Thomas: Astros will win World Series title

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Dusty Baker is looking to capture his first World Series title in what is his 25th season as a big-league manager (third with the Houston Astros).

Spencer Thomas | Sports Editor

Oct. 27, 2022

The 2022 World Series gears up to welcome back a familiar face, as well as an old friend. The Houston Astros will appear in their fourth Fall Classic in the last six years, while the Philadelphia Phillies are back in the World Series for the first time since 2009.

The Astros come in looking to cap off a dominant period with another World Series ring. After winning it all in 2017, albeit with an asterisk, they were eliminated in the American League Championship Series in 2018 and 2020, and finished as the runner-up in 2019 and 2021. They are guided by two massive storylines, neither surrounding the actual play on the field.

Dusty Baker was the perfect hire for a team trying to shed their tarnished image from the one that emerged in the wake of their cheating scandal a few years ago.

One of the most beloved figures in America’s pastime, Baker is in his 25th season as a big-league manager, but he keeps coming tantalizingly short of the ultimate prize. At 73 years of age, Baker looks to finally get his hands on the Commissioner’s Trophy.

The other major theme with Houston is the aforementioned cheating scandal. In the 2019-20 offseason, it was revealed that the team illegally relayed signs to batters during their 2017 championship run. The fallout resulted in the firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Lunhow, and the start of a lingering disdain for stars like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. Most significantly, it caused a massive question to linger: Did they deserve that championship?

With their continued dominance after the scandal was revealed, Houston has shown that they are still stacked with immense talent. Winning the championship this season would go a long way in beating the asterisk allegations.

Houston enters heavily favored, having racked up 106 regular season wins, and are undefeated in the postseason after series sweeps of both the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees.

Players to Watch

Justin Verlander: The ageless wonder continues to dominate the bump, on his way to what will likely be his third Cy Young Award-winning season. The 39-year-old starting pitcher doesn’t match up incredibly well against a Phillies lineup that can feature as few as five right-handed hitters, but he should have intriguing matchups against left-handed hitters like Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper.

Jose Altuve: The mainstay of Houston’s lineup struggled to find any sort of semblance to start the postseason, but the lineup surrounding him picked up his slack. However, the buck stops now for the 2017 Most Valuable Player. When October turns to November, a team’s stars need to show up, and Altuve’s performance will be highly indicative of what the team is able to manage against Phillies’ aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

Jeremy Peña: With the absence of past stars like Correa and George Springer, Houston’s new image is centered around the rookie infielder. He’s shown no fear of the postseason, winning the ALCS MVP, and could be the answer for Baker if Altuve continues to struggle.

Contrary to Houston, Philadelphia was not expected to be here. If not for the league’s expanded playoffs (moving from five playoff berths in each league to six) that took effect this season, they wouldn’t be here.

The last team to get into the playoffs is looking to be the last team remaining, thanks to a powerful lineup that can leave the yard at any moment. After clambering their way to 86 regular-season wins (20 fewer than Houston), the Phillies got hot at the right time thanks to a dominant front-end of their rotation that was able to quiet the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres.

Star-studded talent that was acquired via free agency like Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos accompany homegrown talent like Rhys Hoskins and Bryson Stott to put up five runs per game in the postseason.

Players to Watch

Bryce Harper: One of the most famous faces in baseball has endeavored deep into the postseason for the first time in a career laden with accolades. After hitting five home runs in the postseason’s first three rounds, the 30-year-old will be essential to his team’s shot at glory. In baseball, a star has to get hot in October, and that is exactly what Harper’s .419 batting average has shown. He needs to keep the momentum going against stiff pitching.

Kyle Schwarber: The leadoff hitter needs to set the tone for Philadelphia, something that Schwarber has the capability to do when he leads off the series in Friday night’s opening game. He has been the table-setter for Philadelphia this playoffs, scoring eight runs off of seven hits and eight walks. Schwarber also has the most postseason pedigree of anyone on the roster, and his leadership on and off the field will be essential.

The Bullpen: In a seven-game series that is likely to stretch into next week, Philadelphia can’t rely too heavily on Wheeler and Nola. At some point, they will be asked to use their bullpen. Names like Brad Hand and Andrew Bellatti ought to become household names, as they shore up the latter end of the games and the series. There can’t be any scenarios like the second game of the National League Championship Series against the Padres, where a streak of failures from the pen saw a 2-0 lead turn into an 8-5 loss.

Spencer’s Prediction

The Astros claim their second World Series title, defeating the Phillies in seven games.