The Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros are scheduled to kick off the 2022 World Series on Friday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The Phillies slayed the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, and San Diego Padres to claim the National League pennant; the Astros, meanwhile, swept the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees to win the American League for the fourth time in the past six years. The Phillies are seeking their first World Series title since 2008; the Astros since 2017.
One of the most fun aspects of the World Series is the attention that must be paid to individual matchups. Every at-bat could, in theory, be the one that determines the game, and in turn, the championship. How's that for stakes?
With that in mind, CBS Sports has highlighted five batter-versus-pitcher matchups from this World Series that we're excited to watch for various reasons, be it the collective Q rating of those involved or what more granular says about the pairing.
Got it? Good. Now, take a leisurely stroll down the page with us.
1. Bryce Harper vs. Justin Verlander
In our estimation, Harper against Verlander is the matchup that oozes the most starpower. That makes it a worthy starting point for this exercise.
Harper is a wunderkind turned phenomenal big-league player. Verlander is a veteran ace who seems likely to win another major award this offseason. Combined, they already have three Most Valuable Player Awards, two Cy Young Awards, and 16 career All-Star Game appearances. It doesn't get much better than this.
There's a fun stylistic clash to be found here, too, in that it's ultimately power on power. Verlander averaged more than a strikeout per inning during the regular season, while Harper launched 18 home runs and 29 additional extra-base hits in 99 games (that's a 27-homer pace over 150 games, for those wondering).
To take it a step further, Verlander relies heavily on elevating his mid-90s fastballs. Harper, for his part, batted .313/.436/.375 on four-seamers thrown in the upper half of the zone during the regular season. They should make for respectable foes.
2. Yordan Alvarez vs. Ranger Suárez
Think back to the American League Division Series. Do you remember how the Seattle Mariners brought in reigning Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray to face Yordan Alvarez in a big spot? Do you remember how Ray threw Alvarez a sinker that caught too much of the plate, allowing Alvarez to slug a game-winning home run?
In the aftermath, people were quick to point out that Alvarez hit only .265 against sinkers this season, his lowest for any pitch type that he saw with regularity. What's more is that his .283 average against left-handed sinkers was nearly 60 points lower than his average against any other pitch type delivered from southpaws. If you're doing a surface-level analysis like this, then yes, the sinker is the way to go.
Keep that in mind when Suárez gets a start, because he's a left-handed sinkerballer who loves to throw it to his arm side -- or, exactly where Ray wanted to throw his fateful sinker. Depending on how well Suárez executes his plan, somewhere out in the world Mariners manager Scott Servais might even get to feel a sense of validation.
3. Jose Altuve vs. José Alvarado
You see, they both share a first name and last initial, so if and when they do battle, it'll be José A. going up against Jose A. Thankfully, that forced joke is not why we chose Altuve versus Alvarado. Rather, it's another case of strength on strength. (Get used to it, we're going back to that well a few more times before this piece ends.)
Alvarado threw more than 71 percent of his pitches on the inner half this season, the highest rate among any big-league pitcher with at least 500 tosses to their name. (For reference, Miami Marlins reliever Tanner Scott checked in second at 61 percent.) Altuve should be an interesting dance partner in that respect, since he batted .321/.409/.605 on pitches located on the inner half during the regular season.
We'll add that you don't need to know or care about the granular statistics to understand why this matchup could be pivotal: Alvarado is one of the Phillies' top relievers, Altuve is the Astros' leadoff batter. It stands to reason that if they're squaring off, it's in a late-and-close situation with the game resting in the balance.
4. J.T. Realmuto vs. Cristian Javier
We promised we were going to keep hitting the strength-versus-strength angle, and folks, we're delivering on that promise right here and right now.
Javier has a sneaky good fastball that plays beyond its velocity (93.9 mph) because of the combination of his low release point and the pitch's innate rising action. Think about it this way: if a pitch doesn't "sink" as much as a batter's brain expects it to, what's going to happen? The batter is going to swing and miss, or he's going to hit underneath the ball to an extreme degree, resulting in a pop-up or harmless fly out.
Javier dominated the New York Yankees, among other squads, time and again this season by spamming his riseball. If the Phillies are going to be the exception, they might have to rely upon Realmuto.
During the regular season, Realmuto was the Phillies' best hitter against fastballs with at least 18 inches of Induced Vertical Break -- a fancy way of saying pitches that deviated from a straight line from the pitcher's hand to the plate by a foot and a half. (Javier's averaged over 19 inches.) Realmuto batted .435/.567/1.130 versus those pitches, notching three home runs, three triples, and a double.
Realmuto's .649 wOBA (a catch-all metric that captures the true value of on-base percentage) was by far the highest on the Phillies among regulars. Kyle Schwarber, who was second among Phillies with at least 20 at-bats against pitches meeting stated qualifications, recorded a wOBA of .446. Brandon Marsh was the only other Phillie who is likely to play against Javier who had a wOBA over .400 in this department.
5. Bryson Stott vs. Lance McCullers Jr.
How about one more strength-versus-strength battle for the road?
McCullers threw 52 percent breaking balls during the regular season and has shown a willingness to lean even more into that approach during the postseason. In his Division Series start versus the Mariners, he threw 65 percent breaking balls. (He was back down to just 50 percent in his most recent start against the Yankees.)
One way or another, McCullers is going to throw a lot of bendy pitches. Stott isn't normally clocked as a big deal in this Phillies lineup -- not with folks like Harper, Schwarber, Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins around -- but this might be his matchup.
During the regular season, Stott had the third-highest wOBA against breaking pitches of any expected Phillies starter, trailing only Harper and Schwarber. He batted .275/.327/.462 with four home runs and five doubles. He also had the highest contact rate on breaking balls of any Phillie, whiffing just 20.7 percent of the time.
Again, we recognize how silly it is to write that Stott, and not one of the more productive members of the Phillies lineup, could be a thorn in McCullers' side. But the data suggests that very much could be the case. And besides, isn't the possibility of the unlikely hero part of what makes October fun?