From start to finish, the Houston Astros were the best team in baseball for 2022. The team from H-Town reaffirmed that Saturday night by eliminating the Philadelphia Phillies and claiming the World Series title. The Astros earned the privilege of popping champagne in their home ballpark after the 4-1 clincher in the sixth and final game.

The Astros won 106 games during the regular season. They opened the postseason by winning their first seven games to sweep the Seattle Mariners (ALDS) and New York Yankees (ALCS.) They disposed of the legitimate threat posed by the home-run hitting, fun-loving, momentum-loaded Phillies and had to overcome a 2-1 series deficit after the first three games.

The Astros won 11 of their 13 postseason games including a 5-1 record on the road. If we combine the playoffs and regular season, Houston won 117 of 175 games in 2022 for an astonishing .668 winning percentage.

Unlike 2019 and 2021, when they were knocked off by the Washington Nationals and then the Atlanta Braves, the heavily-favored Astros wouldn’t get chewed up by an underdog opponent in the World Series.

This doesn’t come easy. Just ask the 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers, the 101-win Braves, the 101-win New York Mets, and the 99-win New York Yankees. All four powerhouses were knocked out in the preliminary rounds, and only the Yankees got as far as the league championship series.

In the helter-skelter commotion of MLB’s postseason – a lollapalooza where so many imposing – and supposedly invincible – teams have expired prematurely, the Astros showed that it’s still possible for a great team to survive and prevail.

“You have to give credit where credit is due,” Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos told reporters after Game 6. “They’re a hell of a ball team.”

Ten Reasons Why The Astros Conquered The Phillies

1. RESILIENCE: The Astros encountered multiple emergencies and got through them with composure and confidence, rarely affected by the pressure.

— After squandering a 5-0 lead at home in World Series Game 1, they responded right away — and the right way — by getting a fabulous start from Framber Valdez to keynote a 5-2 victory in Game 2. With the win the Astros avoided the formidable danger of traveling to Pennsylvania down 0-2, with the next three games set at the madhouse in South Philly. In a seven-game postseason series only 14 of 89 teams have come back to win after dropping the first two games. The last time a team won a World Series after losing Games 1 and 2 happened in 1996, when the Yankees defeated the Braves. Houston’s Game 2 counterattack was a meaningful development.

— The Astros trailed the Phillies 2-1 in the World Series after absorbing a five-homer beatdown in Game 3 at Citizens National Bank Ballpark. But Houston immediately reversed the momentum by no-hitting the Phillies to win Game 4, hanging tough for a tight 3-2 victory in Game 5, then putting the Phillies away, 4-1, in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park.

— In the Game 6 clincher, Kyle Schwarber put the Phillies in the lead with a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning. It sent a message: The proud visiting team had no desire to roll over so the Astros and their fans could start the party. But minutes later the mountainous Houston slugger Yordan Alvarez broke Philly’s will with a monstrous three-run homer that flew 450 feet and landed in the upper reaches of straight away center field. It was time to start icing the celebratory champagne.

“Obviously, they threw a punch, and we did what we’ve done all year: We came right back and threw a haymaker,” Astros pitcher Justin Verlander said.

— After Philadelphia won two of the first three games to put their wolfish fans in a frenzy, the Astros calmly struck back for three straight triumphs and outscored the Phils 12-3 in their most important three-game winning streak of the season.

2. HOUSTON’S STARTING PITCHERS: The Astros were in trouble after Philadelphia set off explosions in Game 3 with five homers in the 7-0 blowout. In Houston’s two losses, starting pitchers Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. were strafed for 12 earned runs in 10 innings. From that point the Houston starters took command over the final three games, with Cristian Javier, Verlander and Valdez collectively allowing only two earned runs and six hits in 17 innings for a 1.05 ERA. The three starting pitchers struck out 24 of 63 batters faced (38%) over the final three three contests. The Astros were in jeopardy after the first three games, and it was imperative for their starting pitchers to lock in and shut the Phillies down. They did. And that was the No. 1 reason for the comeback.

Special acknowledgement: Framber Valdez was deservedly credited with two of Houston’s four victories. His starts in Game 2 and Game 6 were magnificent: a combined 12.2 innings, six hits, two earned runs and a 39 percent strikeout rate. This is the same lefty that was punished by the Braves for 10 earned runs in 4.2 innings in his two World Series starts a year ago.

