Washington DC will have a team in the World Series for the first time in 86 years after the wildcard Nationals used a seven-run first inning and Patrick Corbin’s 12-strikeout performance to hold on and beat the St Louis Cardinals 7-4 on Tuesday night for a sweep of the NL Championship Series.

It completes a stunning turnaround for the Nationals, who went from 19-31 in May – when there was talk of firing manager Dave Martinez and trading away players – to the Fall Classic in October. They have won 16 of their last 18 games.

Corbin, a $140m lefty, became the first pitcher to strike out 10 in the first four innings of a postseason game and earned the win. Washington put up seven runs in the first, all charged to rookie Dakota Hudson, who lasted all of 15 pitches. The Nats have plenty of time to rest and set up their rotation before beginning the World Series in a week.

In the night’s other game, a gritty Gerrit Cole held the New York Yankees scoreless without his sharpest stuff, Jose Altuve sparked Houston at the plate and the Astros locked down a 4-1 victory Tuesday to take a 2-1 lead in the AL Championship Series. Altuve and Josh Reddick homered early off Luis Severino, who labored into the fifth while keeping the Yankees close. But they never broke through against Cole, who went seven innings to win his 19th straight decision despite walking five batters for the second time in his career.

Game 4 in the best-of-seven playoff is scheduled for Wednesday night but that could change. The gloomy weather forecast calls for a substantial storm with steady-to-heavy rain and wind all night in New York, potentially forcing a postponement that would likely alter pitching plans for both teams.

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