A fantastic matchup awaits us in the 2019 World Series, and not just because of the stacked starting rotations of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. We also get to watch the two best third basemen in baseball, with Alex Bregman and Anthony Rendon providing the most exciting hot corner matchup in the Fall Classic in four decades.
Both Bregman, 25, and Rendon, 29, had their best seasons in 2019, setting career highs in most offensive categories. Bregman hit 41 home runs and led the majors with 119 walks, hitting .296/.423/.592, and even filled in at shortstop for two months when Carlos Correa was injured. Rendon hit .319/.412/.598 while leading the National League with 44 doubles and topping the majors with 126 RBI. Rendon has batted third in every game this postseason for the Nationals, while Bregman bats cleanup for the Astros.
Their personalities, at least outwardly, couldn’t be more different. Bregman is brash and cocky, and with good reason. He explained his confidence in March:
“When I’m walking to the batter’s box, I’m thinking that I’m the best hitter on the planet of Earth. When I strike out, or get a hit or do whatever, if I homer or get out, the next at-bat when I’m walking to the batters box, I’m thinking I’m the best hitter on planet Earth. In baseball it’s such a game of failure, you’re going to fail so many more times than you succeed, you have to continually hit the refresh button every single at-bat and move on to the next pitch.”
Rendon is happy go lucky, not one to show too much emotion on the field one way or another. His celebration was relatively tame compared to his raucous teammates after the Nationals finished off their sweep of St. Louis in the NLCS, so much so that it could be motivation for his teammates.
“He told me if we win the World Series, he’ll show excitement,” Rendon’s Nationals teammate Adam Eaton told Rustin Dodd of The Athletic. “So I literally want to play just so I can see when he’s excited.”
This World Series even gives us a hometown angle with Rendon returning to Houston, where he was born, played in high school, and even stayed in the city to go to college at Rice. Rendon is 9-for-20 (.450) with five doubles and a home run in his career at Minute Maid Park, though his last game there was two years ago.
Bregman was so highly touted coming out of LSU in 2015 that he was “pissed” he fell to the second pick (behind Dansby Swanson, who went to the Diamondbacks and was since traded to the Braves), and wears number two on his uniform in part to remind him of that umbrage.
Highest WAR, 2017-19
Rendon was drafted sixth overall in 2011, so it’s not like he was completely anonymous. But he’s been underrated for years, overshadowed for the bulk of his career by fellow top Nationals draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who were each picked first. This year was the fourth time Rendon has totaled at least 6 Wins Above Replacement (the FanGraphs version), including each of the last three seasons, but he never made an All-Star team until this July.
Both lead their respective draft classes in fWAR, plus Rendon and Bregman rank fourth and fifth, respectively in WAR over the last three seasons. These aren’t just the two best third basemen in baseball*, they are two of the best players in the game at any position.
*Yes, I’ve heard of Nolan Arenado, and he is also magnificent. But Bregman and Rendon are better, for now.
During spring training the Astros locked up Bregman through his arbitration years plus two seasons into potential free agency with a five-year, $100 million contract that kicks in in 2020. Rendon will get his big payday this winter as the top position player in free agency, whether he stays with the Nationals — who have reportedly offered him over $200 million — or elsewhere.
Not that his pending riches were on Rendon’s mind.
“I’m not even thinking down the road. I’m don’t even know what I did yesterday, and I’m not even thinking about what I will do tomorrow,” told reporters after Game 3 of the NLCS. “I live here, in the moment. One day at a time.”
Bregman achieved the pinnacle of modern baseball in 2019, in that he went toe-to-toe with Mike Trout for the title of best player in the American League. One of those two will win American League MVP, with Bregman’s very-deserving candidacy boosted by the fact that Trout missed the final three weeks of the season with a foot injury while Bregman and the Astros bulldozed into the playoffs with an MLB-best 107 wins.
Rendon seems destined for a third-place finish at worst in National League MVP voting, with one of Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger likely winning that award. It’s worth noting that major league players voted that trio the top three players in the NL, but Rendon joined Yelich and Trout as the players’ final three for Most Outstanding Player in the majors (though the MVP is voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America).
[READ MORE: Vox Media’s complete guide to the World Series]
A battle of MVP third basemen
This is the best pair of third basemen we’ve had in the World Series since 1980, when Mike Schmidt and the Phillies beat George Brett and the Royals. Both are Hall of Famers and considered at the very top of their position in baseball history, and both Schmidt and Brett were at the peak of their powers 39 years ago.
