Houston starter Gerrit Cole - here versus the Yankees in the ALCS - has had plenty to get worked up about this season. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images

OK, the Braves fell out, but this World Series intrigues nevertheless

It was one of the lesser arms of a full-on thermonuclear World Series who put this Fall Classic into a handy perspective for the Atlanta audience. 

And if it makes you feel aged on top of that, get over it. You own a mirror, you know what’s going on.

To USA Today, Houston pitcher Collin McHugh said, “I grew up watching Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz in the ’90s go against those Yankees starters. This will be like bringing back old-school baseball memories. We need that in 2019. I think it’s a fun, new way of watching baseball that probably a lot of young fans haven’t been able to sink their teeth into for a while.”

He added: “Bullpens have been in vogue the last few years, but to go out there and see the anomaly, seeing the horses go through a lineup three times, and get better as the game goes on, it’s going to be fun.” Someone get this McHugh fellow a microphone and a network blazer.

I’d like to think that starting pitching is eternal, not a part of the game only familiar to those watching from within one of those over-55 communes that are taking over the land. Since when is a most valuable commodity considered “old-school?” 

But you get the point. Beginning Tuesday night is a World Series that promises to put the tyranny of starting pitching on full display. “Arm-ageddon” approaches. This is something to make a Houston-Washington matchup compelling, even if your team of choice gave up 10 runs in the first inning of its decisive playoff game.

Dare we dream that it will take less time to play a postseason game than it takes nature to form even a flawed diamond?

Take those 1990s Braves – in 1996, for just one instance, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz made up half of the top six in ERA in the majors. That was something of a trend.

Now multiply that effect over two teams.

The top three starters for both World Series teams – that’s Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke for Houston; Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin for the Nationals – have populated the penthouse of your basic pitching stats all season.

They are all among the top 20 in ERA, four in the top 10. Five of the six fall in the top 10 in strikeouts (Cole and Verlander being Nos. 1 and 2). The Houston starters put together a highest-ever strikeout rate of nearly 40 percent. Teams got more than 200 innings out of 15 pitchers this season, and five of them are still playing (having dealt with back and shoulder issues, Scherzer is the one exception). 

This may well be an aspirational example for the Braves, who long to keep such company. But they obviously are a few horses shy of competing with these types of stables. Here is where the Braves fan might watch this World Series and indulge in fanciful projections for Mike Soroka and Max Fried. 

And it must be noted that neither the Astros nor the Nationals got here on the cheap. Both went all-in on this starting thing. Those six pitchers represent nearly $150 million in payroll, money that exemplified a great risk in the marketplace of oft-fragile arms but has now resulted in such great reward. Sometimes, rarely, you do actually get what you pay for. 

The way this all played out for the Nationals, in particular, has been enlightening. They lose a Bryce Harper and stay true to the path of dominant starting pitching and find themselves playing for this franchise’s first world championship. (The then-Expos had a shot in 1994, with a six-game lead over the Braves until a strike closed down the season in mid-August, keeping the Braves’ streak of division titles alive for another 11 years).

The Nats couldn’t stay up with the Braves over the long haul of this season, but now appear such a clearly better representative in this little best-of-seven. And, knowing that Harper has been denied this stage, with only his hundreds of millions to comfort him, doesn’t that make Washington at least a little bit more appealing locally?  

A most intriguing Series begins with Cole and Scherzer headlining Game 1 tonight. Cole’s the one on the ridiculous run (19-0, 1.59 ERA in is last 25 starts – can that be right?). Scherzer is the one with the fascinating eyes (right eye blue, left brown, a condition known as heterochromia iridis), a rabid competitive nature, stupid stuff and seven All-Star appearances to his credit. 

Those enrolled in the old school will finish our dinners hours before first pitch, maybe even squeeze in a nap in between, settle in for baseball for pure baseball’s sake and maybe even reminisce about when the Braves used to bring starting pitching like this to October.

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About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.
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