The Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies are the combatants for the 2022 World Series. First pitch of the Fall Classic is not until Friday, so we're stuck with four full days of no baseball, thanks to each of those teams extinguishing their opposition for the pennant so quickly. The Phillies took down the Padres in five games while the Astros swept the Yankees in four.
In the coming days, we'll have much more on the series. For right now, let's hit a some of the biggest storylines and a few fun tidbits for an early week primer.
1. They have contrasting resumes
The Astros are a no-doubt powerhouse. They've been the league championship series six straight times and they've won four of the last six AL pennants. The only other teams to do this in the playoff era were the Yankees. The Astros have topped 100 wins four times in this six-year span and one of those years was a 60-game season. The one time they didn't win 100 in a full season was last year, when they won 95. Quite a down year, huh?
This year, the Astros won 106 games. The Phillies only won 87 in the regular season.
The biggest difference in wins between the World Series came in 1906, when the 116-win Cubs faced the 93-win White Sox. We aren't too far off that record of 23 this season, as it is 19 games. Oh, those underdog White Sox won, by the way.
The Phillies also hadn't been to the playoffs since 2011, hadn't been to the NLCS since 2010 and hadn't won the pennant since 2009. They went without winning record between 2011 and last year, when they were a modest 82-80.
Oh, another thing on the Astros ...
2. Astros have been perfect so far
The Phillies are 9-2 so far this postseason, haven't trailed in three series and haven't faced elimination. That's some stellar work. It's also inferior to the Astros, who have gone a perfect 7-0.
The two wild-card era teams to go perfect heading to the World Series were the 2014 Royals and 2007 Rockies. The last time a team totally ran the table in the postseason was the 1976 Reds, though they only needed to win three games in the NLCS and four in the World Series. The Astros are already 7-0. They'll need to go 11-0 to pull it off.
That's such a tall order. It should be said that there's no reason to believe they have to do that in order to be remembered. 11-3 will do just fine. For what it's worth, the Astros are on a nine-game winning streak dating back to the regular season. Their last loss came on Oct. 3... against the Phillies.
3. Dusty Baker is on a quest
Astros manager Dusty Baker won a ring with the Dodgers in 1981 as a player. He is in his 25th season as a manager, however, and while he has won a division title with five different teams (a record) and three pennants, he's never won a World Series ring as skipper. The 73-year-old should absolutely be headed to the Hall of Fame, but surely he'd love that elusive ring. Many will be rooting for the man who has long been incredibly popular in baseball circles.
4. The impact of Altuve and Bregman
Let's zero in on Altuve and Bregman, for different reasons.
Altuve started the playoffs 0 for 25 before he got a hit. This is one of the most decorated hitters in postseason history. He's second in career playoff home runs, third in runs, eighth in RBI, ninth in hits and fourth in total bases. The Astros have managed to win all seven games without much, if any, help from Altuve's bat. It would sure help them complete the job if he came around.
On that front, Altuve got two hits in Game 4 of the ALCS. He beat out a grounder and then blooped a single into right field, pretty softly. "Looks like a line drive in the box score," as my dad always used to tell me. It's true and maybe getting those knocks settles Altuve in before the World Series starts.
Bregman doesn't need help settling in. He was banged up in the World Series last year and the subject of questions throughout. Baker ended up dropping him in the batting order. In the seven games so far this season, Bregman is 10 for 30 (.333) with two doubles, two homers and seven RBI.
With the way Jeremy Peña is swinging it in the two hole and how scary Yordan Alvarez is third, Altuve and Bregman going well in the one and four spots gives the Astros such a ridiculously imposing top of the order.
Speaking of which ...
5. The Phillies have a power punch
The Phillies aren't too shabby the at top, either.
Leadoff man Kyle Schwarber was the NL leader -- and "non-Judge" leader -- in home runs with 46 this season. He was brutal in the first two rounds of the playoffs this year, but clubbed three homers in 15 at-bats in the NLCS. He now has 12 career playoff home runs in 145 at-bats.
Two-hole hitter Rhys Hoskins is only hitting .182 this postseason, but of his eight hits, five have been home runs. He has hit some huge ones, too, and has 11 RBI in 11 games.
Bryce Harper is the hottest hitter on the planet right now. Through 11 playoff games, he's hitting .419/.444/.907 with six doubles, five home runs, 11 RBI and 10 runs.
J.T. Realmuto is no slouch between Hoskins and Harper, either.
6. All that starting pitching (on both sides)
Much has been made of the Phillies pair of aces in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Each is capable of putting the team on his back for 6-7 innings in any given start. If this series goes seven games, they'll get the ball a combined four times. Ranger Suárez is a very good No. 3 as well, as we saw in his Game 3 start of the NLCS.
The Astros counter with Hall of Famer and likely 2022 Cy Young winner Justin Verlander in Game 1. All-Star lefty Framber Valdez led the AL in innings pitched this season and he's the No. 2 starter. Then it's likely some order of Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers Jr. Would it be a stretch to say four aces? Maybe. Maybe not.
We're going to see a lot of great starting pitching this series.
7. The Astros have the bullpen advantage
The Astros had the best bullpen, judging by run prevention, in baseball this year. They also had more than four good starters, so they bumped some of those down to the bullpen for the playoffs, such as Javier (in the ALDS), Luis García, Hunter Brown and José Urquídy (though he hasn't been used yet).
In 33 innings of relief work so far this postseason, the Astros have a 0.82 bullpen ERA and 0.73 WHIP.
On the Phillies' end, they'll look to use lefty José Alvarado and righty Seranthony Domínguez for their highest-leverage moments, with some David Robertson, Zach Eflin, Andrew Bellatti and Brad Hand worked in.
The Phillies actually have a workable 3.19 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in the playoffs from their relievers, but the chances of this group blowing a game are much higher than the Astros.
8. The Phillies have suspect defense
In terms of defensive efficiency, which is the very simple measure of the percentage of balls in play converted into outs, the Phillies ranked 24th this season. They were last among playoff teams. The Astros ranked third. Other measures, such as defensive runs saved, have the Phillies ranked similarly bad.
The problem is mostly range, as they are stuck with some should-be DHs in the corner outfield spots and probably first base as well. Speaking of, we've seen some playoff miscues from Hoskins at first and in some other areas as well. The eye test alone says they are inferior in this aspect of the game.
9. There's personal history
Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola and Astros third baseman Alex Bregman both went to LSU. At the same time. And were roommates. Some might say that's interesting or even fun.
On the family front, the Phillies just wrapped up a Nola vs. Nola (Aaron vs. Austin, the Padres' catcher) matchup in Game 2 of the NLCS. They actually won't have another, though there is a Maton on both teams. Astros reliever Phil Maton gave up a single to his brother, Phillies utility man Nick Maton, on Oct. 5. Shortly thereafter, Phil broke his hand while punching a locker in frustration. He's out for the series. Nick wasn't on the Phillies' NLCS roster, either, so it's just a matter of family pride in who gets a ring.
10. It's their first-ever World Series matchup
We've never seen this Fall Classic. Everyone reading probably figured that out already. The Astros just switched over to the American League in 2013 and, well, the Phillies hadn't made the playoffs since then until now.
We're on a streak of these. Last year it was the Braves and Astros for the first time. The year before, Dodgers vs. Rays had never previously happened, nor had Nationals-Astros (2019). In 2018, it was a rematch, kind of. The Red Sox-Dodgers World Series hadn't happened since 1916, when the franchise was the Brooklyn Robins.
In 2017 (Astros-Dodgers), it was a first-timer, too, as was 2016 (Cubs-Cleveland).