The Phillies’ postseason path to tonight’s Game 3 of the World Series in Philadelphia has been glorious and improbable.
There have been late-game comebacks, dramatic homers galore, incredible pitching performances and, yes, a fair bit of luck and good fortune. All those facets of winning baseball have been important components of postseason success for virtually every team that wins it all, and there is no question this baseball team, maligned for the last three years for their inability to win when it mattered, is riding something special.
Game 1’s pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, extra-inning, 6-5 victory in Game 1 of the World Series appeared bathed in pixie dust. Play that game 100 times and the Astros probably win it 99 times. And while Game 2’s 5-2 defeat was disappointing, the Phillies return to Philadelphia in the position they hoped to be... having earned a split in Houston with a chance to win their third world title on their home turf.
The Phillies are 5-0 at home this postseason and own a 21-9 record at the Bank in the playoffs all-time. That is the highest winning percentage of any team at any ballpark in postseason history (minimum 20 games). The crowds have been insane. Players are talking about it, announcers are talking about it. It is the single greatest homefield advantage in sports right now and is one of the primary storylines of the entire playoffs.
Big things are expected of the crowd again in Games 3, 4 and 5 this week.
There’s no doubt the Phillies have been magical at home in these playoffs. Just think of the incredible moments we’ve already witnessed in the NLDS and the NLCS thus far.
- Rhys Hoskins bat-slam 3-run home run off Spencer Strider.
- J.T. Realmuto’s inside-the-park home run.
- A comeback from down 4-0 in the 1st inning.
- Hoskins 2-run home run game.
- Jean Segura going crazy in Game 3 of the NLCS.
- Bryce Harper’s 8th inning home run in the NLCS clincher.
The Phillies have felt like a team of destiny, especially at home. This week, that magic will be put to the test by a Houston Astros team that has a decided edge in the pitching match-ups in Games 3 and 4.
Because manager Rob Thomson used Ranger Suarez out of the bullpen in Game 1 (the right decision), the team decided to push him back to Game 4, meaning tonight’s Game 3 will be a bullpen game. The Phils are hoping Noah Syndergaard, who pitched extremely well in this exact scenario in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves, can give them 9-10 outs before turning things over to a bullpen that has yet to be scored upon in the World Series.
However, as good as the Phils’ relievers have been, Houston will put Lance McCullers, Jr. on the hill for Game 3. McCullers has been a tremendous big-game pitcher for the Astros during his career (2.77 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 18 career games, 11 starts, in the playoffs), although the last time he pitched in the Series was in 2017, when he pitched 7.2 innings and gave up three earned runs. He’s pitched twice in the playoffs this year, with one good one (six scoreless innings in the 18-inning classic against Seattle) and one stinker (four runs, three earned, in five innings of Game 4 of the ALCS).
In Game 4, the pitching match-up isn’t quite as lopsided, although it remains to be seen how Suarez will perform having thrown 11 pitches in Game 1. Houston’s Cristian Javier, meanwhile, may have the best stuff of any pitcher on their roster, and put up a 2.54 ERA in 148.2 innings this season. He started Game 3 of the ALCS and went 5.1 innings against the Yankees, allowing just one hit and three walks with five strikeouts and no runs allowed.
If pitching is the name of the game in the playoffs, Houston has to be the favorites over the next two nights, all things being equal.
But as we’ve seen throughout the postseason, in Philadelphia, nothing is equal.
The Phillies’ offense comes alive in front of their home fans. In five games at the Bank, they’re hitting .296/.378/.597 for a team OPS of .975. They have 12 home runs and 12 doubles in five games. It is their strength, going up against Houston’s strength. The X-factor will be the crowd.
Will the Bank be as loud as it’s been in previous series? Will it affect the concentration of Astros pitchers, almost all of whom have postseason experience? Will it lift the Phils’ hitters, as it has done every step of the way in October?
In short, can Citizens Bank Park and you, the fans, close the gap on any pitching advantage Houston has over these next two games?
The Phillies have been in this exact spot two times before.
In 2008, they split the first two games in Tampa, winning Game 1 and losing Game 2, returning home for Games 3, 4 and 5. They won Game 3 on the Carlos Ruiz dribbler and were on their way to a world title after that. In 2009, they beat the Yankees in Game 1 and lost Game 2. In Game 3, Cole Hamels wasn’t sharp, Alex Rodriguez hit the camera with a reviewed home run, and the Yankees went on to win in 6.
Yes, the Phillies are great at home, but not unbeatable. There’s no way to tell how things will go in tonight’s pivotal Game 3, a swing game that often determines who will win the series. In postseason history, the team that wins Game 3 with the series tied 1-1 went on to win that series 69% of the time (68 of 98 times).
In the NLCS, under the same circumstances, Thomson managed Game 3 like a Game 7, understanding its importance. They won that game then won the next two to defeat the Padres in 5. That will be harder to do this time, with a bullpen game already slated for tonight.
On paper, the Astros have the edge, but there is something magical happening with this baseball team over the last few weeks. Is there enough magic left for the Phils to overcome the pitching mismatch and prevent the series from returning to Houston?
We’ll start to get our answers tonight.