They’re done, everyone said. They can’t win without cheating, everyone said. Eventually, they’ll just go away, everyone said. Yet in a 2018 Patriots “We’re Still Here” manner, the Astros are back on baseball’s biggest stage. A win would not only give them two World Series titles in a six-year span, but may finally silence doubters who said the only reason the Astros won in 2017 was because they banged on trash cans to alert hitters to what pitch was coming.
Standing in their way for a third consecutive trip is a red-hot, team-of-destiny-type NL East club. In 2019, the Nationals won all four games in Houston to capture their first title. Last year, the Braves rode a red-hot October to a six-game win over Houston. Now, Dusty Baker and Co. will need to go through a scorching Phillies club to finally reach the mountain top.
Let’s take a look now at how this series shakes out with some of the big storylines:
Hot Team vs…. REALLY Hot Team?
Only the 2014 World Series featured two teams with 16 combined wins, with the 8-2 Giants and 8-0 Royals squaring off in what ended up being a seven-game marathon. This time, the 9-2 Phillies get the 7-0 Astros, and something has got to give. Both teams will have equally-long four-day breaks. In the past, the team with the shorter break entering the World Series has usually won; since the Phillies last won in 2008, the team with fewer days off has won 11 out of 13 times. Technically speaking, the Astros have had a few less hours of rest, but this shouldn’t be an issue.
It’s been nothing but heartbreak for Dusty Baker in previous postseasons, as he has become baseball’s version of Andy Reid pre-early-2020. Last year, Baker’s Astros fell short, just as his Giants did in 2002 against the Angels. There are a lot of people who are likely still rooting for Baker, even if they don’t care to see the Astros win.
Or Will Bryce Carry the Phillies to the Promised Land?
Bryce Harper, white-hot this October, had never tasted postseason success prior to 2022. He has more than delivered on his big contract, and if he keeps hitting like he has been, there’s reason to believe he could legitimately single-handedly lift the Phillies to victory.
Houston’s Pitching Depth
If there’s one sizable advantage in this series, it would appear to be Houston’s pitching depth. Philadelphia’s top two starters have been lights out thus far, with Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola capable of dominating Houston’s potent lineup. But beyond that, Philadelphia has some question marks, both in the rotation and the bullpen. The Astros’ pen has been ridiculous, allowing three runs in 33 innings this postseason and showing no signs of slowing down. The Phillies will need to get big contributions from unexpected sources in this series to supplement what they hope are big efforts from Wheeler and Nola.
Defense Wins Championships
The Phillies’ defense has been a little suspect this postseason, and outfield is certainly an area of concern. On the flip side, the Astros’ defense has been stellar, and the Yankees found out the hard way that giving up extra outs absolutely will come back to haunt you. Philadelphia needs to be sound defensively if they want to pull the upset.
This figures to be a great series because you have two teams who are not only really good, but also hot as a firecracker. The city of Philadelphia is fully behind its Phillies and that energy has propelled the Phils this October. Houston needs to motivation after a 106-win season and a chance to prove once and for all they don’t need garbage cans to win baseball games. I believe in the end Houston’s pitching depth and defense will be the difference in a really tight series. Pick: Astros in 7.
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