3. HOUSTON’S BULLPEN BULLIES: No MLB team can match the firepower and ferocity of Houston’s group of relievers. And when the Astros put the Phillies down with three consecutive wins, the bullpen applied the chokehold. In the final three games Houston relievers were scratched (barely) for only three hits and one earned run in 10 innings for a 0.90 ERA. They took on 38 batters faced, allowed only eight to reach base, and combined for a 36.8 strikeout rate. The Houston bullpen gave up only two earned runs and nine hits in 21.1 innings of work during the World Series and suppressed the Phillies with a 33.3 strikeout rate.

In the full postseason, 13 games, the Astros bullpen allowed five earned runs in 54.1 for a 0.83 ERA. Their relievers struck out 34 percent of opposing hitters and allowed a .126 batting and 0.75 walks/hits per inning. Maybe the best postseason bullpen performance we’ve ever seen.

4. THE PHILLY-LINEUP FIZZLE: First of all, for the duration of the six-game series, Philadelphia batted .163 and had a .580 OPS and struck out more times (71) than any team in World Series history. And that was just part of their demise.

— The Phillies hit five homers in Game 3 … and had only three homers in the other five games.

— In Game 4, they became the first team to get no-hit in a World Series since 1956. And after a couple of late hits in Game 3, and getting blanked altogether in Game 4, the Phillies were in a 0-for-36 slump as they entered Game 5..

— In their four losses the Phils came up with only 15 hits in 125 (.125), struck out 35 percent of the time, and scored five runs in 36 innings.

— In the three-game losing streak that terminated their attempted run to the world championship, the Phillies had nine hits in 89 at-bats (.101), struck out 37 percent of the time. Six of their nine hits were singles. PHIL also went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position over the final three games.

— In the three straight losses Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos – the first five hitters in the lineup – went 4 for 54 (.074) with 25 strikeouts in 63 plate appearances for a strikeout rate of 39.6%.

— According to ESPN, the Phillies were 0 for their 31 with 17 strikeouts against breaking pitches. And in the final three games they chased pitches (all varieties) out of the strike zone at a rate of 36 percent.

— Including the final three innings of Game 3, the Phillies scored only three runs over the final 30 innings of the 2022 World Series. It’s kinda shocking. But the regret is real.

“We didn’t get it done,” Bryce Harper said after Game 6. “We didn’t finish it.” Added manager Rob Thomson: “We went through a dry spell at the wrong time.”

(The Cardinals know all about this.)

5. JEREMY PEÑA, SERIES MVP: In Game 6 the Houston rookie shortstop played terrific defense (as usual) and went 2 for 4 and was on base after singling when Alvarez rocked the 450-foot, three-run bomb for the 3-1 lead that shook the Phillies.

Pena was the obvious choice for World Series MVP. Over the six-game World Series Pena batted .400, posted a 1.023 OPS and led all hitters in hits (10) and total bases (15.) Highlights included the go-ahead home run that put the Astros in the lead to stay in Game 5.

Here’s a fancy-pants stat: Pena led all Astros position players in Win Probability Added during the series. And in championship WPA – which means how much did a player alter his team’s probability of winning the series – Pena increased Houston’s chances by 16.2 percent. That’s strong.

Pena, 25, became the first rookie position player to win a World Series MVP. And he’d already won the ALCS MVP. Pena’s tremendous postseason followed a rookie regular season in which he slammed 22 homers, drove in 63 runs, swiped 11 bases 63 RBIs, batted .282 and won the AL Gold Glove at shortstop. Pena should be a lock for AL Rookie of the Year.

6. YORDAN ALVAREZ, THE BIGGEST HOME RUN IN A POSTSEASON FILLED WITH THEM. The 12 teams that qualified for the playoffs combined for 93 home runs in 40 games – a savage average of 2.3 homers per game. Before murdering a Jose Alvarado sinker for the home run that won the World Series, Alvarez hadn’t hit a HR in his previous 10 postseason games and was in a 5-for-42 slump. Alvarez blasted three homers this postseason. In all three instances the Astros trailing when Alvarez stepped up to launch the homer that gave them the lead. (That had never been done before by a hitter in the MLB postseason) Alvarez did it to Seattle in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS – the most memorable being a three-run walk-off number with two out in the bottom of the ninth and Seattle holding a 7-5 lead. Alvarez, 25, should be giving pitchers headaches and nightmares for many years to come.

