The Houston Astros will enter the World Series with a nine-game winning streak including their 7-0 record in the postseason. With the playoffs added in, they’ve won 113 games this season and figure to be the common-sense choice to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.
Since the start of the 2017 season the Astros lead the American League in regular-season victories, and are No. 1 in the majors with 49 postseason wins. They have immense postseason experience, having reached the World Series four times in the last six seasons. Their lineup is deep and powerful. Their pitching is beastly. The entire Houston roster contributes. Plus the Astros have homefield advantage in the World Series.
Astros win. For sure, right?
Probably. But let’s slow down.
The underdog, exuberant Phillies have something special going on. They believe in magic and all of that fun stuff. They are bold and confident. If there was a script to all of this, they’ve ripped to shreds and are planning to rewrite it. (Hint: Phillies win!)
As usual, the sporting public is forgetting the history of what happens this time of the year. For all of their winning over the last six years, the Astros have only one World Series to show for their success – and that achievement was tainted by a notorious cheating scandal.
But don’t the Astros have the better overall club? Sure. But what does that have to do with it? Not much. During the wild-card era, which began in 1995, teams that won between 83 and 90 games during the regular season have captured six World Series championships. And teams that rolled up 100+ victories in the regular season have won five Fall Classics.
The Astros had the better club last October, plus the homefield privileges, and lost the World Series to the Braves in six games. The Astros had the superior team in 2019, plus the homefield advantage, and were defeated by Washington in a seven-game thriller. Combining their last two World Series failures, the Astros went 1-6 at Minute Maid Park.
This history might help the Astros in a way. If the Astros could lose the World Series to the Nationals in 2019, and then lose another to the Braves in 2021, they can be toppled by the Phils – the third-best team in the NL East this season at 87-75. Their regular-season winning percentage (.537) ranked 11th in the majors.
And then the postseason happened.
The Phillies have won nine of 11 games. They swiftly eliminated the Cardinals, Braves and Padres over three rounds. They have outscored the three opponents, 57-35.
During Houston’s ALCS triumph over the Yankees, manager Dusty Baker spoke of a conversation he had with Philadelphia’s leader, Bryce Harper. Their meeting took place during the final regular-season series of the season, with Phillies playing at Houston before heading to St. Louis for the wild-card round.
“As you saw, they don’t quit,” Baker said. “When they were in town that last series, there was a knock on my door, on the back door, and nobody knocks on the back door. And it was Bryce Harper, and he came in and sat down, and we talked for a long period of time. I wished him well. I didn’t know how well, but I wished him well, and he told me, ‘Hey, man, we’re going to go for it,’ because everybody was picking St. Louis over them and (then) whoever was playing them.”
Hey, at least Dusty received an advance warning about Philadelphia’s plan to conduct a postseason raid.
“They’ve got some quality guys,” Baker told reporters on Sunday in New York. “You get this far, they’ve got the same belief over there that we have over here, so I’m sure it’s going to be a great series.”
There’s another element of this matchup that we must discuss. The Phillies are better than their regular-season indicates. They are more than just an 87-win team.
Let’s remember a few things:
— After sacking the hopelessly uptight manager Joe Girardi, who took the joy out of playing baseball and made his team tense, the rambunctious Phillies, then 21-29, responded by going 20 games over .500 the rest of the way. In the NL only Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York won more regular-season games than the Phillies from June 1 through the end of the regular season.
— People tend to forget that the Phillies were pounded by injuries during the season. They had a total of 31 players go on the Injured List for a combined total of 1,552 days missed during the regular season. Only five MLB teams lost more players to the IL than Philadelphia. Some of the prominent names on the Philly IL list: Harper (63 days), starting second baseman Jean Segura (65), pitcher Zach Eflin (87), starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (36), right fielder Nicholas Castellanos (24), starting pitcher Ranger Suarez (17) and center fielder Brandon Marsh (10.) The Phillies rarely had all of their guys together to play at the same time; a player or pitcher or two or three was usually on the IL.
— This is reminiscent of the 2006 Cardinals, a team that won only 83 regular-season games. But that squad, torn by injuries, healed up in time for the postseason and went on to win the World Series. It was just a matter of St. Louis getting its full-on team reassembled at the right time. The Phillies have done that in 2022. Harper’s resurgence is especially valuable; after a long stay on the IL with a broken left thumb he returned on Aug. 26 and batted .227 with three homers in 128 at-bats in his final 35 regular-season game. A fully restored Harper is mashing this postseason, batting .419 and swatting six doubles, five homers and 11 RBIs in 11 games.
— With Harper, Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hopkins leading the attack – they’ve combined for 13 homers and 28 RBIs so far – the rollicking team from the South Philly Fun House leads the postseason tournament field with 16 homers, a .442 slugging percentage and .749 OPS.
The Phillies seemingly have some serious momentum churning. But who has more momentum than a Houston team that is taking a nine-game winning streak into the World Series – and is the same team that’s won more postseason games than any team in the majors over the last six seasons?
“People have been waiting for the Houston Astros to come back to Earth for a long time,” said James Click, the team’s GM. “I think they thought it was going to happen after 2019. It was going to happen after 2020. It was going to happen after ’21, when we lose key players. But the hallmark of this organization is continuing to have players come up and develop and be able to contribute at the major league level and step in to be a part of this culture.”
This is an entertaining matchup.
And it should be a wild and enjoyable World Series.
Thanks for reading …
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
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.