Diving deep into how Phillies match up against Astros in World Series


The Phillies will be underdogs in the World Series. Good luck convincing them.

They weren't favored to beat the Cardinals, Braves or Padres to reach this point, but they're so hot, so loose and so confident that they feel like they can beat any team anywhere right now.

The Astros have a few distinct advantages other than home-field. For one, they're the most complete team in the majors. They won 106 games and are 7-0 in the playoffs after sweeping the Mariners and Yankees.

And Houston will be better set up with pitching in Game 4, if not Games 3 and 4.

The Astros will likely roll with Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez in the first two games in Houston Friday and Saturday. Some will point to Verlander's 0-6 record and 5.68 ERA in seven World Series starts as an indication that he can't win the big one, but that's nonsense. He's been his typical dominant self in his other 160 playoff innings and is a surefire Hall of Famer.

At age 39, Verlander had the best season of his career, which is saying a whole lot because he won AL MVP in 2011 with 24 wins and 251 innings pitched. He went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 0.83 WHIP this season, leading the American League in all three categories and the majors in the latter two.

Verlander's average start in 2022 was basically: 6 innings, 1 run, 5 baserunners, 6 strikeouts.

He pitched five no-hit innings with 10 strikeouts against the Phils on October 4 in a game that meant nothing to either team.

Valdez, a lefty sinkerballer who has vastly improved the last two seasons, set the major-league-record this year by making 25 consecutive quality starts. From April 25 through September 18, he went at least six innings in every start, allowing three runs or fewer. He had the lowest home run rate in the AL and led the league with 201⅓ innings.

Valdez had control issues the first two years of his major-league career but has cut his walk rate nearly in half since 2020. He has a Ranger Suarez-like ability to induce a key double play or pop fly when needed.

The Phillies have Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola lined up to start the first two games, though they haven't officially announced who will go in Game 1. Wheeler would be on normal rest, but it is at least possible the Phils could flip him with Nola to give him an extra day. Nola did, after all, take a perfect game into the seventh inning in Houston on October 3, the last game the Astros lost.

The counterargument would be that the Astros recently saw Nola, whereas none of Houston's top hitters have ever faced Wheeler. The only three who have seen him are catchers Martin Maldonado and Christian Vazquez and DH Trey Mancini. They're a combined 1 for 10 with a single.

As for the pitching matchup advantage the Astros should have after the series shifts to Philadelphia, Lance McCullers Jr. and Cristian Javier are in line to pitch Games 3 and 4. The Phillies have used and will use Suarez as their No. 3 starter, but Game 4 will be a bullpen game as it was in the NLCS and NLDS. Noah Syndergaard started in that spot against the Braves, while Bailey Falter faced the Padres. Syndergaard went through the lineup once successfully but Falter recorded just two outs before allowing four runs. The Phils won both games.

McCullers pitched well in the game against Nola when the Phils clinched a playoff berth. The Astros have been to the World Series four times in the last six seasons so the 29-year-old right-hander already has a ton of postseason experience. He's appeared in 18 playoff games, started 11 and has a 2.77 ERA.

The Astros are loaded with good-to-great hitters as well. Yordan Alvarez is every bit as dangerous as Bryce Harper. The lefty slugger had a monster year, hitting .306/.406/.613 with 37 homers and 97 RBI despite missing 27 games. He then drove in seven runs in three games in Houston's ALDS sweep of Seattle. The Yankees pitched around him more than the Mariners did, and the Phillies would be wise to follow suit when appropriate.

Kyle Tucker is another lefty who can hurt you with power or speed. Rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena, the 2-hole hitter behind Jose Altuve, has three doubles and three homers in 33 at-bats this postseason. Alex Bregman is one of the majors' most disciplined hitters and has had two big series, going 5 for 15 with a double and a homer in each round.

The bottom of the Astros' order can be susceptible with Mancini, Maldonado and Chas McCormick. Mancini is hitless in the playoffs and the other two offer more defense than offense, though Maldonado and McCormick did hurt Gerrit Cole in Game 3 of the ALCS with a two-run single and two-run homer, respectively.

Minute Maid Park in Houston is hitter-friendly, especially in left field where the Crawford Boxes jut out and turn pop flies into homers. It's not difficult to envision Harper or Kyle Schwarber putting a short, easy stroke on a ball to pop one to the opposite field. If one of them can do it early Friday, the Phillies might be able to quiet another crowd and steal another game on the road. They've taken Game 1 in all three series.

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