After a long wait since the Houston Astros wrapped up the ALCS against the Yankees on Sunday, playoff baseball is finally back!
The Astros are set to host the World Series yet again, facing off against a Philadelphia Phillies team that has not played in the Fall Classic since 2009. Houston was supposed to be here. They won an AL-best 106 games in 2022 and this is their fourth World Series appearance in the last seven seasons.
The Phillies meanwhile were not supposed to be here.
Philadelphia opened up with the longest World Series odds of any team at the beginning of the playoffs, as they were +3500 to win it all. The Astros on the other hand, had the second-best odds at +400, trailing behind only the Dodgers at +300.
Unlike the Dodgers, the Astros have handled business all playoffs long, as they are yet to lose a game, with a perfect 7-0 record through two rounds. The Phillies have meanwhile had a much more arduous path to the World Series, upsetting the Cardinals, Braves and Padres before this matchup against Houston.
As we begin to preview this series, nearly every advantage is skewed in the Astros favor, but could the Phillies continue to ride their momentum all the way to a World Series title?
Season Series: Astros Won 2, Phillies 1
Ironically enough, the Phillies and Astros concluded the regular season facing off against each other. At the time none of us could have imagined that would be a preview of this year’s World Series matchup.
The Phillies actually clinched their postseason berth and had their first of many champagne showers in Houston, where they opened up their last series of the season with a 3-0 victory.
Aaron Nola was sensational in that game, allowing just two hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings of work, in which he fanned nine batters. Kyle Schwarber opened the game by hitting a leadoff homer and would later go back-to-back with Bryson Stott for the eventual 3-0 victory.
The next day after clinching, the Phillies were nearly no-hit, as Justin Verlander struck out 10 over five no-hit innings. It was not until the ninth inning before the Phillies finally recorded a hit, in what turned out to be a blowout 10-0 lost. The Astros won again in the final game of the season, earning a narrow 3-2 victory.
|Friday, Oct. 28||Game 1: Phillies at Astros||8:03 p.m. ET||Fox|
|Saturday, Oct. 29||Game 2: Phillies at Astros||8:03 p.m. ET||Fox|
|Monday, Oct. 31||Game 3: Astros at Phillies||8:03 p.m. ET||Fox|
|Tuesday, Nov. 1||Game 4: Astros at Phillies||8:03 p.m. ET||Fox|
|Wednesday, Nov. 2||Game 5: Astros at Phillies*||8:03 p.m. ET||Fox|
|Friday, Nov. 4||Game 6: Phillies at Astros*||8:03 p.m. ET||Fox|
|Saturday, Nov. 5||Game 7: Phillies at Astros*||8:03 p.m. ET||Fox|
Game 1: Aaron Nola vs. Justin Verlander
The Phillies decision to start Aaron Nola in Game 1 of the World Series was a fascinating one, based on the implications of what this could mean further down the line in the series.
Since the playoffs began, Zack Wheeler has been the best pitcher on the Phillies, if not in all of baseball. Having last pitched in the series-clinching Game 5 of the NLCS on Sunday, Wheeler could have pitched on full rest, but instead they chose to go to Nola.
Nola was the Phillies ace all year, as Wheeler dealt with some injuries throughout the campaign. Meanwhile Nola led the majors with his 6.3 fWAR and came in second behind Sandy Alcantara in innings pitched with 205.
As previously mentioned, Nola squared off against the Astros at the end of the season and fared well, allowing just two hits over 6 2/3 innings pitched. Similarly Justin Verlander faced off against the Phillies to close his regular season and again, was nearly perfect with just one walk and no hits allowed over five scoreless innings.
In the playoffs, Verlander opened things up with a dreadful performance in the ALDS against the Mariners, where he gave up six earned runs in just four innings pitched. He righted the ship though in the NLCS, yielding just one run over six innings pitched against the Yankees.
One stat to watch with Verlander though is his past woes in the World Series. He has played in four World Series previously and has never recorded a win, losing six times in seven starts with a 5.68 ERA.
Nola, on the other hand, is pitching in the playoffs for the first time in his career this season and will be making his World Series debut tonight. After pitching 12 2/3 scoreless innings across his first two starts, Nola had a rough go of it the last time out, allowing six runs in 4 2/3 innings pitched.
Game 2: Zack Wheeler vs. Framber Valdez
Zack Wheeler has been the best pitcher in the playoffs so far and it really isn’t close. He is leading all pitchers in innings pitched (25.1) and strikeouts (25). His 0.51 WHIP is by far the best of any pitcher that has thrown at least 10 innings in the playoffs and his 1.78 ERA is the second-best.
The only pitcher who has thrown at least 10 innings who has a better ERA than Wheeler just happens to be the guy he squaring off against. Framber Valdez has only had to take the ball twice in the Astros path to the World Series, but he was great both times.
First, Valdez allowed two earned runs over 5 2/3 innings against a pesky Seattle Mariners team. In his second start, Valdez embarrassed the Yankees, allowing two unearned runs off four hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings pitched.
In Valdez’s lone start against the Phillies this season, he struck out 10 batters and allowed just two hits over five scoreless innings pitched.
Game 3: Christian Javier vs. Ranger Suarez
Through the first two games, it is hard to call the pitching matchups anything but a wash with Nola, Verlander, Wheeler and Valdez all being capable of shutting down any lineup, while giving their team length on full rest to start this series. Things begin to favor the Astros though once we hit Game 3.
Neither team has announced their Game 3 starter yet, but based on who they rolled out in the LCS, it can be assumed that this will be a matchup between two young hurlers in Christian Javier vs. Ranger Suarez.
When it comes to pure stuff, Christian Javier might just be the nastiest pitcher the Astros have. He struck out 11.74 batter per nine this season, while pitching to a sparkling 2.54 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Javier has continued his dominance in the postseason, having allowed just two hits and one run over 6 2/3 innings pitched.
