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World Series Workout Day
We’ve reached the final battle
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Final boss: Phillies vs. Astros World Series preview

Only the Astros stand between the Phillies and eternal glory

The Cardinals and their legends have been sent into retirement. The defending champion Braves have been de-throned. And the Padres have learned “that’s what’s in” does not refer to their team and the World Series. Now, all that stands between the Phillies and glory are the Houston Astros.

Houston Astros

Record: 106-56 (First place in American League West)

The manager

When the Astros wanted to clean up their image in the wake of their sign stealing scandal, they turned to the most family-friendly unemployed former manager available.

Dusty Baker has been a manager since 1993 having been in charge of five different teams and is best known for having his son almost get run over while serving as a bat boy in the 2002 World Series.

Baker seems to be a nice guy who is generally well-liked by his players, but that hasn’t done him much good once his teams have reached the final round of the playoffs. A Baker-managed team has never won the World Series, and he actually holds the record for most wins as a manager without a championship.

If the Astros win, it probably isn’t going to be due to any strategic brilliance on Baker’s part. That puts them at a disadvantage since the Phillies’ Rob Thomson is similarly loved by his players, and he’s been making all the right moves since the playoffs began.

The last time they met

The Phillies visited Houston in the last week of the season, needing just one win to earn a Wild Card bid. The Astros said they were going to make a genuine effort to win the games to protect the integrity of the game. In hindsight, it's clear that they wanted to win for selfish reasons, knowing that if they didn’t keep them out of the playoffs, the Phillies would be a threat to them in the World Series.

Thanks to Aaron Nola and Kyle Schwarber, the Astros failed at that task, and because of their failure, the rest of the National League lies in ruin.

What’s the deal with the Astros?

I covered the Astros’ inglorious history here, so I don’t need to spend more time talking about how they haven’t been able to win a World Series without the benefit of cheating. Instead, I’ll focus on the 2022 edition of the Astros and explain why they won’t be winning the World Series either.

I’m not going to pretend that the Astros aren’t a good team. Their roster is filled with star players like Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman. They won 106 games in the regular season and followed that up with a 7-0 run through the American League playoffs. That’s impressive stuff, and it’s exactly what we should expect from a World Series opponent.

You’d be disappointed if you got to the final level of a video game, and Bowser or Mother Brain turned out to be pushovers who could be defeated in seconds. But much like those video game bosses, the Astros are not invincible and can be beaten if you play the game well.

It’s not a complete mismatch?

Most pundits and baseball “experts” are picking the Astros to win, which makes sense when you remember that many of them are lazy and won’t take more than a cursory look at the teams before making their predictions. They probably think, “The Astros have been to the World Series a few times recently and won a lot more games than the Phillies, so I’ll just pick them.”

The good news is the experts are quite often wrong. First off, the win differential between the Astros and Phillies means very little as far as predicting this series, because the MLB playoffs have repeatedly shown us that the things that win a lot of games in the regular season aren’t necessarily the same as what wins playoff series.

But obviously the Astros have been winning in the playoffs as well. In fact, they haven’t lost a single postseason game so far. Before we get too intimidated by that fact, we should consider that they had a much easier path to the World Series than the Phillies. Thanks to earning a first-round bye (Guess it’s not THAT much of a disadvantage, eh, Dodgers and Braves?) they skipped the wild card round, and then faced two opponents that were pretty much beaten before they even stepped on the field.

Like the Phillies, the Seattle Mariners ended a long playoff drought this season. Except after the Mariners won their wild card series, they took on a very “Hey, we’re just happy to have gotten this far” attitude in the next round.

The Astros moved on to face the Yankees in the ALCS. In theory, the Yankees are a formidable opponent, but for some reason, they collapse whenever they face the Astros. It’s like they want revenge for the whole cheating thing so badly that they stop being able to function when they step on the same field as them.

I should also note that the last two teams to make it to the World Series without losing a game ended up losing the series, so don’t put too much stock in the Astros’ undefeated record up to this point.

Oh no, it’s the Astros’ mighty pitching staff! Whatever shall we do?

The experts who managed to look past the teams’ disparate records and still picked the Astros, usually based their selection on the Astros’ pitching staff. They think the Astros talented and deep pool of pitchers will shut down the Phillies’ lineup.

The headliner of the Astros’ staff is Justin Verlander. He’s famous for being really good in 2011, having a brother who is a little too obsessed with Shohei Otani, and for having his naked pictures leaked on the internet. (No, I’m not linking to it. Do your own work.) he also has a long history of pitching poorly in the World Series. If any Astros fan says they’re 100% confident in him coming through this time, they’re probably lying.

