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Phillies - Astros World Series Preview

Bob Whalon is a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan and Eagles season ticket holder, so he's seen more than his share of losing over the years.

My dad died the night before Father’s Day and two days before he would have turned 94 this year. I bring this up because he was the biggest Philadelphia Phillies fan around.

My sister always said that she never had to guess where our dad was when the Phillies were playing, because we knew he would be watching the game on TV.

The thought that he won’t be around to watch the Phillies play the Houston Astros brings a lot of sadness to my joy regarding the Phillies.

The two most important things to me are my family and Philadelphia sports. My dad made me a huge baseball fan and I somehow passed that along to my now college-aged son, in an era where kids don’t watch a slow game like baseball. I guess I influenced my son, just like my dad influenced me.

Thanks dad.

We didn’t go to a lot of Phillies games in person when I was growing up, but the ones we did go to meant a lot. When I had my own kids, we took my dad and stepmom to a couple of Phillies games. Three generations sharing our love of baseball together. Damn, I wish we had done that so many more times.

But now that the Phillies are in the World Series again for the first time since 2009, I thought I should write about it. My dad would have liked that.

phillies-astros-world-series-preview

The Phillies only got into the playoffs because MLB expanded the playoffs to six teams in each league and the Phillies claimed that last NL spot. They then proceeded to crush the St. Louis Cardinals, defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres in the Wild Card, NLDS and NLCS respectively.

The Astros won 106 games, secured the No. 1 seed in the AL early and are undefeated in the playoffs after beating the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees. That 7-0 record might look intimidating, but just keep in mind that no team has ever gone undefeated in the MLB playoffs since they instituted the Wild Card in 1995. The 1999 Yankees and 2005 Chicago White Sox came the closest at 11-1. The 2007 Colorado Rockies and 2014 Kansas City Royals both entered the World Series undefeated but didn’t win the championship. The 1976 Cincinnati Reds are the only team to ever go undefeated in the playoffs, but they only had to go 7-0.

All of that is a long way of saying that although the Astros are the favorites, anything can happen in a 7-game series.

Who is that guy with Kate Upton?

Who is that guy with Kate Upton?

There are a ton of marquee names in this series, but let’s start with the pitchers. Game 1 will have sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer Justin Verlander on the mound for Houston. Verlander will win his third AL Cy Young Award this year, after he went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 0.83 WHIP (Walks + Hits / IP). The ERA and WHIP were the best in all of baseball and the 18 wins were the most in the AL. And he did this at the age of 39, after coming back from Tommy John surgery. But all hope is not lost Phillies fans.

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For all his greatness, Verlander is actually rather bad in the World Series. In seven games, across four World Series, he has a 0-6 record with a 5.68 ERA and 1.289 WHIP in 38 innings. He can’t be that bad again, can he?

The Phillies will counter with Aaron Nola in Game 1. Phillies manager Rob Thomson chose to start Nola over Zach Wheeler so that both pitches will have extra rest going into the World Series. That’s not insignificant either. Nola’s ERA on normal rest is 3.84, but it’s 2.72 with extra rest. Wheeler has a 3.66 ERA on normal rest, but a 2.02 with extra rest. And the last time the Astros lost this season was to Nola in Game 160, where Nola took a no-hitter into the 7th inning of the game where the Phillies clinched a playoff spot. If the Phillies can steal a game in Houston, or even two, they return home to Citizens Bank Park, where they are undefeated this postseason. That could be the difference in this series.

The problem for the Phillies regarding the pitching is that the rest of the Astros starters are better. Framber Valdez will start Game 2 and he set an MLB record this season by making 25 consecutive quality starts. He also had the lowest home run rate in the AL, which will be important against the Phillies hitters.

Philadelphia Phillies DH Bryce Harper

Philadelphia Phillies DH Bryce Harper

Speaking of which, I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without talking about the hottest hitter in the playoffs. That would be one Bryce Harper. The reigning NL MVP has hit .419 with a 1.351 OPS, 5 HRs, 11 RBIs, 10 Runs scored and 6 doubles. One of the game’s best hitters is scorching hot at just the right time.

The Phillies also have the NL leader in HRs with Kyle Schwarber. The best catcher in baseball in JT Realmuto and a bunch of young scrappy hitters who seem to be coming through in the clutch during these playoffs.

The Astros boast quite a bit of hitting talent themselves. Yordan Alvarez hit .306 with a 1.019 OPS, 37 HRs and 97 RBIs, despite missing 27 games this season. They also have veterans Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, along with youngsters Kyle Tucker and Jeremy Pena, the rookie who replaced Carlos Correa at SS.

The bullpen advantage tilts far in the favor of the Astros. Beyond Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado, the Phillies bullpen is incredibly thin on reliable arms. The Houston bullpen is far deeper and closer Ryan Pressly had 33 saves this season. If the Phillies starters don’t go deep in games, it could be a problem for them.

That brings us to the rest of the starting rotations, where the Astros again will have an advantage. Houston will start Lance McCullers Jr and Christian Janvier in Games 3 and 4. The Phillies will counter with Ranger Suarez and what amounts to a bullpen game, started by either the shell of what was once Thor, Noah Syndergaard or Bailey Falter. The Phillies might have to score 10 runs again in that Game 4 bullpen game. Hey, it worked against the Padres, right?

Of course, the Phillies might need to score a ton of runs to win this series. They have four starters in the field who would be a DH on most teams. That helps to explain their putrid defense. That’s not exactly a good thing, since the Astros had the second lowest strikeout rate in MLB this season, which means they put the ball in play a lot.

The managerial matchup is quite a contrast. Houston manager Dusty Baker is 73 and this is the 12th time he’s managed in the playoffs and his third World Series. But he’s yet to win one. On the other side is Phillies manager Rob Thomson, who became the interim manager when the team wisely fired Joe Girardi early in what looked like a lost season. Thomson spent many years in the Yankees organization, and this is his first chance as a manager. To say he’s pushed all the right buttons would be an understatement. I’ve given up questioning him.

This is the fourth time in the last six years that the Astros are in the World Series, winning it in 2017. Meanwhile, this is the first time the Phillies have been in the World Series since 2009 and they haven’t even been in the playoffs since 2011. Let’s just say the Astros players have a bit more playoff experience.

The Astros won the 2017 World Series by cheating. That same year, the Cinderella team of the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl over the biggest cheaters in the history of sports, the New England Patriots. Now the Phillies are huge underdogs in the World Series, facing a franchise known for cheating. I think you know where I’m going with this.

Phillies win the World Series in 5 games. I know you’ll be watching, dad.

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