The World Series opens Friday night in Houston. The only thing that would surprise about the Phillies-Astros matchup is a dull, uninteresting set of games. I’m hoping for a colorful, boisterous drama. That, and volleys of home runs. And bullpens that have the nuclear code.
We can also expect an enormous volume of whining.
That’s because many baseball fans, oddly enough, hate baseball.
If the Astros win, we’ll hear and read a lot about trash cans, conspiracy theories, Jose Altuve wearing a wire, doctored baseballs, suspiciously incredible spin rates, they must be cheating again, this is all somehow tied to the JFK assassination, it’s a disgrace, the sport of baseball is tainted forever, it used to be a real game, a fair-shake game, in my day, lock them up, and Rob Manfred should disband the franchise.
If the Phillies win, we will hear and read a lot about the horrendously unfair new postseason format, and how the 87-win Phillies had the 10th-best winning percentage in the regular season and have no place in the World Series, and this just shows that MLB has low standards, and the regular season doesn’t matter and something like this should never-ever happen … and you might disagree with that if you’re Cardinals fan who conveniently forgets about the 83-win Redbirds who won the first World Series by the franchise since 1982. Those 2006 Cardinals ranked 13th in MLB in regular-season winning percentage and got hot at the right time. That was OK, right? Right? Hello? (Crickets.)
FOUR REASONS WHY THE PHILLIES CAN WIN
1) They’re the Momentum Boys. They have a brash, fearless South Philly attitude. (Tough neighborhood.) They specialize in heroic home-runs, come-from-behind triumphs, and that special something-something that gives them the confidence to knock off the Cardinals, Braves and Padres and go 9-2 in their thrilling march to the World Series. In their nine postseason victories the Phillies homered 15 times, clubbed 20 doubles and slugged .482. They scored six ninth-inning runs to ruin the Cardinals in Game 1 of the Wild Card series, zoomed past the Braves in the NLDS, and had two comeback wins to put away the Padres in the NLCS. The regular season is over. This is about being the best team over the next nine days. The Phillies are playing their best ball of the season. As underdogs, they were so good they never had to play in an elimination game during the NL playoffs. They are capable of winning this.
2) Philadelphia’s pitching can get this done, especially with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler in line to start four times if it goes the full seven games. Lefty Roger Suarez can win as a starter and contribute valuable innings in relief. The bullpen has improved to become more prominent and dominant in the postseason. The Phils are 5-2 in games started by their co-aces this postseason. And if they can get a split in the first two games at Houston – with Nola and Wheeler as the starters – the Phillies will play the next three games at home. That scenario would give them a chance to take control.
3) Beware of Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. Unlike some regular-season stars who can’t handle postseason pressure and fade away, these Philly blokes love the big stage and thrive under pressure. This postseason they’ve combined for eight home runs and 17 RBIs. And in their postseason careers, Harper and Schwarber have combined for 22 home runs and 44 RBIs. This postseason Harper is batting .419 with a 1.351 OPS. After a slow start, Schwarber has batted .400 with three homers, six RBI and a .571 slug in his last five postseason games.
4) The Road doesn’t bother the Phillies. If his affair goes the distance, the Philadelphians will play four games at Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros. Including the 10-game road trip at the end of the regular season, the Phillies played 14 consecutive games on the road on a journey that took them to Wrigley Field, Washington D.C., Houston, St. Louis, Atlanta and San Diego. Their 10-game road trip included a 4-1 stretch that put the Phillies into the final NL postseason spot. And in three rounds of playoffs, the Phillies won four of six road games against the Cardinals, Braves and Padres. These boys like being booed and counted out. There’s also this: despite their superb all-around success in recent years, the Astros are 1-6 in their last seven World Series home games. Not that these trends will carry over to the World Series … but it sure is interesting.
