What the Astros and Phillies need to do to win the 2022 World Series

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ESPN The World Series matchup for 2022 is decided.
Starting on Friday, the Commissioner’s Trophy battle between the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros will pit one league’s favorite against that league’s biggest underdog.

The Phillies, the sixth and last seed in the National League under MLB’s new playoff format, made it all the way to the Fall Classic while the Astros, the top seed in the American League, easily defeated the rest of the Junior Circuit.

What have we learned about each of these teams since October? What must they do in order to prevail? And which players on each side might make a difference? Jeff Passan, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers, and David Schoenfield, all MLB specialists for ESPN, explain it.

What about the Astros this playoffs has impressed you the most?

Everything is a thing, right, Passan? Fine. The Astros’ depth in the pitching staff is what best characterizes them. At the top of their rotation, they feature front-line starters Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander. They then go on to Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers Jr., both of whom would start on the front line for the majority of clubs. Despite having excellent starting pitching, their bullpen has so much skill that any lead feels secure. This includes closer Ryan Pressly, Rafael Montero, Ryne Stanek, Bryan Abreu, Hector Neris, and Hunter Brown. The Astros are top-notch in every area, but their pitching is what has allowed them to go unbeaten in the postseason.

Lee: The roster depth for Houston. The Yankees would have been overjoyed if you had informed them before the American League Championship Series that Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve would each have just one hit after three games. Instead, the rest of the Astros, including Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Chas McCormick, Jeremy Pena, and Martin Maldonado, have taken the lead. This Houston club can defeat you in a variety of ways, from its extremely strong pitching staff to its lineup, which has the ability to beat you into submission with singles and doubles or knock you out with the long ball. Additionally, there’s the consistency. Houston has demonstrated that it has depth and consistency in October by winning games against the Yankees and Mariners in the AL Division Series.

In the World Series, why will it (or won’t it) work against the Phillies?

Passan: The Phillies’ lineup presents a more difficult test than the Mariners or Yankees did for Houston given the way they are currently hitting the ball. However, Houston has the tools to neutralize Philadelphia’s offense similarly to how it did Seattle’s and New York’s. Dusty Baker just needs to manage with the right urgency and use his bullpen as much as he can. He should mix it up and avoid giving third looks to Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, and Bryce Harper unless the starter is truly cruising.

Lee: The Astros appear to be the superior club, but the Phillies’ status as underdogs hasn’t prevented them from advancing this far in the postseason after finishing third in the NL East and defeating the Cardinals, Braves, and Padres en route to the World Series. Additionally, there is something to be said about October’s magic and the timing of growing hot. We’ve seen this happen to clubs before, but Philadelphia has taken a page from the Braves of the previous season and been blazing hot when it matters the most. It was too obvious for the movies, but Harper’s game-winning home run in the National League Championship Series felt preordained by the baseball gods.

For the Astros to succeed moving forward, who is the one player who must perform?

Passan: Jose Altuve might be a bad choice, given that the Astros made it to the World Series despite his essentially nonexistent play. However, Houston needs output from the top of their order to disrupt a hot and confident Phillies club. An Astros lineup with Altuve getting on base turbocharges an engine that was already producing plenty of horsepower.

Lee: So far in October, Pena has been Houston’s X-factor. The previously unnoticed rookie has come through and been a star for the Astros when Altuve and Alvarez have faltered. Guys like Pena, McCormick, Trey Mancini, and Gurriel will have to help Houston win the World Series if Altuve and Alvarez keep faltering.

What about the Phillies this playoffs has impressed you the most?

They quickly developed into the club that everyone in the organization believed they could be, one with excellent beginning pitching and tremendous power—enough in both categories to overcome any defensive shortcomings or bullpen inconsistencies. In addition to not making mistakes, Harper, Schwarber, and Hoskins are playing with the most assurance they have displayed all season.

Schoenfield: Not just the sluggers, but also Zack Wheeler, who has a 1.78 ERA in his four starts, are the hot stars. He could start Game 1 on full rest, but considering that Wheeler began to wear down around the 80-pitch mark in both of his starts against the Padres, it could make sense for the Phillies to start Aaron Nola in Game 2, followed by Wheeler. A rest day extra can be beneficial. However, let’s talk about something else: The Phillies’ bullpen has started to come into its own, and manager Rob Thomson has done a fantastic job of making adjustments on the fly and using the hot hand. With 15 strikeouts and no walks over 7 2/3 postseason innings, Seranthony Dominguez has only given up one run, and that one run was partially caused by the rainy Sunday. David Robertson has a ton of postseason experience, and Jose Alvarado is sending heat from the left side. Thomson was even prepared to finish off Game 5 of the NLCS with starter Ranger Suarez.

Why does it work against the Astros in the World Series, or why does it not?

Rogers: The Astros’ pitching will eventually triumph for them, but the Phillies’ momentum will prevent them from winning in a brief series. Houston benefits more from a prolonged game because Philadelphia cannot match the Astros arm for arm. A best-of-seven match is typically won on the mound rather than at the plate. Houston wins in that area.

Schoenfield: Although Andrew Bellatti has pitched well enough in his five appearances and might be a nice matchup against Houston’s righty-heavy lineup, Connor Brogdon had a clutch seven-out effort against the Padres in Game 4 of the series (he allowed a .608 OPS against righties, but .866 to lefties). But what if Brad Hand has to take on the Kyle Tucker/Alvarez/Bregman portion of the order? Thomson has also been cautious in his use of Dominguez, who is playing in his first season after having Tommy John surgery. In the regular season, he only threw back-to-back days 11 times, and between each of his six postseason starts, he took at least two days off. He will eventually have to pitch on consecutive days and possibly for a longer period of time.

For the Phillies to succeed moving forward, who is the one player who must perform?

Rogers: Choosing Harper might sound cliche, but he is the one. He has the same pulse as the Philadelphia Phillies. They will be underdogs, as they should be, and beating Houston will need a really exceptional series. Bryce Harper is the man who can reinvigorate them. He’s already enjoying himself in the postseason. As he advances, so does the Phillies’ offense, which has the potential to stun everyone by taking on a strong Astros staff. With Harper, it all begins.

Schoenfield: I’m counting on Harper to write another significant series, but Nola is my main man. Wheeler has the capacity to win any match he plays. Suarez, Bailey Falter, or Noah Syndergaard will start, giving the Astros a starting pitching advantage. Nola had two outstanding postseason starts, pitching 6 2/3 innings against the Cardinals without allowing a run before scoring one unearned run against the Braves. However, he blew a 4-0 lead against the Padres by allowing back-to-back home runs in the second inning and then four runs in the fifth. Furthermore, Nola is really important because if he can go deep, it will mean that Suarez and the No. 4 starter games will have more fresh arms. Oh, and here’s a good reason to start Nola in Game 2 rather than Game 1: On four days of rest (14 starts) during the regular season, he had a 3.84 ERA, while on five days of rest, it was 2.79. (13 starts). If he begins Game 1, he will have four days off before Game 5, but if he starts Games 2 and 6, he will have five days off. The Phillies’ choice of how to arrange their rotation is an intriguing one.

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