The final match was set for 118 world championships. With league series victories on Sunday, the Astros and Phillies will face off at the Fall Classic, which opens Friday at Minute Maid Park. For Philadelphia, this is unfamiliar territory – Phils has not played in the world championships in 13 years. For the Astros, who are looking to become the first team in the Wild Card era to turn the table at Posteason (and the first since the 1976 Reds), the territory is all too familiar.
The Phillies in action thriller, 4-3, beat Padres in Game 5 of the NLCS thanks to drama Homer in the eighth round of series MVP Bryce Harper at Citizens Bank Park. A few hours later, the Astros swept the Yankees 6-5 in the Bronx to reach the world championships for the fourth time in the past six years.
Here are seven key themes as we look forward to the Game 1 World Championship:
Will Harper’s tournaments continue?
Harper has been in the spotlight ever since he made the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old phenom. In the years that followed, he lived up to the hype in every way except that his teams didn’t find success in the post-season. That has changed this month, and a two-time NL MVP is a big reason for that.
The iconic Homer Harper capped the playoff mark on Sunday with the NLCS hitting 0.400 (8 for 20) with three pairs, two homeowners and five RBIs. For the post-season overall, he hit .419 (18 vs. 43) with six pairs, five creepers and 11 RBI.
It’s hard to believe the guy turned 30 last week. On Sunday, Harper hit the biggest homer of his life, spending half of it under the collective watchful eye of the baseball world. Will he continue fueling Cinderella’s race to the World Championships?
Any Kyle Schwarber we will see in the world championships?
During the first two rounds of the post-season, Schwarber was 1-for-20 by eight strokes. But his bat came back to life in the NLCS, when he went 6 for 15 (.400) with three pigeons—including a massive 488-foot blast in Game 1, the longest attack ever at Petco Park—and six walks.
Schwarber would play in his second World Championship after winning it all with the Cubs in 2016. He hit .412 in that fall classic against Cleveland, and the Phillies hope they see something closer to that performance this time around, which would mean a continuation of what he did in NLCS.
Can Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola get Phils off fast?
We know the Astros’ cocking crew is a lot deeper, as Houston showed during these playoffs. Phillies’ lineup, even with hot bats like Harper, Schwarber, and Reese Hoskins, will be out of whack.
But on the other side of the ledger, could Wheeler and Nola put Philadelphia in great shape by the time the World Championships return to Citizens Bank Park for Game 3?
The old adage is that if you start a breakout streak with two games on the way, you’ll be satisfied with a split. But the way Wheeler and Nola used this post-season, aside from Nola’s grueling outing in NLCS Game 2, it’s not hard to imagine Phils stealing two games in Houston.
Wheeler has a 1.78 ERA in four starts in the post-season, while Nola did not concede a run earned in two starts (12 2/3 innings) between the NL Wild Card series and the NLDS before suffering six runs in NLCS Game 2.
Is there a stage too big for Jeremy Peña to absorb?
The 25-year-old rookie had some of Houston’s biggest successes in these playoffs, including the green light for the singles meat that proved to be the difference in an ALDS Game 3 win by 18 runs to complete the Mariners’ sweep.
Add two more, including a massive three-round blast at ALCS Game 4 at Yankee Stadium, three duos and some brilliant Shortstop defense, and you’ve got the ingredients for one of the greatest rookie seasons in history. Pena, who has scored 303 so far in the playoffs, is the ALCS MVP and looks as comfortable as anyone in the third or fourth stage of the season, let alone the first.
With the confidence he exudes on the field and what he has shown so far this month, it will be very exciting to follow Peña into his first Fall Classic.
Will Jose Altove come out of the postseason funk?
Altuve is a huge component of the Astros’ success, and the fact that Houston is 7-0 this post-season while going 2 for 31 on the board is fantastic. It helps, of course, that Pena and others have come forward, but even a good club like this would be hard-pressed to win it all without almost any offensive contributions from Altuve.
The Astros are hoping to see the return of the Altuve hitting .286/.361/.547 with 23 runs in his post-season career entering this month. Meanwhile, they’d also like to see Kyle Tucker advance toward the plate – he’s only hit 0.214 in this post-season. Jordan Alvarez, after his impressive start to the playoffs with two hosts, including a knockout in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Mariners, moved to 2 for 19 before delivering a late single at ALCS Game 4 Houston would love to see heat up again.
Can the Houston office, as cool as it is, keep this up?
We knew the Astros bulls were deep and very good. But what the Houstonians have done in this post-season is simply extraordinary – in the 33 rounds between ALDS and ALCS, he gave up just three runs (0.82 ERA). To get that kind of dominance off your list behind the likes of Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez et al. In the starting turn, it makes you hard to win no matter how great the opposing team’s lineup is.
Could the Astros’ stylus continue to burn out against Phillies in the World Championships? If yes, it will cause a huge problem for Philadelphia.
We have to give something away: will it be Baker or Harper who finally wins this elusive World Series?
Harper and Astros manager Dusty Baker was together with the Nationals for two seasons from 2016-17, and in both years, Washington couldn’t get past the NLDS, losing to the Dodgers and Cubs. And both enter the 2022 World Championships without a ring.
Becker, in his 25th season as a Major League Manager, has led five clubs to post-season – the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nationals and Astros. He had reached the world championship twice before this year – with the Astros in 2021, when Houston lost to the Braves in six games, and in 2002 with San Francisco, he lost seven games to the Angels.
In the meantime, Harper is also one of the greatest stars of this generation, but he will be playing in the Fall Classic for the first time.
Someone is going to get the first ring of the world championship. who will be?
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