Astros still thriving as Nationals rebuild three seasons after World Series

Nationals manager Dave Martinez said playing against the Astros for the first time since the 2019 World Series brought back memories this weekend.

“It’s interesting to know what those two teams went through that year, and we all went to the World Series together,” Martinez said before Washington’s 8-0 loss to Houston on Sunday. “Those memories will never go away.”

But more important than the memories is that 2019 feels way too long ago. In fact, having a team that can win a World Series is just a Nationals memory — and that goal may take many seasons to come true again.

In the two-and-a-half years since Washington won the franchise’s first championship with a Game 7 victory over Houston, the two clubs have gone in opposite directions. The Astros are still one of the best teams in baseball, and the Nationals have slipped into the cellar and are rebuilding.

A year after a World Series loss to the Nationals, the Astros enter the ALCS in 2020 and return to the Fall Classic in 2021. But after nearly a decade of rebuilding, the Astros won a championship in 2017 only to fall to the Warriors’ six-game run last season.

While Houston continues to be successful, that doesn’t mean it’s always been sunny. The logo theft scandal in 2020 has tarnished the reputation of the organization and many of its players. No player is worse than second baseman Jose Artuf, who was booed from Nationals fans every time he took the stage on Sunday.

The Nationals, meanwhile, haven’t made the playoffs since their unlikely championship, with a 126-155 record. The organization has been in rebuilding mode since general manager Mike Rizzo sent several of the team’s top players away in exchange for prospects last summer.

The series is not only a rematch of the 2019 World Series, but also a reunion for Astros manager Dusty Baker to return to Nationals Park for the first time since the 2018 season without an extension.

“I have great memories here,” Baker said before the season. “In two years, it’s probably the best period I’ve had anywhere.”

Earlier this season, Baker became the 12th head coach in major league history to win 2,000 games.

The tie between the two teams was evident on Sunday afternoon in the Astros’ rubber game victory. Houston remained at the top of the AL West with a 23-12 record, while Washington dropped to the second-worst record in the National League with a 12-24 record.

Justin Verlander had no hits in the fifth and Houston’s bat had eight innings in the final five.

Despite ending Verlander’s day after just five innings, the veteran right-hander was excellent with no runs, just two hits and five strikeouts. Verlander, who won the 2019 Cy Young Award with the Astros, is having a revived season at 39 after missing the entire 2021 campaign and pitching just six innings in 2020 due to an elbow injury.

Nationals starter Patrick Corbyn matched Verlander with his own zero in four innings. But the expensive Nationals southpaw gave up home runs in the next three innings, his sixth loss of the season. Corbyn is tied for the MLB lead with Nationals starter Joan Arden and two other pitchers with six losses.

Martin Maldonado’s long two-point pass to left center — a 423-footer from the center fairway — gave the Astros a 2-0 lead in the fifth. Yuli Gurriel then hit a single in the sixth and Chas McCormick capped Corbin’s day with a two-run homer in the seventh. Corbyn allowed six hits and five runs while hitting five batters in six innings.

The Astros added reliever Austin Voss two more times in Game 7. After giving up three straight singles, Watt walked past Alex Bregman who had loaded the bases and allowed another run in Jordan Alvarez’s double. Altuve then quelled the boos with a solo homer in the ninth.

Rafael Montero, Ryne Stanek and Bryan Abreu each followed Verlander to a restricted-area victory over the Nationals. Washington is hitting just four hits a day after hitting 14 and 13 in Saturday’s win.

The Nationals hit the road this week, starting Monday with a three-game series against the Miami Marlins.

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