FOUR REASONS WHY THE ASTROS CAN WIN
1) No one does it better. When measuring their hitters, their starting pitchers, their bullpen, their defense and their bench, Houston has the deepest and most talented team in MLB for 2022. (Sorry, Dodgers.) Other than hitting 12 homers in their seven games, the Astros haven’t performed up to standards offensively this postseason season,batting .227 with a .708 OPS. And this offense, while elite, scored 126 fewer runs this season compared to their output in 2021. But this doesn’t mean the Houston offense is a weakness. This team has no real weaknesses. Compared to the Phillies, the Astros have more ways to overtake opponents and win.
2) The Power of pitching: The Astros have a 1.88 team ERA in 72 postseason innings with a killer 29 percent strikeout rate. If that 1.88 ERA holds up, it will be the best by a team that has competed in at least seven postseason games since the 1983 Orioles. The Phillies bullpen is inhumane this season, shooting flames for a 0.73 ERA and 34.7 percent strikeout rate in seven games. From top to bottom, this pitching staff had no equal in the majors this season. There are multiple arms in the Houston ‘pen that could be No. 1 or No. 2 starters in more than a few major-league rotations. So if the Astros’ starters have a couple of turbulent starts in this series, manager Dusty Baker will always have extremely strong bullpen options available to make the rescue. The Phillies have been a dangerous offense this postseason, but they’ve also struck out in 24 percent of their plate appearances. And that could be a debilitating problem against a Houston staff that ranked No. 2 overall during the regular season in strikeout rate.
3. Advantageous lineup depth: You won’t see Paul DeJong or Ben DeLuzio on the Houston bench. The Astros were able to sweep the Yankees in the ALCS despite having their three best offensive players — Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, and Kyle Tucker—hitting a combined .186 with no homers or RBIs. No problem. This postseason the Astros have gotten what they needed from Alex Bregman, Jeremy Pena, Chas McCormick, Yuli Gurriel and their two catchers – a cast that’s combined for nine homers and 21 RBIs in seven games. I’ll throw this in: the Astros have won 50 postseason games over the last six seasons. They have flunked tests, yes. But they have passed many postseason tests, and they keep getting to the World Series. As we’ve learned in St. Louis, that ain’t easy to do. So I think this is a plus for the Astros.
4) Defense. Two kinds of defense. There’s the defense in the field, and there’s the defense that prevents home runs. In the field, the Astros were second in the majors (regular season) in Outs Above Average (OAA), at plus 30. The Phillies were 29th at minus 35 OAA. Defense hasn’t hurt the Phillies in the postseason, but if this is a long series it could become a factor that favors the Astros. And the Astros pitchers have done a great job of keeping the baseball in the yard. They’ve been the best home-run prevention staff in the majors this season. The Astros gave up only 0.8 homers per 9 innings during the regular season, tied for No. 1 in the majors. And they’ve been even more austere in the postseason, allowing only 0.63 homers per 9 innings.
The Obligatory Prediction: I have none. The Astros are the best team. They had 106 victories in the regular season, and are undefeated (7-0) in the playoffs. Including the final two games of the regular-season slate, the Astros have won nine in a row as they begin play in their fourth World Series over the last six seasons. They are a heavy betting favorite, with investors obviously influenced by this nugget of information: in terms of regular-season win totals, this is the second-largest disparity in World Series history. But as we should know by now, this means nothing. During the wild-card era (1995-present) teams that have rolled up 100-plus wins during the regular season have gone on to win five World Series. Teams that collected 83 regular-season wins and no more than 90 have snatched six World Series titles. Moreover, the 107-victory Astros were upset in the 2021 World Series by the 88-win Braves, and lost the 2019 World Series to the underdog Nationals.
If you demand a prediction from me, I’ll take the Astros in 6 games. But I do not plan to back up that opinion with a wager. If I knew who would win the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, NBA championship, and Final Four each year, I’d be long gone from the states and living in a suite at the St. Regis Resort in Bora Bora and happily paying $3,500 per day.
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful weekend.
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.
“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com
All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
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.