7. HOUSTON’S UNEXPECTED HEROES: There was substitute first baseman Trey Mancini spearing a 99-mph ground ball off Schwarber’s bat to end a serious eighth-inning threat in the 8th inning of Game 5. And, of course, there was the awesome ninth-inning catch by center fielder Chas McCormick, who climbed high on the grating that covers the scoreboard in right-center field to prevent a JT Realmuto’s bid for a sure double and possible inside-the-park homer. With the two high-quality defensive gems, the Astros held onto their 3-2 lead for the win that put them in position to secure the World Series triumph in Game 6.

8. AARON NOLA AND ZACK WHEELER COME UP SHORT: The Phillies were banking on success from their co-aces in the 2022 World Series. The two right-handers started four of the six games, giving them tremendous influence on the eventual outcome. If Nola and Wheeler failed to subdue the Astros hitters, it was hard to envision a path to victory for the Phillies. And sure enough, Philadelphia went 1-3 in the Nola-Wheeler starts, with the co-aces collectively pitching to a 6.74 ERA in 18.2 innings. Wheeler pitched well in Game 6, but he was pulled in the sixth with two runners on … with Jose Alvarado summoned into the game.

Which brings us to:

9–THE COLLAPSE OF JOSE ALVARADO: The big left-hander was the most crucial piece of manager Rob Thomson’s bullpen strategy. Thomson wanted to lean on Alvarado to nullify the dangerous LH bats of Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. It worked well for Thomson and Alvarez in Philly’s 6-5 victory in Game 1. But the Astros got to Alvarado in the fifth inning of Game 4. With the bases loaded he hit Alvarez, gave up a two-run double to Alex Bregman, and allowed two more runs to score on a sac fly and a single. In Game 6, Alvarado served up a sinker that Alvarez all but vaporized for the three-run homer. In those two appearances, both losses, Alvarado was charged with four runs in 2.1 innings for a 15.43 ERA – and he allowed four of five inherited runners to score. Thomson’s strategy – though understandable – went up in flames.

10. HOUSTON’S EXTRA MOTIVATION: First of all, the Astro players sincerely love manager Dusty Baker. As much as the players wanted to win the World Series for themselves and each other, they were truly fired up to get it done for Dusty, a future Hall of Fame manager who at 73 years old was still yearning for his first World Series title as a manager. It’s done. He no longer has to think about the elusive prize. The Astros did it for Dusty.

Second, the 2022 Astros had only three position players and two pitchers remaining from the 2017 World Series squad that was tainted by an illegal sign-stealing scandal. Nothing will change the “cheater” label that will follow the ‘17 Astros through history. Other than being part of the winning side in the 2017 Fall Classic, the Astro pitchers had nothing to do with the sign-stealing scam that benefited the team’s offense.

But the position players – third baseman Alex Bregman, second baseman Jose Altuve and first baseman Yuli Gurriel – continue to be hounded about the shame of 2017 and will have to live with it. And the 2022 Astros were very much motivated to prove (again) that they don’t need to cheat to win. (Which makes their 2017 cheating an act of enormous stupidity.)

The chance to win the World Series without any whiff of rules-breaking was a driving force for the Astros. After getting beaten in the World Series in 2019 and 2021, the Astros finally achieved their goal. No matter what anyone thinks of them – it’s your prerogative – there’s no denying that this is an immensely successful franchise. Since being sanctioned with penalties imposed by MLB before the 2020 season, the Astros have a .600 regular-season winning percentage, second to the Dodgers. And their 28-14 postseason record (.667) is the best in the majors over that time.

“We got beat up over it, and rightfully so,” Astros owner Jim Crane told reporters when asked about the scandal. “We tried to work our way through it and kept our head down. I told the guys, ‘This is gonna be with us for a while. The only way we can fix it is we gotta beat everybody.’ That’s what we focused on.”

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, MLB.com, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.