World Series Game 3 takeaways: Astros punish Anibal Sanchez; Houston bullpen shuts down Nationals

The Houston Astros have life. After dropping Games 1 and 2 of the World Series at home, the Astros struck back with a win over the Washington Nationals in Game 3 on Friday night at Nationals Park (HOU 4, WAS 1). The Nationals still hold a 2-1 series lead.

Similar to Games 1 and 2, both offenses made the starting pitchers work hard for every out, yet only one team came up with timely hits to get on the board. That team was the Nationals in Games 1 and 2. In Game 3, it was the Astros. Here are nine takeaways from Houston's Game 3 win.

1. Robles saved a run in the first inning

Baseball can be such a stupid sport sometimes. In the very first inning of Game 3, George Springer mis-hit a fastball and beat out a 30-something-foot infield single. The next batter, Jose Altuve, smashed a rocket to center field for an out. Go figure. Look at this Victor Robles catch:

If that ball gets over Robles' head, Springer scores pretty easily. He was beyond second base and had to retouch the bag before retreating to first. Statcast says Altuve's line drive goes for a hit roughly 64 percent of the time based on the exit velocity and launch angle. Things like that. Springer's weak tapper? Only 20 percent. That's baseball for you.

Robles' bat is still a work in progress, but the 22-year-old led all players with 22 defensive runs saved and 21 outs above average during the regular season. He is an elite defensive center fielder and it saved Washington a run in Game 3.

2. The Nationals couldn't break through against Greinke

Much like his first three postseason starts, Game 3 was a battle for Zack Greinke. The Houston right-hander did not have a single 1-2-3 inning and he put 10 runners on base in 4 2/3 innings. He's thrown 18 2/3 innings in his four postseason starts, or 4 2/3 frames per outing.

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Zack Greinke HOU • SP • 21
2019 World Series Game 3 vs. Nationals
IP4 2/3
H7
R1
ER1
BB3
K6
Pitches95

The Nationals had Greinke on the ropes all night but were unable to break through. They stranded a runner on second in the first, a runner at second in the second, the bases loaded in the third, a runner at third in the fourth, and runners on second and third in the fifth. By my unofficial count, Greinke threw 55 of his 95 pitches from the stretch. He had to work hard all night.

Washington went 0 for 7 with runners on scoring position against Greinke -- add in Josh James striking out Ryan Zimmerman with two on to end the fifth, and it was 0 for 8 with Greinke's runners on base -- and 0 for 10 in those spots in the game. They had a runner in scoring position in each of the first six innings.

The Game 3 RISPFAIL fest came after the Nationals went 7 for 21 (.333) with runners in scoring position in Games 1 and 2. The clutch hits dried up against Greinke and Houston's bullpen in Game 3.

3. The Astros temporarily solved their RISP woes

The tide with runners in scoring position turned in Game 3. The Nationals couldn't buy a hit in those situations against Greinke, and the Astros finally got over the hump in the early innings. They went 3 for 17 (.176) with runners in scoring position in Games 1 and 2 and .175/.243/.330 in those situations in the postseason overall, if you can believe that.

Then, in Game 3, the Astros had three hits in their first three at-bats with runners in scoring position. The third of those three hits was a Michael Brantley infield single that deflected off Anibal Sanchez's glove to give Houston a 2-1 lead. When you're struggling offensively, sometimes you need to catch a break like this to right the ship:

The newfound success with runners in scoring position didn't last. After starting the game 3 for 3, the Astros went 1 for 7 in those spots the rest of the game, and that includes Alex Bregman grounding out to short with the bases loaded to end the sixth inning. The Nationals intentionally walked Brantley to load the bases for Bregman, which seems insane, but it worked.

The Astros did not do much offensively once Sanchez was out of the game, but they capitalized on the opportunities they had when he was on the mound, which is not something they did against Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in Games 1 and 2. Sometimes it's not how many hits you get, but when you get them. Houston got them when the team needed them in Game 3.

4. Letting Sanchez hit cost the Nationals

It was not pretty, but Sanchez gutted his way through the first four innings against Houston's lineup. He allowed a run on Josh Reddick's flare single to left in the second inning and another run on Brantley's infield single in the third. Sanchez stranded one runner in the first, two runners in the second, and one runner in the third. It was a grind.

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Anibal Sanchez WAS • SP • 19
2019 World Series Game 3 vs. Astros
IP5 1/3
H10
R4
ER4
BB1
K4
Pitches93

Robles got the Nationals to within 2-1 with his one-out RBI triple in the bottom of the fourth inning. At that point it seemed fairly obvious the Nationals should pinch-hit for Sanchez. Consider:

  • Sanchez is an atrocious hitter: .084/.127/.092 career with a 42.3 percent strikeout rate.
  • He'd thrown 65 high-stress pitches through the first four innings.
  • The Astros squared him up all night (nine batted balls with 95 mph exit velocity or better).
  • Sanchez allowed a .288/.352/.571 batting line the third time through the lineup in 2019.
  • Tanner Rainey had been warming up since the start of the inning.