Schmidt hit .286/.380/.624 in his age-30 season, with career bests in both home runs (48) and RBI (121). He won the first of his three MVP awards, and the fifth of his 10 Gold Glove Awards.
Red hot hot corner World Series
|Year||NL team||AL team|
|Year||NL team||AL team|
|1976||Reds (Pete Rose, 7.4)||Yankees (Graig Nettles, 8.1*)|
|1980||Phillies (Mike Schmidt, 9.0*)||Royals (George Brett, 9.1*)|
|2019||Nationals (Anthony Rendon, 7.0)||Astros (Alex Bregman, 8.5)|
*led league | Source: FanGraphs
Schmidt was famously booed during his Hall of Fame career by his own fans in Philadelphia, but 1980 was a wonderful boost for his reputation.
“There are certain guys who players say, ‘He’ll get the big hit for you when you need it,’ I don’t think that label has been put on me yet,” Schmidt told The Sporting News (1). “But somebody ought to start putting it on me. This year I have gotten a lot of important hits for this team.”
Brett, 27, also won MVP that summer, hitting an absurd .390/.454/.664 with 24 home runs, and drove in more runs (118) than games played (117). His 203 OPS+ has only been reached by five players in the four decades since.
The story of 1980 was Brett, who was chasing Ted Williams en route to the second of his three career batting titles. Brett was hitting .400 as late as Sept. 19, with only 14 games left in the season.
“Regardless of what I hit this year, they probably are going to say, ‘He failed in what he set out to do,’” Brett told The Sporting News during that World Series (2). “Well I didn’t set out to hit .400. I wanted it bad, but I wanted it too bad. This year I should have enjoyed more than any other in my life. But I didn’t enjoy it at all.”
The Phillies and Royals had similar breakthroughs to reach the World Series in 1980. Both teams lost their League Championship Series for three straight years from 1976-78, Philadelphia falling to the Reds and Dodgers while Kansas City was victimized each time by the Yankees.
The Royals got their fourth crack at the Yankees in five years, and a sweep provided sweet revenge, with Brett’s three-run home run off Goose Gossage the killing blow in the decisive Game 3. The Phillies went the distance with the Astros in a classic NLCS, with the final four games of the series decided in extra innings.
It was the first NL pennant for the Phillies in 30 years, and their first postseason series win of any kind in the 98-year history of the franchise. It was the Royals’ first playoff series win, too, but as an expansion team their “suffering” only dated back to 1969.
Rendon and Washington relate most to Schmidt and Brett in this regard. The Nationals never won a playoff series before this season, including three first-round exits for Rendon (2014, 2016, 2017). Asked before their NLDS matchup with the favored Dodgers if the Nationals’ loss to the Dodgers three playoffs ago stuck with him, Rendon just smiled.
“That’s in the past. It happens, it happens,” he said. “You think about your girlfriend that broke up with you like 20 years ago? Probably not.”
Meanwhile, all Bregman has known is winning. His three full seasons with the Astros are the three best seasons in franchise history — three years with triple-digit victories, averaging 104 wins, a championship in 2017, and another World Series berth this year.
Both Brett and Schmidt were great in the 1980 World Series. Brett homered and doubled in the Royals’ Game 3 win, and hit .375 (9-for-24) with four extra-base hits in the six game series. Unfortunately he also had to leave Game 2 early with the most famous case of hemmorhoids in baseball history.
“It is a pain in the ass,” Brett told reporters after Game 2 in perhaps the most literal quote in the annals of sport (3).
Schmidt was even better, scoring twice in Game 1 and knocking in go-ahead runs in the other three Phillies wins in the series. He hit .381/.462/.714 (8-for-21) with two home runs, a double, four walks, and seven RBI to capture World Series MVP honors.
Rendon this postseason is hitting .375/.465/.594 with five extra-base hits and seven RBI in the Nationals’ 10 games. Bregman is at .257/.435/.429 with four extra-base hits, 10 walks and 10 runs scored in Houston’s 11 games. The stars have come to play.
We can only hope the 2019 World Series gives us such a wonderful battle between two great third basemen like we saw 39 years ago. At the very least, let’s hope that for the one who falls short this year it won’t be such a pain in the ass.
(1) “Royals Run, Run, Run Away With West Title” by Mike DeArmond — The Sporting News, October 25, 1980.
(2) “Schmidt’s Burning Desire: MVP” by Hal Bodley — The Sporting News, October 18, 1980.
(3) “A Big Pain for Brett — and Royals” — The Sporting News, November 1, 1980.