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World Series Preview: Houston Astros vs. Philadelphia Phillies

After a great regular season that started late due to the lockout, the postseason has not disappointed so far, as the World Series matchup is now set. Both the ALCS and NLCS were short series, with the Philadelphia Phillies taking care of the San Diego Padres in five games and the Houston Astros sweeping the New York Yankees. The lockout gave us a late start, but that also means we will have World Series games in November. That also happened last year, with Game 6 between the Astros and Atlanta Braves played on November 2. There have been 12 November games in baseball history, and Game 4 of the 2022 World Series will be on November 1.

Both of these teams are pretty opposite of each other, taking much different paths to this point. Not just this season, but with their overall makeup over the last several years. The Phillies hadn't made the postseason since 2011 until this year, in which they were the last team in at 87-75. The last time they made it to the World Series was 2009, when the Yankees defeated them in six games. Meanwhile, the Astros have been to six straight Champion Series since missing the postseason in 2016 and from 2006 to 2014.

Built for This

Houston has turned into a player development machine and have continued to plug out strong teams even after losing key players the last few years. The last two years, they lost an ace in Gerrit Cole and star shortstop Carlos Correa to free agency, as well as other subtractions. They have homegrown and developed a lot of great talent the last 10 years. At this point, the Astros are inevitable and even when they lose core members, new one's take their place. Similar to when you cut off the head of a snake, a new one takes its place. Jeremy Peña came in and played just as well a shortstop that Correa did for the first seven years of his career. The now 25-year-old Peña joined an already developed core of hitters in Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez. Peña was the ALCS MVP after going 6-for-17 with two homers and two doubles, good for a .353/.353/.824 triple slash, including the big game-tying three-run homer in the third inning of Game 4. The blast off of Nestor Cortes, who was pulled due to a groin injury right after, silenced the somewhat hopeful Bronx faithful. Any inkling of momentum the Yankees seemed to have - or at least hope that they would not get swept - was wiped out in a second. The rest of the lineup didn't do much, as it was the dominant pitching that has carried Houston to the World Series. Altuve has only gone 3-for-32 (.094) so far this postseason, an unusual sight for the second baseman with a career .845 postseason OPS and 23 homers coming in. Fans of the Astros are used to seeing the 32-year-old show a flair for the dramatic, but everyone goes through slumps. Perhaps he will come out of it in the World Series and come up clutch, similar to when he sent Houston to the World Series with a walk-off homer in the 2019 ALCS. Alvarez, who was a big part of the Astros sweeping the Mariners in the ALDS, went 7-for-29 (.241) against the Yankees but did also hit two homers. Bregman, not historically a great hitter in the Championship Series, went 5-for-15 (.333) with a homer and a double in the 2022 ALCS.

The Houston pitching staff is made up of aces, led by a seemingly ageless wonder in Justin Verlander. The 39-year-old is the lock for the AL Cy Young after a huge bounce back season from Tommy John surgery. Behind him are a few young guns in Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, and Hunter Brown who have helped make up one of the strongest pitching staffs of any team in the postseason. Lance McCullers is also in the fold, although he struggled in Game 4 of the ALCS, surrendering four runs - three of them earned - over five innings. Forget the Phillies top two aces in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, or the Mets with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer (who were bounced early), it's the Astros who have pitched the best this postseason. In their four-game sweep of the Yankees, it was as much as the Astros being pure domination to shut down the Bomber bats than it was the Yankees falling flat. In the ALCS, the Astros only allowed four runs over the first three games before the Yankees were able to scratch across five runs in the fourth game. Verlander struck out 11 over six one-run innings in Game 1, Valdez struck out nine over seven innings while allowing no earned runs in Game 2, and Javier struck out five and allowed just one hit over 5 1/3 shutout innings in Game 3. Brown has pitched out of the bullpen in the postseason, and hasn't allowed a run over 3 1/3 innings. The Houston pitching staff will have to continue their dominance against a Phillies lineup that has been on a tear this postseason.

