It's 2022 World Series time in Houston!
Thanks to the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies making short work of their opponents in the previous round, baseball fans had to go four October days without playoff baseball. But the wait is finally over!
With the first pitch of World Series Game 1 scheduled for 8:03 p.m. ET on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, we go deep on the players and matchups that matter most for both teams -- and asked our ESPN MLB experts to make their picks for who will win the series, how many games it will take and who will be the MVP of this Fall Classic.
61.5% chance of winning | Caesars odds: -190
What's on the line for the Astros: No team has swept the postseason in the wild-card era, with the 1999 Yankees and 2005 White Sox coming closest by going 11-1. If the Astros do become the first to do so -- on top of 106 regular-season wins, six consecutive ALCS appearances and three other trips to the World Series since 2017 -- they go down as an all-time great team and, yes, a modern-day dynasty. And for manager Dusty Baker, a spot in the Hall of Fame gets solidified with a long-awaited World Series title. -- David Schoenfield
Three reasons Houston can win
The bullpen: The Astros' relievers led the majors in ERA during the regular season and have been flat-out dominant in the postseason. Baker has as many as five lights-out, high-leverage arms to deploy late in games. The Phillies can't match this type of depth.
The defensive advantage: At some point, one would think, the Phillies' defense will cost them in a big moment. Philadelphia has made the routine plays as a unit recently, but the Astros, who had the second-most outs above average in the sport this year, are far superior in the field.
Moxie: This is the Astros' fourth World Series appearance in six years, they've gone undefeated throughout these playoffs, and they have a perfect mix of veterans performing at elite levels and young players coming into their own. This just feels like the Astros' time -- a time when they'll truly distance themselves from scandal. -- Alden Gonzalez
Where the Astros are vulnerable: Houston is as close to a perfect team as you'll find in MLB right now, so the only thing you can point to is the lack of a platoon-dominant lefty to match against Kyle Schwarber or Bryce Harper in a high-leverage spot.
The Astros have righty relievers to excel in those situations, so painting this as a true weak spot might be a stretch and they could always roster veteran lefty Will Smith to use in a specialized role. -- Bradford Doolittle
Jeff Passan's inside intel
Jose Altuve has popped out to an infielder in an almost-inconceivable six of 35 at-bats this postseason, and the commonalities are velocity and verticality. Of the six, five have come on fastballs, all at 95.2 mph or harder, and five have been high, near the top of the strike zone -- four heaters and one changeup. Half of them came with two strikes and Altuve protecting, but the other three were on 0-0, 1-0 and 1-1 counts. "I'd throw everything hard and high," one scout said. "Make him show he can hit it."
"Cristian Javier has the best fastball of any starter in baseball," one evaluator says, and when reminded that it averaged only 94 mph and he might not have the best on his team -- hello, Justin Verlander -- he insisted: "It's better." He may have a point. The expected batting average on Javier's fastball during the regular season was a big-league-low .181. And that's with him throwing the pitch 60% of the time, the fifth-highest rate among those with at least 1,000 fastballs this season. In the 16 at-bats that have ended on a Javier fastball this postseason, batters are hitting .077/.250/.154 against it.
The Astros need to spin to win. Against fastballs and cutters this postseason, the Phillies are hitting .273/.338/.517. And on sliders, curveballs, changeups and splitters, it's .184/.240/.333. Well, it's a good thing the Astros' pitchers feature an array of off-speed stuff. As good as their fastballs are -- their softer stuff made Yankees and Mariners hitters look silly to the tune of a .169/.226/.250 slash line.
38.5% chance of winning | Caesars odds: +170
What's on the line for the Phillies: In a loaded National League with three 100-win teams, this would be perhaps the most surprising World Series title run of the entire wild-card era. For Harper, hitting .419 with five home runs in the playoffs, it's a chance to finish off one of the best individual postseasons of this era. And for executive Dave Dombrowski, a World Series title with a third different team would perhaps cement his status as just the sixth general manager to get elected to the Hall of Fame. -- Schoenfield
Three reasons Phillies can win
The lineup: The Phillies' offense is at its peak right now. Their slugging percentage and OPS are way up over the regular season -- all earned by beating playoff pitching. Simply put: Throw out the regular season, the Phillies can outslug the Astros at the plate.