The rest of the Astros rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers. They’re all solid pitchers, but so are Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove. None of them could stop the Phillies, so why will the Astros fare any better?

The Astros have a solid bullpen, but what they don’t have is a dependable left-handed reliever. That seems like it could be a major weakness in a series featuring lefthanded sluggers like Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. The Astros have gotten by without a good lefty in the bullpen to this point, but the World Series has a tendency to expose fatal flaws.

The Astros lean heavily on former Phillie Hector Neris. I’ll start off by saying I liked Neris, and thought he received too much hate when he was here. (The team would have definitely been better off keeping him instead of signing Jeurys Familia.) But did you ever feel completely comfortable watching Neris pitch in a big spot? Does he seem like the type of guy you want pitching in the late innings of a World Series in front of a rabid road crowd?

The Phillies have already ruined the playoffs for some well-regarded relievers. They’re capable of doing the same to Neris, Ryan Pressly, or whoever else the Astros throw out there.

You’re not in Texas anymore

Astros fans have been mixing it up with Phillies fans on Twitter and seem to be slowly realizing that they’re dealing with a different bunch.

The Astros had better hope they win their games in Houston, because Citizens Bank Park has been hellish for opposing teams this postseason. The Braves and Padres talked a good game beforehand but were both unable to handle the Phillies’ insane home-field advantage. Will the Astros hold up any better?

These fanbases are not the same. Last Sunday, Phillies fans sat in the wind and rain for over three hours. Meanwhile, there might be a slight drizzle in Houston this weekend. Their reaction...

Wait, we’re the good guys?

Most of America is treating this World Series as somewhat of a “heel vs. heel” matchup where they don’t really want either team to win. But it seems that as much as many Americans don’t want to see Philadelphia fans happy, they REALLY don’t want to see the Astros win, so the Phillies are the de facto good guys here.

The city’s fans experienced a few years this when the Eagles were in the Super Bowl and took on another team of verified cheaters in the Patriots. Here’s a warning, America: If the Phillies win, you won’t like it any more than you did when the Eagles won.

The biggest divide in rooting interests appears to be in the New York area. Mets fans do not want to see the Phillies win, but Yankees fans absolutely despise the Astros, and would basically root for ISIS over them if it came down to it.

It’s Bryce’s time

Blake Snell kept Bryce Harper from winning his second straight regular season MVP award. But he and his teammates couldn’t stop him from taking home that honor from the NLCS. Now that the man who is arguably the sport's biggest star has reached its biggest stage, do you think he’s going to slow down?

It also makes sense narratively for Harper to lead the Phillies to victory. The Astros might have had value as a redemption tale had they actually shown any remorse for cheating. Besides, they’ve had multiple cracks at winning another title since then and fell short every time. And I certainly don’t think “Dusty Baker finally wins it all” is nearly as good a story as “Baseball’s chosen one finally fulfills his destiny.”

The final battle is upon us

As the 2022 regular season reached its final week, it looked like the Phillies might not make it to the playoffs. Thanks to injuries, poor management, and underachievement, the Phillies’ roster wasn’t able to win 90 games in the regular season. But based on the past few weeks, the roster certainly seems to have what it takes to win the World Series.

There has been a lot of talk about the fairness of the playoff structure, and if there’s a secret formula for winning in the playoffs. The Phillies have shown us exactly what that formula is: Have really good players on your team and have them play well at the right time.

If the Phillies are to prevail, they need Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola to pitch like aces, they need Harper, Schwarber, and Rhys Hoskins to keep blasting balls into the seats, and they need Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado to continue shortening games. But they’ll also need to keep getting contributions from others. Ranger Suarez needs to keep getting key outs, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto need to make big plays at the plate and on the field, and Zach Eflin needs to show he can be depended on in a late-game situation.

It also won’t hurt to get contributions from unexpected sources. Brandon Marsh, Alec Bohm, and Nick Castellanos were quiet in the NLCS, but they both had big moments earlier in the playoffs and are capable of coming through with a big hit when their time comes.

As I’ve been saying all throughout this playoff run, it won’t be easy, and it shouldn’t be easy. The Astros may be the most difficult opponent the Phillies have faced all year. And when they are vanquished like the others, the sight of the Phillies holding that trophy will be that much greater.

Go Phillies!

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Rise and Phight: 3/24/2023