Well, my crystal ball was only half correct. Last month I predicted on this site that the Houston Astros would face the Los Angeles Dodgers in a grudge World Series rematch. The pesky San Diego Padres though, had other ideas and knocked out their “big brother.” Unfortunately for the Friars, Bryce Harper would burst that bubble and lead the equally surprising Philadelphia Phillies to an NLCS title.
In the ALCS, the Astros would continue to be the New York Yankees Achilles heel in the post season. But nobody expected Dusty Baker‘s boys to break out the brooms against the Bronx Bombers. Then again, they did the same thing to a strong Seattle Mariners club. So Houston is now on a 7-0 playoff run, and because almost all the games were razor close makes that accomplishment even more impressive. When the game is up for grabs, it seems like the Astros always have enough horses to push them across the finish line.
None the less, baseball is a funny game full of twists and turns, and anything can happen. As good as the Astros are, the Phillies are fearless and also on a roll. They had the worst record among all the teams who qualified for this tournament and are now playing with house money. That makes them dangerous. Here’s how Houston vs. Philadelphia plays out on paper.
The top two starters in each rotation have been amazing. Justin Verlander, the favored Cy Young candidate in the AL, is excellent but at age 39, is not unbeatable. And one of these days, Framber Valdez could falter, but then you have to deal with Lance McCullers Jr., or Cristian Javier, or Luis Garcia, or Jose Urquidy. Their opponents, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, have been solid and competitive. The Astros staff is just a lot deeper. Both bullpens are very good too, with multiple arms leading up to closers Ryan Pressly and Jose Alvarado. Once again though, Houston’s depth is simply too strong.
Thanks to a trade at the deadline, Houston added Christian Vazquez as an added bat to cover Martin Maldonado‘s weak offense. But the latter receiver is still the preferred partner for most of Houston’s pitchers because of his game preparation and rocket throwing arm. The Phillies All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto offers the best of both assets.
The Astros have one of the top defensive infields in baseball with Alex Bregman, Jeremy Peña, Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel. Two of these players have won Rawlings Gold Gloves (Altuve and Gurriel), and the youngster Peña is a nominee in his first MLB season. Now that he’s healthy again, Bregman is rock solid at the hot corner and has been on fire at the plate. Peña hit the walk-off bomb that clinched the Mariners sweep, and was MVP in the ALCS. In his 12th season, Altuve is a three time batting champion who has scuffled in this tournament and will need to step it up. The 38 year old Gurriel won the hitting crown last season, but a mediocre year forced the front office to acquire Trey Mancini as an insurance policy. In the final year of his contract, Yuli would love to remain in Houston and has been a hitting machine in the playoffs.
With Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott, Jean Segura and Rhys Hoskins around the horn, the Phillies defense is not the greatest. They get the job done however, and make all the routine plays. They are much better on offense with veterans Segura and Hoskins leading the way. Hoskins, in particular, has gone yard five times and knocked in 11 runs in combined stats against Atlanta and San Diego.
Clear edge- Astros
With Michael Brantley on the 60 day IL, slugger Yordan Alvarez has been pressed into left field duty, sharing the job with Aldemys Diaz among others. Center field now belongs to Chas McCormick and his potent bat. Then to protect a lead, the Astros will occasionally go with Mauricio Dubon, who has a better arm and glove. Fan favorite Kyle Tucker is a permanent fixture in right field and had another fantastic year.
We all knew Kyle Schwarber could hit, but lots of hard work has turned the Phillies left fielder into a complete player. Brandon Marsh catches everything in center and Nick Castellanos, along with his powerful bat, have finally found a winning team and loving it.
Slight edge- Astros
The biggest mistake Houston hurlers could make is to throw a cookie to Bryce Harper. The Padres can attest to that, especially with runners on base. You pitch around Harper, walk him, whatever. The Phillies might do the same to Yordan Alvarez, but he will not always be the DH. And to plug in Mancini or Diaz in that spot just isn’t the same.
For Philadelphia to even have a gambler’s chance for success against Houston, Hoskins and Harper will have to stay in the moment, with more production from Realmuto, Castellanos and Bohm. The Phillies will need to score runs, lots of them, and catch the ball. If the Astros pitching prevails, another sweep could be in the cards. But a more realistic prediction is in order here, so I’m picking Houston in six games. The baseball gods will finally be smiling down on Dusty.