I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this piece since MLB’s postseason schedule and the quick victories by the Phillies and Astros in their respective Championship Series has given all of us four long days without baseball in October. We’ll dive into some of the interesting matchups and storylines below, but the general thrust of this one is unchanged from this closing line of my ALCS guide:
Honestly, my biggest take away from writing this all up is that I really hope one of the Padres or Phillies can keep some serious momentum going, because whoever wins the NLCS will have a remarkably difficult foe waiting for them in the World Series.
Phillies over Astros: Please. I am begging.
I could make a rational, well-reasoned case for why I think the Phillies could beat the Astros. It would include talk about things like momentum, great starting pitching and the fact that baseball is a tremendously unpredictable sport. It would also be wishful thinking. The Astros are the team that should win here. They haven’t lost a single game in the postseason, sweeping the Mariners in three games and the Yankees in four. They are a juggernaut. This was the Astros’ path to the postseason:
Aside from a few weeks in April where their playoff odds dropped to gasp 75 percent, the Astros were dominant in the AL West. They are a machine and they’ve played like they are a machine.
Meanwhile the Phillies were the last team into the postseason and, well, you can see that in their season-long playoff odd too:
The Phillies got hot at the right time and parlayed that into exciting series wins over the Cardinals, Braves and Padres to reach this point, but by almost every metric the Astros are the superior team. You can see that in the below team by team comparisons of key stats from FanGraphs, first up, batting:
Astros & Phillies Key Offensive Stats
The Astros have decent leads in wRC+, ISO and overall WAR from their position players. They strike out about 3 percent less than the Phillies and walk slightly more often. However, it’s worth noting, these are both very good offensive teams. It’s also worth noting that while the Astros look like a more effective offense by wRC+ (six percent more effective, to be specific) both of these clubs can rake.
So maybe we should turn to pitching to see if either club has a sizable advantage on the mound to quiet the other side’s bats. One note here before I share the starting pitching table: Postseason pitching is always better than a team’s regular season numbers. A team’s No. 5 starter moves to the pen, which means these numbers for both teams are a slightly worse version than we’ll see in the World Series:
Astros & Phillies Starting Pitching
The Astros and Phillies got the most WAR from their starting pitchers over the course of the season, but the Astros have the edge in almost every key category here. They got more innings out of their starting pitchers, they strike out more guys per nine innings. They give up fewer home runs and strand about five percent more bases than the Phillies. The Phillies’ starters walked fewer batters and had a higher ground ball rate, but they also have a notably worse batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. That’s likely a reflection of their defensive struggles during the season — batters hit .296 on balls in play against the Phillies and only .261 against the Astros.
The real gap between these teams is in the bullpen. Again you can imagine all of these numbers being boosted by starters moving to the pen, etc., but even with the overall level rising, I have to imagine this is where the Astros could really shut down the Phillies. The Astros bullpen was the third best in MLB by WAR this season, the Phillies pen was ninth:
Astros & Phillies Relievers
The Phillies had to go to their bullpen more often than the Astros did and they were not always great innings. The Astros relievers pitched to a 2.60 ERA and 3.05 FIP during the 2022 season, the Phillies put up a 4.27 ERA and 3.71 FIP. The Astros bullpen strikes out more batters and walks fewer guys. Both pens do a decent job of limiting the long ball, but again the Astros 0.65 HR/9 really outshines the Phillies 0.83.
The pitching advantage for the Astros overall has persisted in the postseason. Houston’s staff has thrown 72 innings to a 1.88 ERA and 0.93 WHIP this postseason, according to ESPN. Meanwhile the Phillies have thrown 97 innings to a 3.06 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
The Phillies and Astros ended the regular season playing each other. The Astros won two of three. Philadelphia won the first game 3-0 on the back of a strong start from Aaron Nola, who threw 6⅔ innings giving up only two hit and striking out nine, while allowing no walks. The next day Justin Verlander put up a gem of his own throwing five no-hit innings and striking out 10 to get the W over Ranger Suárez. The final game of the series was a 3-2 victory for the Astros in a bullpen game for the Phillies, who were likely managing their pitching for the Wild Card Series, where they would eventually sweep the Cardinals.
Vibes vs. Analytics
Everything I’ve written above points to an Astros victory over the Phillies. They’ve been the more dominant team during the season, they have subtle advantages in their hitting and starting pitching and a pretty large advantage in their bullpen. But almost anything can happen in a seven game series as we saw last season when an Atlanta team that appeared to have similar disadvantages against Houston, but jumped out to an early lead in Game 1 before eventually taking the series four games to two. The Astros may have all the stats, but the Phillies have vibes, man:
So even though it feels a little foolish, I’m going with my heart over my head for this one. If the Astros win, it will be exactly as the consultants always drew it up. If the Phillies win, it will just be baseball being baseball. Here’s hoping we’re all dancing on our own one more time when the smoke clears:
Here are the team rosters for the World Series:
Who are you rooting for in the World Series?
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Who will win the World Series?
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