ESPN: What the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros need to do to win the 2022 World Series

The 2022 World Series matchup is set

Beginning Friday, the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies will battle it out for the Commissioner’s Trophy in a duel between one league’s favorite and the other league’s biggest underdog.

Under MLB’s new playoff format, the Phillies entered the National League as the sixth and final seed but advanced to the Fall Classic while the American League’s No. 1 Astros rolled over the rest of the junior circuit.

What did October teach us about each of these teams? What do they have to do to get to the top? And which players could make the difference on both sides? ESPN MLB pundits Jeff Passan, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers and David Schoenfield break it down.

SEE ALSO: Phillies defeat Padres to advance to World Series

What’s the most impressive thing about the Astros this postseason?

Passan: Everything is one thing, right? Fine. If one thing defines the Astros, it’s their pitching depth. They have Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, both front-line starters, at the top of their rotation. They are followed by Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers Jr., each of whom would start front-line on most teams. As good as her initial pitching is, the sheer amount of relief talent in her bullpen — from Ryan Pressly to Rafael Montero to Ryne Stanek to Bryan Abreu to Hector Neris to Hunter Brown — makes every lead feel comfortable. The Astros are excellent at everything, but their pitching is the reason they remain undefeated this postseason.

Lee: The depth of Houston’s roster. If you’d told the Yankees en route to the American League Championship Series that Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve would score just one in three games, New York would have been ecstatic. Instead, the rest of the Astros have taken the lead, from Yuli Gurriel to Alex Bregman and Chas McCormick to Jeremy Pena and Martin Maldonado. This Houston team can beat you in so many different ways, from their incredibly deep-hitting staff to their lineup that can knock you out with long ball or slam you into the ground with singles and doubles games. Then there’s the consistency. Depth and consistency usually plays well in October, and Houston has proven that against both the Mariners in the AL Division Series and the Yankees.

Why will it (or not) work against the Phillies in the World Series?

Passan: Certainly the Phillies lineup as it stands is more of a challenge than the Mariners or the Yankees did for Houston. But as long as Dusty Baker can handle appropriate urgency and use his bullpen as best he can — mix and match and not allow third looks to Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, JT Realmuto and Bryce Harper unless the starter is actually driving — Houston has this Law goods to neutralize Philadelphia’s offense much like Seattle’s and New York’s did.

Lee: The Astros are the better team on paper, but being underdogs hasn’t stopped the Phillies so far in the postseason, having started as the third-place team from NL East, beating the Cardinals, Braves and Padres along the way have to the World Series. There’s also something to be said about this October magic and it’s going to be hot at just the right time. We’ve seen how this has played out for teams in the past, but Philadelphia has taken a cue from last year’s Braves and got hot when it matters most. Harper’s successful clincher homer in the National League Championship Series was a sporting moment too conspicuous for the movies, but it seemed written in the stars by the baseball gods.

Who’s the only player who needs to deliver for the Astros to become champions from here?

Passan: Considering the Astros practically didn’t get into the World Series with him, maybe Jose Altuve is a dumb answer. But to derail a hot and confident Phillies team, Houston needs production from the top of its order, and an Astros lineup with Altuve coming to base needs an engine that’s already spitting out a lot of horses, and gives it a turbocharger.

Lee: Pena has been Houston’s X-Factor so far in October. When Altuve and Alvarez struggled, the previously unheralded rookie came through and was a star for the Astros. If Altuve and Alvarez continue to fight, the likes of Pena, McCormick, Trey Mancini and Gurriel will need to help lead Houston to a World Series title.

What’s the most impressive thing about the Phillies this postseason?

Rogers: They immediately became the team that everyone in the organization thought they could be, one with great starting pitch and massive power – enough in both areas to overcome any defensive errors or bullpen bumps. Harper, Schwarber and Hoskins never miss a beat and play with the most confidence they’ve had all year.

Schoenfield: The stars are hot – not just the racquets, but also Zack Wheeler, who has a 1.78 ERA in his four starts. He might start Game 1 in full rest, but it might make sense for the Phillies to go into Game 2 with Aaron Nola and then Wheeler since Wheeler began tiring around the 80 pitch mark in his two starts against the Padres . An extra day off might help. But let’s mention something else: The Phillies’ bullpen figured things out a bit, and manager Rob Thomson did a great job of adapting on the fly and going hot-handed. Seranthony Dominguez has allowed just one run with 15 strikeouts and no walks in 7 2/3 postseason innings — and that one run was in part a result of Sunday’s wet conditions. Jose Alvarado fires in from the left and David Robertson has plenty of post-season experience. Thomson was even willing to field starter Ranger Suarez to finish Game 5 of the NLCS.

RELATED: On the night, Harper sent the Phillies to the World Series

Why will it (or won’t) work against the Astros in the World Series?

Rogers: The Phillies’ mojo will keep the Astros from winning in a short streak, but eventually all the pitching will win for them. The longer it goes, the better off for Houston, as Philadelphia can’t match the Astros arm for arm. A best-of-seven is usually not won on the plate but on the mound. Houston prevails.

Schoenfield: Bullpen depth is still a little questionable — although Connor Brogdon had a seven-out performance in Game 4 against the Padres and Andrew Bellatti served well enough in his five appearances and could be a good matchup against Houston’s right-hander lineup (he allowed .608 OPS against righties, but .866 for lefties). But what if Brad Hand has to face the Alvarez/Bregman/Kyle Tucker part of the order? And Thomson has been wary of dealing with Dominguez, who is back in his first full season after Tommy John’s surgery. He has only served 11 consecutive days in the regular season and has had days off between all six of his postseason appearances — at least two days in five of them. Eventually he will have to go days in a row and maybe for a longer stretch of pitches.

Who’s the only player who needs to deliver for the Phillies to become champions from here?

Rogers: It might be cliché to pick Harper, but he’s the guy. The heartbeat of the Phillies goes through his head. They’ll be deserved underdogs and they’ll need a special special series to beat Houston. Who better to re-energize them than Bryce Harper? He’s already having a great postseason. With him also goes the Phillies’ offense, which could shock the world when it comes to a dominant Astros employee. It starts with Harper.

Schoenfield: I’m betting on another big series by Harper, but my main character is Nola. Wheeler has the potential to dominate his outings. The Astros will have the starting advantage in games where Suarez or Bailey Falter (or Noah Syndergaard) start. Nola had two great postseason starts – 6 2/3 innings scoreless against the Cardinals and then an unearned run against the Braves. However, he held a 4-0 lead against the Padres, but allowed back-to-back home runs in the second and four in the fifth. Nola is also particularly important because if he can go deep that means more fresh arms for Suarez and No. 4 starters. Oh, one reason to start Nola in Game 2 instead of Game 1: he had in the regular season an ERA of 3.84 on four rest days (14 starts) but 2.79 on five days (13 starts). If he starts Game 1 he would go on to four rest days in Game 5, but if he goes in Games 2 and 6 he gets five rest days. The Phillies have an interesting decision on how to line up their rotation.

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Alley Einstein

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