Home World Series Preview: Can Philadelphia continue magical run against mighty Astros?

World Series Preview: Can Philadelphia continue magical run against mighty Astros?

Scott Ratcliffe
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This year’s World Series between American League champion Houston and National League champion Philadelphia begins on Friday, and while it may be a pretty lopsided matchup on paper, the underdog Phillies have been on a tear throughout the postseason and will be looking to keep their hot streak going into November.

First pitch of Game 1 Friday is scheduled for 8:03 p.m. ET from Minute Maid Park in Houston (FOX).

The top-seeded, AL West-champ Astros (106-56 during the regular season) have been one of the winningest franchises in baseball in recent years. They’re a perfect 7-0 in the playoffs in 2022, sweeping both the Mariners and the AL East-winning Yankees.

It’s truly been a team effort offensively for Houston, as several different contributors have gotten in on the act. That said, they’ve been anchored by the trio of rookie shortstop and ALCS MVP Jeremy Pena, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez and third baseman Alex Bregman, their No. 2, 3 and 4 hitters.

Those three have combined for 27 hits and 7 long balls, and have driven home 20 of the Astros’ 31 postseason runs. Left fielder Chas McCormick and first baseman Yuli Gurriel have also each homered twice in the playoffs.

Veteran manager Dusty Baker, now in his third season in Houston, will likely go with ace Justin Verlander to start Game 1 on the mound and follow with left-hander Framber Valdez in Game 2, as he did in each of the team’s first two postseason series.

Verlander, who’s in line to win his third career Cy Young Award, won an AL-best 18 games in the regular season and posted a sparkling 1.75 ERA, tops in all of baseball. Not far behind, Valdez won 17 games, with a team-high 194 strikeouts, and registered an ERA of 2.82.

Lance McCullers Jr. started Game 3 against Seattle and Game 4 against New York, while Cristian Javier tossed Game 3 against the Yankees.

During the regular season, Houston had a team ERA of 2.90 (second behind only the Dodgers’ 2.80) and a league-best 94 “quality” starts (lasting 6-plus innings while allowing 3-or-fewer runs).

Out of the bullpen, Houston closer Ryan Pressly has recorded 4 saves this postseason after finishing with 33 in the regular season, good for 7th in the majors. He’s got a solid group setting him up in relievers Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu and Rafael Montero.

Houston, looking for its second MLB title (the lone championship in 2017 is still considered a fluke by many due to the Astros getting caught for stealing opposing teams’ signs), is in the Fall Classic for the second-straight year and fifth time in franchise history, having won the American League pennant four times in the last six seasons (2017, 2019, 2021).

“That was on our minds the whole spring training, was getting back to this point,” Baker said, “and it’s a wonderful thing when you accomplish a goal. And so we’ve got one more goal to go and then we can set some new goals.”

The Phillies (87-75), meanwhile, are in the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, and didn’t clinch the third and final NL Wild Card spot until the final days of the campaign. However, they’re 9-2 in October — knocking out NL-Central champ St. Louis in the Wild Card round and then defending World Series champion Atlanta in the NLDS, before finishing off a tough San Diego squad last week — and are looking to slay one more giant.

“It’s kind of what we always said in the regular season; if we make it in, anything can happen,” said Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber.

In his fourth year in Philadelphia, Bryce Harper’s game-clinching home run in Game 5 of the NLCS Sunday punched his team’s ticket to their first World Series since back-to-back trips in 2008-09.

“Just that moment, just being able to do it at home — I didn’t want to get back on that flight to San Diego, I just didn’t want to get on a five-and-a-half-hour flight,” NLCS MVP Harper said of his 382-foot shot over the left-field wall. “I wanted to hang out at home and enjoy this at home with these fans, with this organization and this fan base.”

Harper’s bat has been red-hot throughout the past month. In 11 postseason games, the now-30-year-old has registered 39 total bases and 18 hits — including 5 homers and 6 doubles — and has driven in 11 runs. His playoff batting average is .419, with an on-base percentage of .444 and a slugging percentage of .907, all team-highs.

First baseman Rhys Hoskins has also recorded 5 home runs and 11 RBI, while Schwarber (3 HR, 6 RBI) and right fielder Nick Castellanos (3 doubles, 6 RBI) have also produced some timely playoff hits.

Philadelphia first-year manager Rob Thomson — who ironically was a member of the Yankees in 2009 when they beat Philadelphia in the Series — will go with Aaron Nola in Game 1 Friday, and then will throw his ace, Zack Wheeler, in Game 2. Wheeler started Game 5 against the Padres Sunday, giving up just 3 hits and striking out 8 in 6 innings of work.

“I think the numbers speak to the fact that both [Wheeler] and Nola, on an extra day of rest, their numbers are a lot better,” said Thompson, “and any time we can give those guys an extra day, we do.”

In his four postseason starts, Wheeler (1-1, 1.78 ERA) has given up just 5 runs on 10 hits across 25 ⅓ innings, striking out 25 batters while walking just 3. Nola (2-1, 3.12 ERA) has tossed 17 innings in the playoffs, allowing 6 earned runs on 16 hits. He’s fanned 18 batters and also walked only 3.

“You can’t go wrong with whoever takes the ball in these first two games,” Schwarber added.

The Phillies’ bullpen has also been key, with the back-end duo of Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez leading the way, combining to strike out 24 batters this postseason.

Thomson took over as interim manager for Joe Girardi, who was fired in early June, and Thomson’s interim tag was officially removed earlier this month, as he signed an extension through the 2024 season.

The Phillies are making their eighth World Series appearance (2-5 all-time, with titles over Kansas City in 1980 and Tampa Bay in 2008).

As of Thursday morning, Houston’s odds to win the Fall Classic sit at minus-190 (Philadelphia is plus-170), according to Caesars Sportsbook. For instance, a $20 bet on the Astros to win it all would currently pay $30.53, while a $20 Phillies bet would pay $54.

The two teams met in Houston earlier this month in the final series of the regular season, with the Astros taking two of the three contests.

World Series Schedule

(all games on FOX)

Game 1 — Friday at Houston, 8:03 p.m.

Game 2 — Saturday at Houston, 8:03 p.m.

Game 3 — Monday at Philadelphia, 8:03 p.m.

Game 4 — Tuesday at Philadelphia, 8:03 p.m.

Game 5* — Wednesday at Philadelphia, 8:03 p.m.

Game 6* — Friday, Nov. 4 at Houston, 8:03 p.m.

Game 7* — Saturday, Nov. 5 at Houston, 8:03 p.m.

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.