Overall Ranger Suarez has been very good in the playoffs so far, pitching to a 2.00 ERA. Suarez first pitched in the NLDS against the Braves, where he didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, walking five batters before being pulled.
Suarez fared much better in Game 3 of the NLCS, as he did not walk a single batter over five innings pitched. He yielded two runs in the start, but only one of them was earned. He then returned to pitch in Game 5, where he recorded the final two outs to help the Phillies clinch the NL pennant.
Javier is the better pitcher for sure, but Suarez could certainly give the Phillies five strong innings with the home crowd behind him.
Game 4: Lance McCullers Jr. vs. TBD (Nola?!)
This is where the series gets interesting and also where the decision to start Aaron Nola in Game 1 could factor into the Phillies game plan. As noted during our preview of this series on the Just Baseball Show, the Phillies may have given Nola the nod to start Game 1, because they feel more comfortable in his ability to start on short rest.
Nola has been the Phillies workhorse all season and it would make sense for them to ride him in this seven-game series, regardless of what happens in the first three games.
If the Phillies are in a hole, it makes all the more sense to start Nola in Game 4, but even if they are up 2-1 it probably makes the most sense to start him. Game 4 of the NLCS was an unmitigated disaster for both teams, as the matchup of Mike Clevinger vs. Bailey Falter literally amounted to just two outs between them.
Falter recorded those two outs, actually retiring the first two batters he faced, but would proceed to allow four earned runs in that first inning. Unless they have shocked the world and are up 3-0 by the time we get to Game 4, the Phillies really can’t run the risk of letting the Astros see Bailey Falter or Noah Syndergaard to start this game.
Asking Nola to start Game 1, Game 4 and Game 7 would be a difficult ask, but it might be the only way the Phillies can actually win this series.
On the other side, the Astros have a quality starter in Lance McCullers Jr. who they can give the ball to in Game 4, keeping the rest of their rotation well-rested. McCullers has pitched to a 2.45 ERA across his first two postseason starts this year and has a career 2.77 ERA over 68 1/3 innings in the postseason.
Who Has the Better Bullpen?
This is where the pitching disparity begins to really show itself. The Astros had the best bullpen ERA in baseball this year at 2.80, while the Phillies were 23rd at 4.27. In the playoffs, the Astros pen has continued to dominate, allowing just three earned runs over 33 innings pitched for a 0.82 ERA.
The Phillies bullpen has fared better than they did in the regular season, but still sports a 3.19 ERA that is middle of the pack among playoff teams.
While they don’t have much depth, the Phillies do have a few solid options in their pen, namely Seranthony Dominguez, David Robertson and Jose Alvarado. Dominguez has been the best of the bunch, having allowed just one earned run over 7 2/3 innings pitched, with 15 strikeouts. He has allowed just three hits and hasn’t walked a batter for a stellar 0.39 WHIP.
Alvarado has a respectable 3.38 ERA in the playoffs so far, with three earned runs allowed over eight innings pitched, while Robertson sports a 2.45 ERA in just 3 2/3 innings.
The Astros on the other hand have more great relievers than you can count. Bryan Abreu, Hunter Brown, Luis Garcia, Ryan Pressley and Ryne Stanek have all combined to pitch 22 1/3 scoreless innings out of Houston’s pen.
Rafael Montero has pitched in six of the Astros seven playoffs games and has allowed just one earned run, while former Phillie Hector Neris has appeared in five games with just one run allowed himself.
There is no question who has the better bullpen, which puts all the more pressure on Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler to cover as many innings as possible across this seven-game set.
Who Has the Better Lineup?
While the Astros had the more efficient offense during the regular season, the Phillies actually scored more runs, plating 747 compared to the Astros’ 737.
Among the teams that made it out of the Wild Card round, the Phillies have the top OPS as a team at .749, but the Astros are second on that list at .708. Houston has hit 12 home runs in their seven playoff games, while the Phillies lead all teams with 16.
Philadelphia certainly has the right group of hitters that can get hot and steal a series here, with stars like Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Kyle Schwarber, JT Realmuto and even the struggling Nick Castellanos.
Harper and Hoskins are tied for the postseason-lead in both home runs (5) and RBIs (11), while Kyle Schwarber has added three bombs, all while getting on-base at a .375 clip. Realmuto is tied with Harper for the team-lead with 10 runs scored and Jean Segura has come up with countless clutch hits. The Astros have the better lineup, but Philly can hang with them.
The craziest part of the Astros run so far is that Jose Altuve has really given them nothing up to this point, recording just three hits across 32 at-bats.
Jeremy Pena leads the team with his .991 OPS and seven runs scored. He was named the ALCS MVP after hitting a clutch game-tying home run in Game 4 against the Yankees. Alex Bregman has been as consistent as they come, while Yuli Gurriel has turned back the clock to hit .367 so far in this run.
If Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Altuve get back to looking like their normal selves, the Phillies likely won’t stand a chance in this series.
Dating back to spring training, one take I have been very consistent on is that the Phillies were always the best “puncher’s chance” team that could win it all this year. Now here they are in the World Series.
While nothing would shock me with the Phillies at this point, there is no way I can make a logical argument for them over the Astros other than them being the team of destiny.
Houston is better in just about every facet of the game than the Phillies and have yet to drop a game during this postseason. If they can keep that up through the first two games of the series in Houston, we could be in for a short series that doesn’t make it back to H-Town.
If the Phillies can grab a split with Nola and Wheeler on the mound in the first two games, they could turn this into a very interesting series by handling business in Philadelphia.
Ultimately I believe the Phillies will grab a few games, but will run out of gas the longer this series goes. I have the Astros taking this one in six games.