Briefing

Phillies and Astros square off in one of baseball's biggest World Series mismatches

There are underdogs, and then there's … a 6th-wildcard-spot team taking on the 106-win Houston behemoth

On Friday night, the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies will begin playing in the World Series, a best-of-seven contest that could go later in the calendar than any Fall Classic ever. Here's everything you need to know about this unusual matchup, what each team needs to do to win baseball's championship, and what it would mean for them.

The biggest mismatch in 116 years — on paper

When the Astros and Phillies take the field Friday night, they will sport the largest gap in regular season wins between World Series opponents since 1906. That year, the 116-win Chicago Cubs — part of the dynasty that gave us the poem "Tinker to Evers to Chance" and who still hold the record for highest winning percentage in modern baseball history — were vanquished by a vastly inferior White Sox team that won 23 fewer games during the season. 

The 2022 Astros were, similarly, a terrifying steamroller, winning 106 regular season games, and they arrive at the World Series undefeated through the playoffs so far. They are just the third team in the Division Series era, which began in 1995, to reach the World Series without losing a playoff game — the other two, the 2007 Rockies and 2014 Royals, both went home empty-handed. The Astros notably will take on the Phillies, who limped into the postseason after securing the newly-added 6th wild card spot by winning a tepid 87 games. If Philadelphia were somehow to beat the Astros, they would become the third-worst regular season team ever to win the championship, after the 2006 Cardinals and the 1987 Twins, a team that was actually outscored by its opponents over the course of the season. 

Of course, regular season win-loss records mean precisely nothing once you get to the playoffs. Like the wild-card-winning Washington Nationals in 2019, the Phillies have gotten white-hot at precisely the right moment, as an expensive team that played like a collection of misfit toys all year finally gelled when the postseason started. Even juggernauts get cold, and in a seven-game series, there's no guarantee that the kind of advantages that become apparent over the course of a long season will hold up. After all, Houston lost four of seven games just a few weeks ago to the Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondback, and Tampa Rays, all of which were markedly worse on paper. Still, there's no question that Houston is the runaway favorite here.

What are the keys for each team?

The Phillies scored more runs than the Astros this year, and they will likely have to slug their way to the title. Reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper is healthy and on fire, with five home runs and 11 RBIs so far this postseason. He and fellow left-handed slugger Kyle Schwarber, who led the NL with 46 home runs, will have to work their magic on Houston's trio of ace right-handed pitchers: future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., and Cristian Javier. Most of Philadelphia's remaining best hitters, including catcher J.T. Realmuto, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, and third basemen Alec Bohm, bat right-handed and will only have the platoon advantage against Houston's likely Game 2 starter, 17-game winner Framber Valdez. 

Houston, meanwhile, will have to win at least one game against Philadelphia's pair of aces, right-handers Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. They will be fully rested and ready to pitch twice each against Houston's righty-heavy lineup. The earlier the Astros can get into the Phillies' weak bullpen, the better off they'll be. The depth in Philadelphia's relief corps is so thin that the team called on starting pitcher Ranger Suarez to close out the San Diego Padres on Sunday. And the Astros will need a big series from slugger Yordan Alvarez, the team's best left-handed hitter, who was nursing a hand injury through most of the season's second half.

More than anything else, the Phillies will need some luck. They start out on the road, against one of the scariest teams of the 21st century, and they'll have to hope that the flaws that kept them from sustained success during the regular season can remain hidden for another 10 days. 

What are the best storylines?

The Astros have taken a lot of grief over the past few years after the sign-stealing scandal that tainted the team's 2017 World Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Only a handful of players remain from that squad, but they are the heart of Houston's dynasty, including Verlander, third baseman Alex Bregman, and second baseman Jose Altuve. Unless they are getting away with murder again, they've proven to their detractors that they can roll through the regular season without cheating — but they have lost the World Series twice since, in 2019 and 2021. A win this year would serve as a redemption of sorts and an answer to critics who dismiss them as the informal runner-up in 2017.

And it would be no surprise — this is, after all, a team full of postseason regulars, many of whom are playing in their third, fourth, or for Verlander, fifth World Series. It is one of the most balanced teams in memory, and all of the team's key players are healthy and eager to close out their run with champagne. In a piece of arcana that only baseball can deliver, Verlander went 0-2 in the World Series for the 2006 Detroit Tigers as a rookie, on the team that lost to the history-making 83-win St. Louis Cardinals. Even better — Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski was Detroit's general manager in 2006. 

Philadelphia's Harper, who signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies before the 2019 season, will be playing in his first Fall Classic. So will most of the Phillies — only Schwarber, a rookie on the dominant 2016 Chicago Cubs, and outfielder Nick Castellanos have significant postseason experience among Phillies regulars. That's what happens when your franchise goes 11 years between playoff runs, as Philadelphia just did. 

Last but certainly not least, Houston's manager, Dusty Baker, is looking for his first championship in his 25th year as a big-league manager. Baker is ninth on the all-time win list for managers but hasn't been on the right side of the season's last celebration since he played for the 1981 Dodgers. 

What isn't in doubt is that one of these teams — and their fans — will soon be on top of the world.

Where and how can I watch the World Series?

The home-field advantage belongs to Houston in game one, which starts at 8:03 p.m. ET on Friday, followed by game two, also in Houston, on Saturday at 8:03 p.m. ET. The series then moves to Philadelphia, with game three set for Monday, Oct. 31, at 8:03 p.m. ET, followed by game four on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 8:03 p.m. ET.

If necessary, game five would be played Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 8:03 p.m. in Philadelphia; game six would be played Friday, Nov. 4, at 8:03 p.m. in Houston, and a decisive game seven would be played on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 8:03 p.m. ET, also in Houston.

Every game will air on Fox, and can be streamed at FoxSports.com or on the Fox Sports app.

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