World Series 2022: How the Phillies match the Astros

The Phillies will be the underdogs of the World Series. Good luck convincing them.

They weren’t favored to beat the Cardinals, Braves or Padres to get to this point, but they’re so hot, so loose and so confident they feel like they can beat any team n anywhere right now.

The Astros have a few distinct advantages other than home court. For one thing, it’s the most complete team in the majors. They have won 106 games and are 7-0 in the playoffs after sweeping the Mariners and Yankees.

And Houston will be better prepared with the pitching in Game 4, if not Games 3 and 4.

The Astros will likely roll with Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez in the first two games in Houston on Friday and Saturday. Some would say Verlander’s 0-6 record and 5.68 ERA in seven World Series starts indicate he can’t hit the jackpot, but that’s nonsense. He’s been his typical dominant self in his other 160 playoff rounds and is a surefire Hall of Famer.

At 39, Verlander had the best season of his career, which is saying a lot as he won the AL MVP in 2011 with 24 wins and 251 innings pitched. He went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 0.83 WHIP this season, leading the American League in all three categories and the Majors in the final two.

Verlander’s average start in 2022 was basically: 6 innings, 1 run, 5 base runners, 6 strikeouts.

He went five hitless innings with 10 strikeouts against the Phils on Oct. 4 in a game that meant nothing to either team.

Valdez, a left-handed lead who has improved dramatically over the past two seasons, set the major league record this year by making 25 consecutive quality starts. From April 25 to September 18, he went at least six innings in each start, allowing three runs or less. He had the lowest home run rate in the AL and led the league with 201⅓ innings.

Valdez struggled with control issues in the first two years of his major league career, but has cut his walk rate by nearly half since 2020. He has a Ranger Suarez-like ability to induce a key double play or a pop fly when needed.

The Phillies have Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola lined up to start the first two games, though they haven’t officially announced who will be in Game 1. Wheeler would be on normal rest, but it’s at least possible the Phils could return him with Nola to give him an extra day. Nola did, after all, win a perfect game in the seventh inning at Houston on Oct. 3, the last game the Astros lost.

The counter argument would be that the Astros have recently seen Nola, while none of Houston’s best hitters have ever faced Wheeler. The only three to have seen it are catchers Martin Maldonado and Christian Vazquez and DH Trey Mancini. They are combined 1 for 10 with a single.

As for the pitching game advantage the Astros should have after the series shift to Philadelphia, Lance McCullers Jr. and Cristian Javier are in line to pitch Games 3 and 4. The Phillies have used and will use Suarez as the No. 3 starter, but Game 4 will be a bullpen game as it was in the NLCS and NLDS. Noah Syndergaard started there against the Braves, while Bailey Falter faced the Padres. Syndergaard successfully crossed the lineout once, but Falter only recorded two outs before allowing four runs. The Phils won both games.

McCullers pitched well in the game against Nola when the Phils clinched a playoff spot. The Astros have appeared in the World Series four times in the last six seasons, so the 29-year-old right-hander already has a ton of playoff experience. He has played in 18 playoff games, started 11 and has a 2.77 ERA.

The Astros are also loaded with good to big hitters. Yordan Alvarez is just as dangerous as Bryce Harper. The left-handed slugger had a monster year, hitting .306/.406/.613 with 37 homers and 97 RBIs despite missing 27 games. He then had seven points in three games in Houston’s ALDS sweep against Seattle. The Yankees hovered around him more than the Mariners, and the Phillies would be wise to do the same if need be.

Kyle Tucker is another southpaw who can hurt you with power or speed. Rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena, the hitter 2 holes behind Jose Altuve, has three doubles and three homers in 33 at-bats this postseason. Alex Bregman is one of the most disciplined hitters at the majors and had two big streaks, going 5-for-15 with a double and a homer in each round.

The bottom of the Astros’ order can be sensitive with Mancini, Maldonado and Chas McCormick. Mancini is playoff hitless and the other two offer more defense than offense, although Maldonado and McCormick hurt Gerrit Cole in Game 3 of the ALCS with a two-run homer and a two-run homer , respectively.

Minute Maid Park in Houston is hitter-friendly, especially in left field where the Crawford Boxes jut out and turn pop flies into homers. It’s not hard to imagine Harper or Kyle Schwarber putting a short, easy hit on a ball to send one into the opposite court. If one of them can do it early Friday, the Phillies might be able to quiet down another crowd and steal another game down the road. They won Game 1 of all three series.

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