MLB World Series Preview: Phillies vs. Astros

The World Series is set to start this week and both teams have booked their place after an eventful semi-final stage. The Philadelphia Phillies handily defeated the San Diego Padres four games to one in the National League Championship Series (NLCS). There, they will face the Houston Astros – the winner of the American League Championship Series (ALCS). Houston also impressed with a sweeping four-games to-zero victory in the ALCS against the New York Yankees.

These two teams had very different paths to the World Series. For the Phillies, it was a season of ups and downs. Before firing manager Joe Girardi, the Phillies started the season with a record of 22-29. Since then, the team turned around the season to narrowly make the playoffs with the league’s worst playoff record of 87-75. 

Now, they’ve done the unexpected  – sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in two games, and only dropping one apiece to the 100-win Atlanta Braves and the San Diego Padres, en route to their first World Series appearance since 2009. 

On the other hand, the Astros were expected to be here. With the best record in the American League (AL) and the second-best in Major League Baseball (MLB), the Astros breezed through the Divisional Series by sweeping the Seattle Mariners in three games. They continued this trend of dominance in the ALCS, knocking off the Yankees in four straight games. This World Series will be Houston’s fourth in the last six years, one of which they won. 

Philadelphia is led by a slugging duo of Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. Harper is the designated hitter and was the 2021 National League (NL) Most Valuable Player. After battling injuries this season, Harper has been on a tear this postseason. Now, Harper has five home runs in the playoffs, including the go-ahead shot in the 8th inning of Game 5 of the NLCS to give the Phillies the lead and the series. Schwarber, their left fielder, was second in the MLB (and first in the NL) in home runs with 46. Other key contributors in the lineup include first baseman Rhys Hoskins and catcher JT Realmuto. Their pitching staff is anchored by the terrific duo of Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola. The Phillies may be long shots to win the whole thing, but they’ve made it this far – so why not?

Houston is a loaded team from top to bottom. Their lineup is anchored by Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve. Alvarez, the designated hitter, was arguably the second-best hitter in all of baseball this year. Despite missing almost 30 games, Alvarez managed to hit 37 home runs, good for third in the AL. Altuve, the second baseman, almost hit 30 home runs and finished with 28. Both Alvarez and Altuve had batting averages at or over .300 – something only eight AL players accomplished.  Other position players to look out for are third baseman Alex Bregman, right fielder Kyle Tucker, and rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena.

The Astros, along with a great offense, had the best pitching staff in the AL. Ace Justin Verlander, who finished with an earned run average (ERA) under 2,  will likely win the Cy Young Award given to the best pitcher in each league (AL/NL) every year. Their second starter, Framber Valdez, was also the only AL pitcher to throw 200 innings in the regular season. Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr. and Christian Javier fill out the rest of the Astros rotation along with Verlander, and all 4 are incredibly high-level pitchers.

Although the Astros will be heavily favored in this series, anything is possible in the playoffs. Interestingly, Houston lost two of their last three World Series appearances to wildcard teams from the NL East. Philadelphia will look to make that three of four in what should end up being a very entertaining series.