The ballpark: The Phillies are 5-0 at home this postseason and they don't believe that's a coincidence. This isn't about hostile crowds -- the Astros have dealt with those for years -- this is about what the fans do for the home players. Rhys Hoskins called it a difference-maker.
Mojo: The Phillies have been tested in a way the Astros have not this season. If the Astros take any part of the Phillies' game lightly, they'll find out what three other teams have learned this postseason: Philadelphia isn't afraid of anyone. Philadelphia might be a No. 6 seed on paper, but it's far from it on the field right now. -- Jesse Rogers
Where the Phillies are vulnerable: No one can match Houston's pitching depth, but Philly's shortfall in this area could get it in a couple of specific ways. First, there isn't a great option for the Phillies in terms of a Game 4 starter, whereas the Astros have nothing but great options for that contest.
Second, there isn't really a particularly attractive option in the bullpen to use against Yordan Alvarez, should he come up in a late-and-close situation with runners on base. -- Doolittle
Jeff Passan's inside intel
If you want to neutralize Harper, evaluators say he has shown a vulnerable spot since returning from his broken thumb: middle and high fastballs on the inner-third of the plate. Don't give him a heater on the outer half, as Robert Suarez learned, it's Harper's nitro zone. But with how teams are pitching him -- among Phillies regulars, only Bryson Stott has seen fewer breaking balls -- it's clear they see fastballs as a potential weakness. The only issue: Pitchers haven't hit their locations -- and Harper has pounded fastballs and sinkers that don't challenge him inside.
Here, evaluators say, is how you know Schwarber is locked in: In the NLCS, he didn't swing and miss on a single pitch in the rulebook strike zone. Over the previous two series, he whiffed on five. Further, after putting three pitches out of the zone in play during the wild-card series and NLDS, he didn't put one in play in the NLCS. Schwarber leads all players this postseason in walks because of the NLCS, when he watched 47 of the 94 pitches thrown at him and drew six walks. Over the previous two series? He saw the same 94 pitches but stared at just 32.
One pitch could determine the fate of the Phillies. "Aaron Nola's gloveside fastball," according to one scout. Considering that it's typically one of the best pitches in baseball, Nola needs to get it right for Game 1. In the regular season, batters hit .177/.227/.296 against fastballs away to right-handers and inside on left-handers. In three games this postseason, over the 16 hitters whose at-bats have ended on the pitch, it's .267/.313/.733, including a pair of home runs after allowing just six on gloveside heaters that ended 217 regular-season at-bats.
Houston Astros (12 votes)
Philadelphia Phillies (2 votes)
How many games?
Astros in 6 (7 votes)
Astros in 5 (3 votes)
Astros in 7 (2 votes)
Phillies in 6 (1 vote)
Phillies in 7 (1 vote)
Why did you pick the Phillies? Hey, I'm the guy who texted my editor at the start of the postseason and said don't be surprised if the Astros run the table. OK, I meant to send that! So how can I switch to the Phillies now? I'm a believer in Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. I'm a believer in Kyle Schwarber, who hit three home runs in the NLCS. I'm suddenly a believer in Seranthony Dominguez. And, I hate say this, I believe Astros manager Dusty Baker will mess up a key decision at some point (like leaving a starter in too long rather than going to his deep bullpen).
Mostly, however, I'm a believer in Harper. The World Series record for home runs is five, shared by George Springer (2017), Chase Utley (2009) and Reggie Jackson (1977). Harper is going to break that record. -- Schoenfield
Why are the Astros such an overwhelming choice? Some New York Yankees fans might prefer to blame the manager, the general manager, Josh Donaldson or a videotape of the 2004 playoffs for the sweep at the hands of the Astros, but really, that's ignoring the obvious: The Houston pitching is absurdly great.
After leading the American League in ERA by nearly half a run during the regular season, the Astros have a 1.88 ERA in this postseason, have held opposing hitters to a .178 average, and are averaging 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. It's as if the whole staff is working at a peak Pedro Martinez. The Phillies' lineup is loaded with sluggers and experience, but they can't overcome that dominant group. -- Buster Olney