World Series 2022 – What we’ve learned about Astros-Phillies

Two games into the 2022 World Series, there has been no shortage of drama on the Houston field.

First, it was the underdog Phillies who rushed back from a 5-0 deficit in Game 1 to hand the Astros their first loss of the postseason thanks to JT Realmuto’s game-winning longball in the 10th inning.

Then it was Houston’s turn to remind everyone why they were such a heavy favorite to start, by hitting three first-inning runs against Phillies ace Zack Wheeler in a 5-2 Game 2 win, the separated the series.

With a travel day on Sunday before the series moves to Philadelphia for three games starting Monday night, we asked ESPN MLB pundits Bradford Doolittle, Joon Lee, Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers to break down what they’ve seen so far and what we’re expecting should here.

What surprised you most about the first two games?

Lee: Justin Verlander’s ongoing struggles in the World Series. For someone with such a storied career behind it, it’s truly remarkable that the Astros ace’s 6.07 ERA is the worst of any starting pitcher with at least 30 innings in the World Series. His inability to maintain the lead opened the door for Philadelphia to beat the juggernaut Astros in Friday’s opener, and if the Phillies end up lifting the trophy, that will set the tone.

Rogers: Aaron Nola and Wheeler get pushed around in their two starts with 10 runs (nine earned). Wheeler, in particular, left too many pitches over the plate in the two innings in which he gave up runs, and neither pitcher looked very sharp. The Phillies need their two aces to be a lot better in their next few games.

passers-by: The imperviousness of the Phillies’ bullpen. Entering the series, Phillies relievers were good enough — a 3.19 ERA, 53 strikeouts in 42⅓ postseason innings — but nothing compared to the Astros, whose bullpen allowed three runs in 33 innings, all on solo homers. Between the 5⅓ innings of shutout where Nola came off in Game 1 and three more scoreless innings where Wheeler was picked up in Game 2, Philadelphia’s peg hits like a gun. Whether it can do this deeper into the series can make or break the Phillies.

Doolittle: I had been wondering how the Phillies would navigate late in tight games around the Yordan Alvarez/Kyle Tucker section of the Houston lineup once Jose Alvarado was issued. Rob Thomson was well ahead of me using starter Ranger Suarez as a second bullpen left in the first game. But Suarez will start Game 4 and presumably take him off the table as a relief option in one of the next two games, so my curiosity lingers.

Was the Phillies’ Game 1 win a mirage or will they hang out with the Astros from here?

Doolittle: It wasn’t a mirage – unlikely as it is for the Phillies, or any team, to overcome a five-run deficit in a World Series. The Astros are still in fine form, but as long as the Phillies bullpen answers the bell, we should be in for more close games and some dramatic moments. Houston is still favored, but it’s a best-of-five now and Philly has home field advantage after the split.

Lee: While I think the Astros will win this streak, I’d be genuinely surprised if the Phillies didn’t pull out at least one, maybe two games during their three home games. Philadelphia’s lineup kept things interesting in the eighth inning of Game 2 and made it closer than the box bottom line suggests – and I expect that to continue in Games 3, 4 and 5.

passers-by: This streak has all the hallmarks of a long streak: an early split, offenses that can become red-hot at any time, and bullpens that perform at an elite level. Of the 59 World Series that started with a split, 45 went to at least a sixth game, according to ESPN Stats and Info. And if this series follows suit and returns to Houston, it’s bound to be a coin toss between two very talented, very motivated teams.

Rogers: The Phillies can definitely keep up with Houston – that’s what I thought before the series – especially considering they’re going home for three games. After Game 2, players in both clubhouses discussed the Philly crowd and the excitement it will bring. Houston won’t be intimidated, but neither will the Phillies be swept there — no way. All in all, it’s going to be a long series.

How do you think the atmosphere will change now that the series is heading to Philadelphia?

Rogers: With all due respect to Astros fans — and it could be their building’s acoustics — Citizens Bank Park will likely be louder and more chaotic outdoors than Minute Maid Park indoors. Phillies fans, according to their players, made all the difference for a team that won 5-0 at home this postseason. Things are going to get wild in Philadelphia for the next three games.

Lee: Astros fans were rowdy and rowdy during the World Series, but Phillies fans are thirsty for their first championship since 2008. Between the Phillies’ success and the Eagles’ strong start, Philadelphia has plenty to cheer about right now, and I expect that energy transferred to. And to give you some anecdotal evidence of just how rowdy this Phillies crowd could get: A friend from college sprained his ankle while celebrating Rhys Hoskins’ homer in the third inning of Game 5 of the NLCS and stayed out the rest of the game. “I’ll smash my other foot if he snaps a title.” Expect that kind of energy for Game 3.

Doolittle: More people rooting for the Phillies? It will be a different vibe and a wild one. cooler weather. No possibility to close a roof. However, this should not be a big factor. The Astros have a core of players who have won many postseason games on the road, including the World Series. Houston actually was more successful away during the Fall Classic during this current winning window.

passers-by: The Phillies are the only sports team whose nickname comes directly from the city’s name, and this city happens to be populated by people who want it tattooed the Phillie Phanatic around her belly button. So it’s no surprise that Game 3’s starting price is more than $700. If for some reason you still think Citizens Bank Park isn’t going to be the loudest, most festive, and most ridiculous place to be this postseason, then you’re probably from Houston.

Who is your World Series MVP so far – and will he take home the award at the end?

Doolittle: Seems pretty wide open. I don’t think anyone influenced any of the wins more than Realmuto in Game 1 or Framber Valdez in Game 2. I’d probably split the vote between them now. Then I would like to point out that Jose Altuve is heating up and will probably win in the end.

Rogers: Valdez. He came at just the right moment for the Astros after they dropped Game 1. Imagine being down 0-2 and then going to Philadelphia – that streak would probably be over. I think Valdez will win in the end too. He still has another great outing in him even after throwing 104 pitches on Saturday night.

Lee: For now, Realmuto. If the Phillies can win the World Series, it’s because they won one of their first two games in Houston — and that can’t be done without the Phillies’ slugging catcher.

passers-by: In general, positional adjustments are much more important over a wide range of games. But when it comes to catchers, the demands they face in a short streak—especially of immense scope like the one that crowns the champion—must be weighed heavily. This means that as brilliant as Valdez was in Game 2, Realmuto almost single-handedly won Game 1 and Playing his typically excellent baseball in Game 2 makes him a pick. He’s not a bad choice for the rest of the series either.

Looking to revise your original World Series prediction?

Doolittle: Astro in 6? Seems about right. I didn’t see anything that would change my mind.

Lee: The Phillies had an incredible run in the playoffs, but I still think this Astros team’s talent will win in the end.

passers-by: Ask me about game 4

Rogers: I had the Astros in 7, and as much as I like the Phillies’ mojo, Houston’s pitching will make all the difference in the long streak. World Series 2022 – What we’ve learned about Astros-Phillies

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