HOUSTON — Like starting a video game on the hardest level, the Washington Nationals’ first World Series game in franchise history will come against the Houston Astros’ Gerrit Cole. The 29-year-old right-hander hasn’t lost since May 22, and he posted a major league-leading 2.50 ERA in 212⅓ innings this season to emerge as the front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award.

The Nationals announced Monday that they will counter with right-hander Max Scherzer on Tuesday night in Game 1. Cole and Scherzer have been two of the best starters in baseball this postseason: Scherzer has a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings across four appearances and Cole has an ERA of 0.40 in 22⅔ innings across three starts. Scherzer compared the matchup with ones he has had against other aces, such as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw or the New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom.

“Obviously, it’s going to be one heck of a challenge,” Scherzer said.

Cole and Scherzer will go first, but the quality of pitchers coming behind them is unprecedented. Another matchup of elite starters is on tap for Wednesday night’s Game 2, in which Washington’s Stephen Strasburg will oppose Houston’s Justin Verlander. The Astros tabbed Zack Greinke, their third ace, to start Friday’s Game 3, but the Nationals left that slot blank. Left-hander Patrick Corbin seems to be the logical choice, but he might not be available if the Nationals need him as a reliever in one of the first two games. Asked whether that was the reason for remaining coy, Manager Dave Martinez demurred.

“We shaaaall see,” he said.

If Corbin isn’t able to start Game 3, right-hander Aníbal Sánchez would presumably start it instead, and Corbin would go in Game 4 on Saturday against … someone. Houston Manager A.J. Hinch left the Astros’ plans undefined for that game, saying the team will “read and react” to the situation. He identified right-handers Brad Peacock and Jose Urquidy as potential beginners to what could become “a bullpen game.”

“Could be somebody different based on how the first three games go,” Hinch added.

The key for the Nationals, Martinez half-joked Monday, is to go 1-0 on Tuesday. And though Cole has been unbeatable for nearly five months, the Astros right-hander paused to appreciate what he liked about Scherzer, the Nationals’ three-time Cy Young Award winner. He thought for several seconds at his news conference.

“His determination,” Cole said finally. “I feel like that word kind of covers how he competes, how he prepares. You have to be determined to be durable. My gosh, he’s as durable as they come. You have to be determined to be prepared. And he’s as prepared as they come.”

— Sam Fortier

Astros expect Pressly to be available

Astros reliever Ryan Pressly is expected to be available for the World Series after knee discomfort forced him from Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday. Hinch said the team is holding off announcing its World Series roster until Tuesday because of the uncertainty with Pressly’s health, but “we anticipate him being available and ready to go.”

In the third inning Saturday night, Pressly fielded a grounder off the bat of the New York Yankees’ Didi Gregorius and then charged to tag Gregorius as the shortstop ran up the line. Pressly stumbled and stopped short, grimacing as he applied the tag that preserved Houston’s two-run lead and stranded three Yankees base runners. That was the only pitch he threw in the game.

He told reporters after the game that the injury was “just some scar tissue that broke off” in his right knee. Pressly missed a month near the end of the regular season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The 30-year-old was 2-3 with a 2.32 ERA and three saves during the regular season.

“He’s going to do some things on the field today,” Hinch said Monday. “Hopefully get off the mound. He’s feeling better. … But until we clear him as active we’re going to have to hold off on our roster. We won’t announce anything until [Tuesday] anyway. There could be a change or two either based on health or based on matchup.”

— Isabelle Khurshudyan

Homecoming for Rendon

Anthony Rendon grew up on Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio at the Astrodome, and when he dreamed about being a big leaguer just like them, he, too, played for the Astros.

The Nationals third baseman said playing in his first World Series less than 20 minutes away from where he went to high school has brought up “mixed emotions,” but he has no issue envisioning beating the franchise he once rooted for.

“Obviously, you think about playing for the hometown team growing up, but that’s kind of like the best-case scenario,” Rendon said. “In the end, I’m just trying to beat whoever’s on the other side. I don’t care who you are.”

Rendon was a first-team all-state shortstop as a senior at Houston’s Lamar High and was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 27th round of the 2008 MLB draft. He opted to stay in Houston, playing three years at Rice before the Nationals drafted him sixth overall in 2011. He still spends his offseasons here, working out at the same facility as Astros outfielder George Springer, who sent him a text Monday.

“Good luck, have some fun,” Springer said of the contents of his message. “I want him to do well. I think he’s had one of the most unbelievable years. Obviously, he’s a superstar in this game. He’s a great dude, and I love him.”

Flooded with ticket requests for the Nationals’ games in Houston, Rendon and his wife came up with a creative solution to appease the many family and friends they still have in the area.

“We can get a good amount of tickets to our sides of the family,” Rendon said. “We kind of just said, ‘Hey, y’all got these many tickets,’ and it was a lot. We just said, ‘Hey, y’all work it out. If some people can’t go certain days, you’ll still have the opportunity because we’ll have enough tickets to go another day.’ ”

— Isabelle Khurshudyan

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