The situation said send a real hitter to the plate -- the Nationals had Matt Adams, Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes, Howie Kendrick, and Gerardo Parra on the bench at the time -- and try to get the tying run home, then turn the game over to the bullpen rather than let Sanchez face the top of the lineup a third time.

Instead, Nationals manager Dave Martinez stuck with Sanchez, who bunted foul for strike three. Trea Turner couldn't get the run home with two outs and the tying run was stranded at third. Then, sure enough, Sanchez allowed three hits and a run in the next inning, and a solo homer the inning after that. The decision not to pinch-hit was costly, both offensively and on the run prevention side.

5. Houston's late-inning relievers were great

Greinke's short start meant Astros manager A.J. Hinch had to lean on his bullpen heavily. James struck out Zimmerman with two runners on base to end the fifth inning, then, after Brad Peacock labored to start the sixth, Hinch went right to ace setup man Will Harris. Harris snuffed out the rally and added a scoreless seventh inning as well.

Here is Houston's bullpen in Game 3:


IPHRERBBKPitches

Josh James

1/3

0

0

0

0

1

8

Brad Peacock

1/3

0

0

0

2

1

21

Will Harris

1 2/3

0

0

0

0

2

25

Joe Smith

1

1

0

0

0

2

18

Roberto Osuna

1

1

0

0

0

0

16

Total

4 1/3

2

0

0

2

6

88

Harris did not record more than four outs in an appearance during the regular season -- only three times did he get as many as four outs -- then he picked up five outs in Game 3. Hey, sometimes you have to push your best players a little harder than usual in October. Harris was up to the task. He has faced 30 batters this postseason and allowed only five baserunners.

In Games 1-2, the Astros bullpen combined to allow eight runs in five innings, with most of the damage coming in the Game 2 blowout. Houston's bullpen couldn't keep that game close. In Game 4, the relief crew made a three-run lead stand up and help the Astros get back into the series.

6. Catcher home run history was made

Three games into the World Series, three different catchers have hit a home run. Kurt Suzuki swatted an important go-ahead home run in Game 2, Martin Maldonado added a garbage time homer later in Game 2, then Robinson Chirinos smacked an insurance run solo homer off the left field foul pole in Game 3.

According to STATS, this is the first time in history three different catchers have gone deep in a single World Series (while in the game at catcher). That's hard to believe seeing how the World Series dates back to 1903, but I guess it makes sense. It's not often backup catchers play in the postseason. (Maldonado was in Game 3 after Chirinos was lifted for a pinch-hitter earlier in the game.)

7. Cederstrom had an interesting night

Cederstrom as in Gary Cederstrom, the home plate umpire for Game 3. Most notably, Sanchez was squeezed on several pitches at the bottom of the zone, including on back-to-back pitches to Brantley in the fifth inning. The at-bat continued and Brantley drove in an insurance run with a single.

Sanchez was squeezed on several pitches at the bottom of the zone while Greinke benefited from several called strikes off the plate east and west. The strike zone plots:

cederstrom.png
Anibal Sanchez didn't get calls at the knees in Game 3, but Zack Greinke got them on the outside corners. Baseball Savant

No, Cederstrom is not biased against the Nationals nor in favor of the Astros. It boils down to the catchers more than anything. Suzuki rates as one of the worst pitch-framers in MLB and he stabbed downward on several of those missed strikes at the knees. He didn't present them well and Cederstrom saw a ball. Chirinos is an average framer and got his starter some calls.

8. The Astros are back in the series

Granted, the Astros still have an uphill climb ahead of them, but being down 1-2 in the series is much better than being down 0-3. Only once in baseball history has a team erased an 0-3 series deficit. That, of course, was the 2004 Red Sox. Teams that are down 1-2 in a best-of-seven have come back to win the series roughly 30 percent of the time, historically, and 44 percent of the time they won Game 4 to tie the series 2-2. The Astros still need three wins in their next four games to win the World Series. That's a heck of a lot better than needing to win four straight.

9. Game 4 is next

The World Series continues Saturday night with Game 4 at Nationals Park. That's an important game. I mean, they're all important games, but a 3-1 series looks a whole lot different than a 2-2 series. Patrick Corbin and Jose Urquidy are the expected starting pitchers, though the Astros are expected to lean on their bullpen heavily. Game 4 will begin at 8:07 p.m. ET.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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