Can the high-flying Phillies overcome the undefeated, Dusty Baker-led Astros?
Once the darkest of dark horses, the Philadelphia Phillies have turned themselves into the last team the Houston Astros want to face in the Fall Classic.
Led by manager Rob Thomson, who inherited his managerial role only midway through the season, the Phillies have caught fire this October and do not look to be slowing down. From rookie Bryson Stott’s timely doubles at the bottom of the order to superstar Bryce Harper’s playoff-leading 5 homeruns and .419 batting average, the Phillies are stacked top-to-bottom, 1-9.
Furthermore, two bats that had been fairly quiet this postseason, belonging to Philadelphia 1 and 2 hitters Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins, had a nice showing in the NLCS just in time for their World Series date with the Astros and appear to have finally found their groove at the top of the order.
Schwarber, who hit a jaw-dropping 488-foot missile of a homerun in San Diego, hit his second of three postseason homeruns in Philadelphia to lead-off the game, something he did fairly often in the regular season when he led the National League with 46 homeruns. Schwarber, being one of the most streaky hitters in the league, is a handful in the lead-off spot when he has it going. If Houston’s pitching staff isn’t careful, before they get the chance to blink, there could be an early Game 1 “Schwarbomb” that supersedes even the Astros’ “Space City” city-connect uniforms.
Hoskins, on the other hand, struggled this postseason hitting .182, but the longest tenured Phillie did not disappoint in the homerun category. Sitting atop the leaderboard with 5 and counting, Hoskins is tied with teammate Bryce Harper for the lead in postseason homeruns. Harper hits two spots behind Hoskins in the order, making the Philadelphia line-up just that lethal and inescapable.
With the 1, 2, and 4 hitters playing as well as they are, Houston’s pitching staff will fair no better with Philadelphia’s 3-hole, JT Realmuto. Catching every inning from the Wild Card round through the NLCS, JT Realmuto, possibly the most even-keel star in the entire league, has been the heart and soul of this Philadelphia team throughout the season and into October. Realmuto even registered an inside-the-park homerun in the NLDS against Atlanta, another instance of Philadelphia’s unrelenting momentum that Houston may be incapable of slowing down.
So, with Philadelphia’s momentum and everything falling into the right place, can the Astros’ loaded roster continue their perfect playoff run or will they struggle to overcome Philadelphia’s onslaught?
The Houston Astros have been adamant about winning the title this year for their manager, Dusty Baker, and that drive could, in its own right, outweigh and outdo anything the Phillies have in store. It has been a long time coming for Baker, who has the most wins among all managers who do not have a World Series ring. Baker, who won a ring as a player with the Nationals in 1981, has won both the National and American league pennants with the Giants (2002) and the Astros (2021-2022), and his presence has had a significant impact on a young Astros’ roster.
Credit: Houston Chronicle
Jeremey Peña, who entered the season as superstar shortstop Carlos Correa’s replacement, lived-up to expectations when he won ALCS MVP against a veteran Yankees team. Peña hit .333 with 2 homeruns and 2 doubles against the Yankees, with one of his timely swings being a go-ahead homerun to close-out the Bronx bombers in Game 4 to punch his team a ticket to the World Series for the second straight year.
With Jose Altuve struggling this postseason, the Astros have relied on consistent guys like Peña and Alex Bregman, who have proven to deliver when called upon. Bregman, the definition of consistency, hit .333 (5-for-15)/.375/.600 with a double, homerun, and a walk in BOTH the ALDS and ALCS. To no one’s surprise, Bregman is the first player to replicate an identical stat line in consecutive playoff series with a minimum of 10 plate appearances in each series.
As dominant as Houston’s offense has been this postseason, it has been consistently one-upped by what may have been the best pitching staff in all of baseball. From veteran ace Justin Verlander to southpaw Framber Valdez to closer Ryan Pressly, the Astros’ staff is LOADED.
Ahead of Game 4 of the ALCS, Astros’ pitchers totaled a 1.57 ERA through six games and in Games 1-3 of the ALCS alone, had just a 0.67 ERA against an explosive Yankees offense, headlined by the likely unanimous American League MVP -- Aaron Judge. Superseding that accomplishment, the Astros’ staff totaled their cumulative 1.57 ERA in spite of Justin Verlander’s 6 earned runs in the first four innings of Game 1 of the ALDS. Verlander and company are better than even their 1.57 ERA suggests, and the Phillies will have to be aware of that.
With a high-flying Phillies offense coming to town, the Astros have the arms to control the likes of Harper, Hoskins, and Realmuto if it comes down to a pitching duel. It will be up to the Philadelphia hitters to have quality at-bats and TAKE PITCHES -- something they have done well this postseason, albeit uncharacteristic of what they put on tape during the regular season. In the end, some seasons are just meant to be and by the looks of it, while this is Houston’s series to lose, it seems this is the Phillies’ season to be, and the Astros are simply the final obstacle in their way.