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Baseball Report: Astros Lead Nationals In World Series Going Into Game 6

(CBS Baltimore) -- The World Series so far has been a tale of two cities. After five games, the Houston Astros lead the Washington Nationals three games to two, with neither team winning a home game. It's made for a few tense moments, and a few more uncharacteristically quiet innings. That is, except when the president appears on the jumbotron.

The Nationals won the first two games in Houston, the first by a run and the second going away. All the momentum seemed to be with the underdog as the Series moved to Washington. But somewhere between Houston and DC, the Astros figured things out. They've since allowed three runs in three games while piling up 19. The title that was approaching hopeless late last week now seems to be all but a sure thing.

What a difference a weekend makes.

This week's Baseball Report looks at the Astros-Nationals World Series through Game 5.

Nationals Win Two In Houston

The Nationals won six straight coming into the World Series, including two games to eliminate the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series and then four to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the Championship Series. That left them with a week to rest up as the Astros and New York Yankees battled for the other spot. Houston eventually wrapped up the ALCS in six games.

Pitching was expected to dominate the World Series going in, with multiple Cy Young winners and current candidates hoping to pad their resumes. And they have certainly shined at moments, but not always.

Game 1 pitted Max Scherzer against Gerrit Cole in the first of two dream matchups. Scherzer, with a 2.92 ERA, struck out 243 batters over 172 and a third innings in an injury-shortened 2019 campaign. Cole logged a 2.50 ERA over 212 and a third innings, striking out 326. Neither would dominate.

The Astros jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, when Yuli Gurriel doubled to left field. Houston ran up counts on Scherzer and continued to put runners on base, but couldn't score on him again. He lasted only five innings but threw 112 pitches.

Cole couldn't hold the early lead, allowing Ryan Zimmerman to homer in the second inning and Juan Soto to homer in the fourth to tie it up. The Nats added three more against him in fifth. Cole lasted seven innings, eventually taking his first loss since late May. The Astros crept back to within a run against the suspect Nats bullpen, but closer Sean Doolittle shut the door when it mattered.

Game 2 was billed as another pitching duel, with Cy Young candidates Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg squaring off. Each gave up two runs in the first, Verlander a two-RBI double to third-baseman Anthony Rendon and Strasburg a two-run home run to third-baseman Alex Bregman.

Then both more or less settled in. Verlander made it through six innings, allowing six hits and striking out six batters. Strasburg also pitched six innings, giving up seven hits and striking out seven. The Nats' starter did not return in the seventh, the Astros' did. Verlander gave up a home run to catcher Kurt Suzuki to open the inning and then walked outfielder Victor Robles.

He was quickly replaced, but the rout was on. The Nationals led 8-2 by the end of the seventh and would go on to win 12-3. Washington left Houston with a commanding 2-0 series lead and fair bit of confidence.  The teams moved to DC for Game 3.

Astros Win Three In Washington

The week off clearly didn't hurt the Nationals' momentum going into the series. The change of venue may have, however. The Astros, facing much stronger headwinds, weren't going to back down.

Game 3 featured another decent pitching matchup, with Astros starter Zack Greinke facing Nationals starter Anibal Sanchez. Greinke was brought in mid-season to create a dominant trio in Houston and, while solid, had not lived up to his stablemates' high standards. Sanchez, elevated to third in the rotation after Patrick Corbin's bullpen appearance in Game 1, took a no-hitter into eighth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS.

The Astros strung together runs in the second and third innings for another two-run lead. But this time the Nationals couldn't bounce back. Greinke allowed an RBI triple to Victor Robles in the fourth inning. Otherwise, Greinke and the Astros bullpen limited the scoring to that one run stranding base runners inning after inning. The Astros won 4-1.

Games 4 and 5 wouldn't be that close, with Astros pitching seemingly realizing how to handle the Nationals' bats.

In Game 4, the Astros staked starter Jose Urquidy another a 2-0 lead, stringing together singles to push across a couple of runs against Corbin. Catcher Robinson Chirinos hit a two-run HR in the fourth to extend the lead. The Nationals got one back in the sixth inning on a Juan Soto ground out. But Alex Bregman's grand slam in the top of the seventh blew open the game. The Astros won Game 4, 8-1.

Game 5 was supposed to be a Scherzer-Cole rematch. But Scherzer couldn't pitch, due to neck spasms, leaving Cole to face Joe Ross. The Nationals right-hander gave up four runs in five innings, including a Yordan Alvarez two-run HR in the second. Cole struck out nine over seven innings, as the Nationals offense, aside from a Soto solo shot in the seventh, was again nowhere to be found.

The Astros tacked on three more runs late, winning Game 5, 7-1, and securing a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 Back In Houston

The teams match up again Tuesday night for Game 6 in Houston. With Scherzer still unable to go, Strasburg is set to face Verlander again in a rematch of Game 2. Strasburg has been one of the League's better playoff pitchers over his career. Verlander, who will be looking to forget his Game 2 performance, has been less than effective in the World Series over his likely Hall Of Fame career.

The Astros will be playing for the World Series title. The Nationals will be playing for their playoff lives, the same situation they faced against the Dodges in Game 4 of the ALDS.

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