World Series Game Three: The home field disadvantage

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 25: A Nationals fan reacts to a 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Friday, October 25, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 25: A Nationals fan reacts to a 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Friday, October 25, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /
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For the third straight World Series game, the home team can’t deliver any clutch hits.

Ever heard of a World Series home-field disadvantage?

As odd as the concept sounds, that’s the way the 2019 World Series is shaping up. For the third consecutive game, the home team – in this case, the Washington Nationals – played hamstrung baseball Friday night. The result: A 4-1 defeat to the Houston Astros.

Washington still leads the Series 2 games to 1. But the fact that the next two games are scheduled for Washington begins to look like a liability for the National League champions.

The Nationals’ clutch hitting, a hallmark of their two wins in Houston, was absent Friday. Nats hitters went zero-for-10 with runners in scoring position. The Astros, who seemingly couldn’t buy a clutch hit at home, delivered several of them Friday.

The Astros didn’t win because their offense nuked Nationals starter, Anibal Sanchez. Rather, they often picked Sanchez to death. There was no better illustration of that technique than Houston’s first run, which Carlos Correa scored in the second inning when Josh Reddick blooped a 62 mph flare in front of the Nats outfield for a base hit.

According to Statcast, Reddick’s was the third softest bat-on-ball contact all night, yet it landed in the right spot.

As it happened, exit velocity had little to do with the game’s outcome. Balls left Nats’ bats at an average speed of 92.99 mph, three mph faster than the Astros. The larger factor may have been non-contact: Astros starter Zack Greinke and five relievers combined to strike out a dozen Nats. Only five Astro hitters whiffed.

The Nationals slept Friday night thinking of what might have been. The team’s most feared hitter, Anthony Rendon, batted three times with runners on base and never moved any of them. Each time he swung at the first pitch and merely produced a succession of pop flies.

Rendon was hardly alone in his misery. Cleanup hitter Juan Soto batted four times with runners on base, managing nothing more productive than a base on balls. He also whiffed once, produced a weak ground ball, and took a called third strike to end the game.

That was the story up and down the Washington lineup. Nine different Nationals came to the plate with one or more runners in scoring position. Five whiffed, one hit into a double play, three produced weak ground balls and only one got a ball into the outfield. That was Rendon, whose third-inning fly with Trea Turner and Adam Eaton on base was too shallow to do any good.

Producing with runners in scoring position had been Houston’s problem. Not so on Friday. One inning after Reddick’s second inning bloop got Correa home, Michael Brantley singled Jose Altuve across. Brantley repeated that feat in the fifth. Robinson Chirinos closed the scoring with a home run off the foul pole in the sixth.

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The Nats’ only run came home in the fourth when Ryan Zimmerman walked and Victor Robles tripled into the left-field corner.