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A Cubs fan’s guide to watching the World Series

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Some thoughts on stats, superstitions and sharks

Altuve walks off the ALCS in game six
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s here at last, the World Series begins in Houston tonight at 7 p.m. Central on Fox. The Astros were kind enough to take care of the Yankees and the Nationals have already gone above and beyond by ending both the Brewers and the Cardinals postseason hopes and dreams. We’ve averted the dreaded hate series, so all that’s left to do is watch two outstanding teams play baseball. Below are a few things I’ll be keeping an eye on:

Starting pitching

One of the things I like to do in the offseason when there is no baseball is click around Baseball Reference and look at things like JAWS, WAR-7 and other Hall of Fame indicators. It’s fun to look at young players and see how they compare with similarity scores to historic greats. Its also fun to look at older players and realize who has put together a Hall of Fame worthy career.

I bring this up because more than a few of the pitchers who are probably going to the Hall of Fame will be featured in this World Series: Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are the 35th and 36th highest ranked pitchers in history by JAWS. Down at 60th on JAWS, but still solidly surrounded by a sea of HOF players is Max Scherzer. And let me blow your mind just a bit — those three guys may be going to Cooperstown some day, but the single best pitcher in baseball (by Fangraphs WAR) in 2019 is also in this game: Gerrit Cole. In fact, here are the top ten pitchers in 2019 by fWAR:

Top 10 pitchers by fWAR

Name Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Name Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Gerrit Cole Astros 212.1 13.82 2.03 1.23 .275 2.50 2.64 2.48 7.4
Jacob deGrom Mets 204.0 11.25 1.94 0.84 .282 2.43 2.67 3.11 7.0
Lance Lynn Rangers 208.1 10.63 2.55 0.91 .322 3.67 3.13 3.85 6.8
Max Scherzer Nationals 172.1 12.69 1.72 0.94 .321 2.92 2.45 2.88 6.5
Justin Verlander Astros 223.0 12.11 1.70 1.45 .218 2.58 3.27 3.18 6.4
Charlie Morton Rays 194.2 11.10 2.64 0.69 .298 3.05 2.81 3.28 6.1
Stephen Strasburg Nationals 209.0 10.81 2.41 1.03 .274 3.32 3.25 3.17 5.7
Shane Bieber Indians 214.1 10.88 1.68 1.30 .296 3.28 3.32 3.23 5.6
Zack Greinke - - - 208.2 8.07 1.29 0.91 .271 2.93 3.22 3.74 5.4
Select 2019 stats Fangraphs

That’s right — five of the top 10 pitchers in baseball will be playing in the World Series. I haven’t even talked about Patrick Corbin yet. These rotations are stacked.

The hot corner

It’s not just pitchers, there are some incredible players on both teams. I’m going to start at third base, where each team is rocking a potential MVP at the hot corner. Alex Bregman is one of my favorite non-Cubs. He’s a tremendous player who was worth 8.5 fWAR this season (just shy of Mike Trout’s 8.6, although Bregman needed 22 more games to get there) but he’s also a little sassy and he’s not here for anyone’s nonsense. For example, after the Astros won the ALCS Bregman woke up, had a cup of coffee and started responding to his trolls on Twitter:

This isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, time Bregman’s personality signs through in the postseason. I mean, admit it, you laughed when he crashed the Fox News postgame interview with Carlos Correa:

Anthony Rendon is a lot less likely to appear on your radar responding to Twitter trolls or crashing interviews, but he’s every bit as likely to appear on your highlight reel. He’s an elite defensive third baseman who slashed .319/.412/.598 with 34 home runs in 2019. Both of these players can be difference makers for their team.

The kids

Both the Astros and the Nationals have a ridiculous young guy you need to keep an eye on. For the Nationals that is none other than Juan Soto, who was literally not old enough to celebrate going to the World Series with a beer last week. The got him sparkling grape juice instead:

All this second-year player has done in 2019 is rack up 4.8 fWAR in 150 games while slashing .282/.401/.548 with 34 home runs. You may remember him from stunning comebacks over the Brewers like this one [VIDEO].

He’ll turn 21 on Friday, so if the Nationals win the World Series they will not need to continue to stock sparkling grape juice in the clubhouse.

On the other side of the field the Astros have a 22-year-old phenom of their own in Yordan Álvarez. All he did was rack up 3.8 fWAR in 87 games yes, you read that right, that is about half a season worth of baseball. He hit 27 home runs and slashed .313/.412/.655. Here’s a sampling of his power — a 454 foot home run to dead center against the Rangers [VIDEO].

Álvarez defected from Cuba and his family will be watching his game highlights as soon as they can access them in Las Tunas according to MLB’s Jesse Sanchez, who wrote this incredible tale about his family and his journey last week.

The intangibles

The Astros have been a dominant team in baseball since 2017, but the Nationals may have the mojo edge going into this seven-game series. I’m not entirely sure how I’m supposed to quantify good luck charms like the actual baby shark Gerardo Parra has been showing off in the Nationals dugout since he broke out of a slump with the viral walkup song this summer, but it feels like a thing. From the Washington Post about Parra’s first using the song:

Washington was 33-38 and 8½ games out of first place in the NL East. Parra, who was signed by the Nationals in May after he was released by the San Francisco Giants, was mired in an 0-for-22 slump and requested a new walk-up song before the first game of a doubleheader at home against the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I think God send to me,” Parra said recently of choosing “Baby Shark,” a nod to his 2-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, instead of another Reggaeton or hip-hop song like he has used throughout most of his 11-year major league career.

There couldn’t have been more than 5,000 people in the stands when Parra stepped to the plate to lead off the second inning that day. Neither the Nationals’ TV nor radio broadcasts mentioned the song, which preceded a routine groundout to first base.

Fast forward to now, where an entire city is cheering the Nationals on with versions of this song. Yes, this is the National Symphony Orchestra:

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are a lot of great players who will impact these games I haven’t had a chance to write about yet. José Altuve is absolutely brilliant, Correa and Trea Turner will both likely do incredible things over the course of the series. But this Baby Shark magic has truly taken on a life of it’s own and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it.

Takeaways

The numbers all say this series should be tight, but they give the edge to the Astros. Fangraphs says the Astros have a 72.1 percent shot to win the World Series vs. the Nationals 27.9 percent chance. FiveThirtyEight has a slightly more favorable outlook for the Nationals but still lists the Astros as a 60-40 favorite. The smart money may be on the dynasty that Lunhow built in Houston, but the Nationals have been on a pretty improbable comeback tour since they were 19-31 with the fourth worst record in baseball on May 23. I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest to see them cap that off with their first World Series title in franchise history.