If Houston can succeed against Philadelphia with its winning formula, it could be the first team to go undefeated in the postseason.
The 2022 World Series is set up to be a true David vs. Goliath matchup. On one side is a team that’s an astonishing seven games above .500 for the postseason; that’s outscored its opponents by 22 runs; and that’s tossed two shutouts so far and has the hottest hitter on the planet.
And on the other side is the Astros.
Despite having postseason resumes that are more similar than you might have expected, it’s the Astros—with their 19-game advantage in regular season wins and unblemished playoff record—who are the overwhelming favorite to win this year’s Fall Classic. The SI Sportsbook has Houston at -150, and other books have the American League champs as high as -200. Nobody expected the Phillies to make it this far, and despite Philadelphia’s similarly superior form in October, most still view this as an unfair fight.
Of course, when you combine Houston’s perfect playoff run to date with its 106-win regular season, it’s difficult to find flaws in the Astros’ status as the team to beat. Here’s a look at how Houston has been so dominant this October, with the chance to become the first team ever to go undefeated in the postseason on the line:
It’s not a surprise that the Astros’ relief pitching has been a strength this October. During the regular season, Houston ranked first in the majors in ERA (2.80) and strikeout rate (28.3%), allowed the second-fewest home runs per nine innings (0.65) and led the AL in bullpen fWAR (7.6). What is a surprise, though, is just how untouchable this group has been when it’s mattered most.
Eight pitchers have combined to throw 33 innings in relief over the past seven games. They’ve allowed a total of three earned runs—all on solo homers—with 43 strikeouts and an opponents’ batting average of .127. Opposing hitters have swung at 240 offerings from Astros relief pitchers during the playoffs, and have come up empty 88 times. That’s good for a 36.7% whiff rate that ranks better than the regular season marks of guys like Corbin Burnes (35.2%), Spencer Strider (34.9%) and Shane McClanahan (34.3%).
In a group that’s been this good, choosing standouts becomes a tough task. But the combination of Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly has been particularly lethal. The two have allowed a total of nine base runners through 11 2/3 innings, with a combined whiff rate of 46.6%.
While the Astros’ relievers have been nails to protect leads, their starters haven’t been far off the pace. The trio of Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr. and Cristian Javier have combined to post a 1.57 ERA with 33 strikeouts over five starts and 28 2/3 innings. And that’s not even including presumed AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, who was roughed up against Seattle in Game 1 of the ALDS but bounced back strong against the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS, striking out 11 with just one run allowed across six innings.
Of the 11 balls in play Yankees hitters managed against Verlander, seven had expected batting averages under .200. The righty generated 47 swings and 17 misses on the night, good for a 36.2% whiff rate that was nearly 12 points higher than his regular season mark (24.3%).
If the Astros come close to reproducing these results in the Fall Classic, Dusty Baker’s job will become remarkably simple.
Full World Series Schedule: Streaming, TV coverage.
No team has scored more runs per game this postseason than the Phillies, and they’ve done so by relying heavily on the long ball. Obviously, hitting home runs is no innovative strategy in run production, but Philadelphia has leaned heavily on dingers, with 16 in the playoffs so far. Against the Astros, the Phillies bats will be facing a pitching staff with a home run rate of just 0.83 per nine innings (the best mark in the majors for allowing homers).
Houston’s arms cracked down even more against left-handed hitters, which will be more important given the lefty thump courtesy of Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber. What’s more impressive is that it’s the right-handers out of the bullpen that really shine against lefties: Pressly, Abreu, Hunter Brown, Hector Neris, Rafael Montero and Ryne Stanek combined to face 613 left-handed hitters during the regular season. The total home runs they allowed? Just six, while each posted a batting average against of .205 or better.
It says a lot about the Astros’ lineup depth that Jose Altuve has a .296 OPS for the playoffs and they still haven’t lost. That’s because the star second baseman’s struggles have been more than made up for by contributions from Yuli Gurriel (.933 OPS), Jeremy Peña (.990) and Chas McCormick (.898)—not to mention the typically strong production from Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman.
If Altuve can get back to something resembling who he was during the regular season, that could be a knockout blow for the Phillies. He showed some incremental signs of life during the ALCS, but as we’ve seen throughout his historic postseason career, there’s plenty more where that came from.
More MLB Coverage:
- The Trials and Tribulations of Changing How Pitchers and Catchers Communicate
- World Series Predictions: Expert Picks for Astros vs. Phillies
- The Astros Beast vs. the NL East… Again
- After 37 Years in Baseball, Phillies Manager Rob Thomson Has Finally Arrived