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That week off sure didn’t hurt the Nationals

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The Nats take a 2-0 lead in the World Series back home to Washington, D.C.

2019 World Series Game 2 - Washington Nationals v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Washington Nationals had six off days in between sweeping the NLCS and starting the World Series. But despite the layoff they haven’t skipped a beat, winning the first two games in Houston to seize the driver’s seat of the Fall Classic.

An adage in baseball is that teams with too long of a layoff are at a disadvantage. You don’t want to lose all that momentum that earned you those off days in the first place. Baseball folks love to tout momentum, even though things can change in a heartbeat. Sure, the Nationals are up 2-0 and heading home for the middle three games, but Houston didn’t win 107 games by accident. If anyone’s capable of coming back, it’s the Astros.

Then again, Washington already dispatched a 106-win squad earlier this month, beating the Dodgers in five games.

The Nationals’ last loss came against those Dodgers, in Game 3 of the NLDS. Friday will mark 19 days since that defeat. Washington is 8-0 since then, tying the 2004 Red Sox, 2005 White Sox, and 2014 Royals for the longest winning streak in a single postseason. This kind of streak has only been possible since 1985, when the League Championship Series extended from five to seven games. But still, four teams in 35 years is selective company.

Houston only had two days off before the Fall Classic, after eliminating the Yankees in a six-game ALCS. By avoiding a Game 7 against New York, the Astros had everything set up exactly how they wanted, with Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander starting the first two World Series games at home.

All Washington did was score nine runs against those two in 13 innings. This was only the third time all season the Astros lost back-to-back Verlander/Cole starts (April 2-3, and June 18-19), and the first time they both got hung with a loss on consecutive days in 2019.

We are creatures most influenced by recency. What’s freshest in our minds shape our thoughts. So it’s understandable that we worry about teams with long layoffs. Four of the last five teams that had at least four more days of rest than their opponent (2012 Tigers, 2009 Phillies, 2007 Rockies, and 2006 Tigers) all lost the World Series.

Since the divisional era started 50 years ago, there were eight previous World Series with one team having at least four more rest days than their opponent. The more rested team won three times, and lost five. Washington is the fifth of these teams to start the Fall Classic on the road, and the first of the group to win both games.

World Series rest differences

Year More rested team Less rested team Winner
Year More rested team Less rested team Winner
1981 Yankees (4 days) Dodgers (0 days) Dodgers (6 games)
1991 Twins (5 days) Braves (1 day) Twins (7 games)
1996 Yankees (6 days) Braves (2 days) Yankees (6 games)
2006 Tigers (6 days) Cardinals (1 day) Cardinals (5 games)
2007 Rockies (8 days) Red Sox (2 days) Red Sox (4 games)
2008 Phillies (6 days) Rays (2 days) Phillies (5 games)
2009 Phillies (6 days) Yankees (2 days) Yankees (6 games)
2012 Tigers (5 days) Giants (1 day) Giants (4 games)
2019 Nationals (6 days) Astros (2 days) TBD
Divisional era (1969-2019)

It helps that certain things are breaking just right for the Nationals. With any kind of extended winning streak, good fortune can be found in there somewhere.

Take Game 2, for instance.

In the bottom of the sixth, a tiring Stephen Strasburg had a runner on second base with one out in a tie game. Rookie slugger Yordan Alvarez, who hit .313/.412/.655 with 27 home runs during the regular season but was just 10-for-46 (.217) with no homers this postseason, had a 2-0 count when Nationals manager Dave Martinez ordered an intentional walk. Strasburg escaped the jam by getting Carlos Correa to pop out weakly, then striking out Kyle Tucker.

Martinez has issued four intentional walks this postseason, and three have worked out just swimmingly, including one that put the go-ahead run on base in the ninth inning.

In the top of the seventh inning, down a run with two on and first base open, A.J. Hinch ordered an intentional walk to Juan Soto to face Howie Kendrick with two outs. The Astros were the first team in history not to issue an intentional walk during the regular season, but doing something uncharacteristic would blow up in their face. Kendrick “singled” on a play Alex Bregman should have made, and the floodgates opened. Washington scored six runs in the inning and cruised to a blowout win.

So much for all that momentum.

The week off gave the Nationals time to set their rotation how they wanted, too. It meant more rest for Strasburg and Max Scherzer, who have pitched almost half (53 of 108) of Washington’s innings this postseason. That duo each allowed two runs in Houston, picking up two wins, and have a combined 2.04 ERA with 78 strikeouts this October with Washington winning all eight of their starts.

Now the Nationals are up 2-0 and heading home. Both teams will have equal rest before Friday’s Game 3 in Washington, in case you were wondering.