Mandatory Credit: Photo by John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock (13489479c) Houston Astros relief pitcher Ryan Pressly (55) reacts as he makes the play at first for the final out of Game 4 of an American League Championship baseball series against the New York Yankees, in New York ALCS Astros Yankees Baseball, New York, United States – 24 Oct 2022
You’re having uneasy feelings about the World Series, aren’t you? You do not like how swimmingly things are going for the home team. You want to tune out all those predictions that have the Astros making quick work of the Phillies.
You’re not going to spend one second thinking about how winning this World Series would punch Dusty’s ticket to the Hall of Fame. Or how it would erase at least some of the stain from 2017. Or how important it is, once the parade is over, to re-sign Justin Verlander.
Let’s all take a deep breath. The prognosticators are not wrong. Based on all the things that can be measured, the Astros are better than the Phillies. Better lineup. Better rotation. WAY better bullpen and defense.
All of which gets them zilch. That’s why you’re feeling queasy. You remember the Astros favored against the Nationals in 2019 and the Braves in 2021, and how did that turn out?
If Verlander or Framber Valdez have a bad start, if Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez don’t snap out of it, it the bullpen has a hiccup…
The Phillies are feeling pretty good about themselves after blowing through the Cardinals, Braves, and Padres. The Astros are unbeaten in the playoffs, but four of their seven victories have been by one run and two by two runs. They scored the winning run twice in the sixth inning, once in the seventh and once in the ninth. That’s a small margin of error.
In the interest of balance, here are three reasons they’re going to win, along with three reasons they might not.
Let’s begin with three reasons the Astros will win:
1. Pitching, pitching, pitching
The Astros have a 1.88 ERA in seven postseason games. That’s historically good. Among teams that have played at least seven games, that’s the lowest since the 1983 Orioles, according to research by MLB.com‘s Mike Petriello. Astros relievers have allowed three earned runs in 33 innings for a 0.82 ERA. On almost any other team, Cristian Javier, Ryne Stanek, and Jose Urquidy would be postseason keys. On the 2022 Astros, they’re a luxury. Even if one or two pitchers falter, the Astros have others capable of stepping in and throwing shut-down innings. As blueprints to victory go, it doesn’t get much better than that. Feel better? Wait, there’s more.
2. Lineup depth
To think the Astros could sweep the Yankees with their three best offensive players—Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, and Kyle Tucker—hitting a combined .186 speaks volumes about the evolution of a lineup that scored fewer runs than the Phillies and six other clubs during the regular season. The 2022 Astros scored a whopping 126 fewer runs than the 2021 Astros. That hasn’t cost them a game yet because they’ve gotten contributions from all over the place: two big home runs by Jeremy Peña, two by Chas McCormick, and a pair of critical RBIs by Christian Vazquez in his only postseason start. Yuli Gurriel is hitting .367 after struggling most of the regular season.
3. Postseason experience
The Astros have won 50 postseason games the last six seasons. That’s 50 more than the Phillies have played. They’ve gone to Game 7 in the World Series twice, to Game 7 in the ALCS twice, and to a deciding ALDS Game 5 once. They’ve won three of these five winner-take-all games. Names and faces have changed through the years, but the bottom line has remained remarkably consistent, and there’s no reason to think that’ll change now.
Now about the Phillies. Here are three things they have going for themselves:
1. They’re mashing. They’re hot
The Phillies have homered 16 times in winning 9 of 11 postseason games. They scored six ninth-inning runs to beat the Cardinals in Game 1 of the Wild Card series, never trailed the Braves in three ALDS wins, and came from behind to win Games 4 and 5 of the NLCS against the Padres.
Even though the Astros won 19 more regular-season games—the widest World Series gap in 116 years—Philadelphia is playing its best baseball at the right time.
If this World Series was going to be decided by the team that has played better since Opening Day, the Astros would win easily. They still might, but this Phillies team does not resemble the team that lost 13 of its final 20 regular-season games and was on the verge of choking away a playoff berth.
2. Beware Bryce Harper
He has dreamed of this moment from the moment scouts began following him about the time he turned 15. He was drafted No. 1 overall by the Nationals at 17 in 2010 and made his major league debut at 19, two years later.
The Phillies made him their $330-million cornerstone in 2019. Harper is 30 now and finally fulfilling all those expectations by hitting .419 this postseason with five homers, six doubles, and a 1.351 OPS in 11 games. His two-run pennant-clinching home run in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 5 on Sunday is, for now, the signature moment of his career.
Great players are capable of putting entire teams on their shoulders at moments like this one. He has impact offensive players around him—Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, JT Realmuto, etc.—so the Astros can’t simply pitch around Harper. So he’ll have opportunities to do what he did on Sunday.
3. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola
The Phillies can’t touch the Astros when it comes to pitching depth. But their opportunity to win the World Series will be if their aces out-pitch Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez in Games 1 and 2.
The Phillies have won five of their seven postseason starts, and Wheeler has been lights out in allowing five earned runs in four starts. They’ve lasted fewer than six innings just once, which has left fewer innings for a thin bullpen to cover.