it to come back from losing Game 1?

The history of the World Series is littered with memorable comebacks, and winning Game 1 isn't necessarily a reliable indicator for how the series will pan out.

Starting on the front foot, however, remains very important. In the last decade, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to win the World Series on seven occasions.

Incidentally, the Astros were one of the only three teams to buck the trend. In 2017, Houston lost 3-1 on the road against the Dodgers in the series opener before winning the Fall Classic in seven games.

The only other two exceptions are the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs.

The Yankees were vanquished 6-1 at home by the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, before winning the series 4-2.

Seven years later, the Cubs were on thrashed 6-0 by the Indians in Cleveland in Game 1 but came back to win the series 4-3.