Baseball’s new expanded playoff format has resulted in a unique David vs. Goliath matchup in the World Series. In the first year of a sixth playoff team, the Phillies immediately became the first sixth seed to reach the Fall Classic, scoring upsets over the Cardinals, Braves, and Padres along the way to claim the National League pennant. In the American League, the top-seeded Astros held serve and swept both the Mariners and Yankees for a perfect 7-0 record in these playoffs.
Ironically, the Phillies and Astros met in their final series of the regular season, and Philadelphia didn’t actually clinch its ticket to the postseason until a 3-0 win over Houston on October 3. 2022 was almost like two seasons in one for the Phillies, as the team held a 22-29 record when Joe Girardi was fired on June 3, yet the change to interim manager (and now full-time manager) Rob Thomson immediately provided a spark. The Phils went 65-46 the rest of the way to earn their first postseason berth since 2011.
The roll has continued through October, with the Phillies knocking out three higher-seeded opponents due to a mix of strong pitching and timely hitting. While several Philadelphia players have had heroic moments, the 2022 postseason is increasingly looking like Bryce Harper’s moment, as the slugger is batting .419/.444/.907 with five home runs during the playoffs. Trailing the Padres 3-2 in the eighth inning of today’s Game 5, Harper crushed a two-run homer that put Philadelphia ahead for good in the 4-3 clinching victory, and unsurprisingly captured NLCS MVP honors.
Harper and the rest of the Phillies lineup will be challenged, however, by Houston’s dominant pitching staff. The Astros have a collective 1.88 ERA over 72 postseason innings, with more strikeouts (89) than hits (46) and walks (21) combined. The “weak link,” so to speak, is Justin Verlander with a 6.30 ERA over 10 innings, as Verlander was hit hard by the Mariners in Game 1 of the ALDS — however, the future Hall-of-Famer rebounded with a dominant six-inning performance against New York in Game 1 of the ALCS.
Considering how Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker have been struggling at the plate throughout October, the scariest part of Houston’s 7-0 record is that the team is arguably not even firing on all cylinders. The Astros cruised to a 106-56 mark during the regular season and is now back in the World Series for the second consecutive year, and the fourth time in six years. The only Series triumph came in 2017, and since that title is forever shrouded in controversy by the sign-stealing scandal, winning another championship might be the only way for the Astros to escape that cloud and earn more recognition as a mini-dynasty.
Houston is 1-3 in previous trips to the World Series, while the Phillies are 2-5 with their last championship coming in 2008. This isn’t the first postseason meeting between the two franchises — back when the Astros were a National League team, Philadelphia and Houston met in the 1980 NLCS. In what was when a five-game maximum, the Phillies needed all five games to barely outlast the Astros in a series regarded as a classic. The Phils went on to win their first-ever World Series crown that same year, and Philly fans can only hope that karma repeats itself in this latest matchup against the Astros.
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