The final chapter of the 2019 season began to be written Tuesday night as the World Series got underway in Houston. The Astros were favored by between -200 and -250 to win the Fall Classic with the take back on the Washington Nationals roughly between +200 and +220.
On the surface, this price seems too high. But books will often set the price in the final event of a sports season in such a manner that considers existing liabilities for futures wagers. In this case, the books have greater liability exposure on Houston and thus the higher price is intended to attract action on Washington.
A case can be made that ignoring such existing liability a more reasonable price would have been Houston -150 to -160.
Houston has the edge in World Series experience, appearing for the third time in franchise history. Washington is making its first such appearance dating back the founding of the franchise which was based in Montreal from 1969 through 2004.
How much of a factor is experience? Consider that Houston won the Series just two seasons ago, in 2017, a dozen years after its first appearance when the Astros, then in the National League, lost the 2005 Series to the Chicago White Sox in a four-game sweep. The Sox were in their first World Series since 1959.
Although it is their first World Series, the Nationals are in the playoffs for the fifth time in the last eight seasons.
Starting pitching is Washington’s strength and, on the whole, arguably better than that of Houston. Gerrit Cole, Houston’s Game 1 starter, is the best starter on either staff but any edges in Nos. two through four are extremely thin with Cole’s teammate, Justin Verlander, having the slightest of edges vs. Washington’s Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
All four averaged at least 6.1 innings per start during the regular season and each has pitched well in the playoffs. No. 3 starters — Patrick Corbin of the Nats and Zack Greinke of the ‘Stros — are comparable but Washington’s fourth starter, if needed, Anibal Sanchez, rates higher than whoever Houston might start if not opting for a “bullpen game” in Game Four (or starting Cole on three days’ rest).
Houston led MLB in runs differential in the regular season at plus 282. The Nationals were fifth at plus 163. The Astros scored about a third of a run more per game than Washington (5.9 vs. 5.6) while allowing a half run less per game (4.2 vs. 4.7).
Yet in the playoffs, Washington outscored its opposition 45-31 in winning eight of 10 games. Houston, in winning seven of 11 games, outscored its foes by just 41-39. Combined, the teams have played eight Overs, 12 Unders and one Push in the playoffs.
My approach for most of the series will be to look Under totals over 7 or higher and also at playing underdogs of +150 or more or favorites of -130 or less. I bet the Nats in Game 1 and if Washington won, I will likely sit out Game 2. If the Nats lost, I will back them again in Game 2.
Both teams faced elimination at least once in the playoffs and won. My call is for Washington to do what the Astros did two seasons ago in their first trip to the Series in more than a decade. The call is for Washington to win in six games, splitting the first two in Houston, taking two of three back home and winning the series in Houston. I also expect there to be more Unders than Overs.