Slugged for This

The Phillies are so much different and really shouldn't even be here. They are a "don't try this at home" act in the building of their team. The previous front office regime attempted to copy the Astros blueprint in developing a strong core led by homegrown talent. But it didn't work out, and Dave Dombrowski entered as the new general manager. There have been other teams that were successful in building their team similar to the Astros, but not to the yearly success that the now James Click-led team has. The Cubs did it and broke their long curse in winning the World Series in 2016, but it didn't last. They were supposed to become a dynasty, but then had to blow up their team this past couple years. A team that was searching for just one championship, though, will take that. The Astros have only won a single championship so far, and really need to win this one to legitimize themselves as a real dynasty and perhaps finally take the heat off them cheating in 2017. On the Phillies side, Dombrowski took a club that did have some pieces in place, but had to build essentially from the ground up in most areas. The foundation of the team was solid, with Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto being the pieces to build up from. But without the walls, roof, and paint, there is no house, it's just an outline. They had no homegrown outfielders, so they went out and signed big bats but ones that were defensive liabilities. It's a team that won't win any gold gloves, but one that basically slugged their way here. Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber joined the fold via free agency and the latter wound up leading the NL in bombs. Castellanos is not really meant to be an outfielder, as he’s 240th out of 240 outfielders with at least 250 attempts in the field in Outs Above Average since 2016. Schwarber is right in front him on that board but was able to slug enough to outweigh that. At the trade deadline, Dombrowski traded for their third outfielder as he got Brandon Marsh from the Los Angeles Angels to play center field. In addition, the GM who said no to the job three times, added David Robertston and Noah Syndergaard to help strengthen the pitching staff. Dombrowski has now become the first executive in history to lead four different franchises to the World Series after leading the 1997 Florida Marlins, 2006 and 2013 Detroit Tigers, and 2018 Boston Red Sox.

Nola struggled against the Padres as he surrendered six runs in 4 2/3 innings in Game 2 of the NLCS, but didn't give up any earned runs in his previous two starts in the postseason. Wheeler only gave up one hit against the Padres in his first start of the NLCS over seven innings, then gave up two runs over six runs the next start, while striking out eight in each. This series is going to come down to pitching and who can shut down the other offense. Ranger Suarez was a big x-factor in the NLCS and closed out the series after starting Game 3. After throwing just 68 pitches in Game 3, Suarez came in after Robertson walked two batters and recorded the final two outs. Citizen's Bank Park went into celebration after the big go-ahead homer by Harper in the previous half inning was held up. Suarez is a swing-man and will likely see similar situations in the World Series. He won't always be asked to close, but he certainly will come out of the bullpen when needed and will be in the rotation as well. The Phillies are going to need to have a strong gameplan in attacking the middle and late innings. They don't have a set closer and if a starter struggles early, it will be key for the long relief options like Syndergaard to hold down the fort and stop the bleeding.

Philadelphia slugged their way to this point and will continue to do so after a back-and-forth slugfest with the Padres. Harper was the NLCS MVP and there is no reason to believe he won't continue to rake. Hoskins has hit five homers so far this postseason already and started the whole "bat spike" trend that Jean Segura also joined in on with a go-ahead RBI single in Game 3. The Astros have the deeper pitching staff as a whole, including the bullpen, and the Phillies had their share of struggles closing out games all year. They are far from a team that is built for the World Series, let alone the postseason. But none of that matters now, they just got hot at the right time and slugged their way here. Their bullpen was able to pick up the pieces at the right time, and now face a juggernaut Astros squad. They were the last team into the postseason field in the National League and even they took an unconventional path to the ultimate goal, they made it.

In no way is this a David versus Goliath matchup, more like Fire versus Goliath. The hottest team in baseball is on its way to try and burn down the Goliath's hopes after already knocking out the previous fire that burnt out this very Goliath in the World Series last year. Philadelphia is currently on all sorts of fire, with the Eagles the best team in football right now at 6-0 and having Super Bowl aspirations. There is nothing stopping the Phillies in continuing their dream season that started as nightmare. They started the 2022 campaign at 22-29, fired manager Joe Girardi, and was in no way looking like a team destined for the postseason, let alone the World Series. Rob Thomson stepped in as interim manager and completely turned the ship around. The Phillies went 65-46 to close the regular season, which was the fourth-best record in the NL. Thomson did so well with the club that Dombrowski took off the interim title and gave him a two-year contract to keep him as manager through 2024. His 2022 team is now four wins away from hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy with the Dusty Baker led Astros in the way. Baker has been around a while but has yet to win a World Series. Thompson has won it all before, winning five rings with the Yankees since joining the organization in 1990, which included being the third base coach from 2009 to 2014.

So, Who Wins?

With both teams closing things out early in the Championship Series, we are due for a Game 7. This has the makings of a back-and-forth affair that will come down to who slugs and shuts down the other team's big boppers more. The NL East seems to be the Astros kryptonite after getting taken down by the Braves last year and losing to the Washington Nationals in 2019. They haven't hit that much outside of the homers and the Phillies have a much deeper offense than the Yankees. Even guys like Segura and Marsh have provided offense even when they don't slug like the likes of Harper and Schwarber. New York didn't have anyone outside of a couple guys in Harrison Bader and Anthony Rizzo hitting, while the Phillies have pretty much everyone hitting at the moment. It's an offense that will be hard to stop for the Astros. There will be a couple games that turn into slugfests, and some will be pitcher's duels when the aces face off. But ultimately, give me the Phillies in 7 and Kyle Schwarber to slug his way to the World Series MVP.

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