In a way the matchup of the Phillies and Astros gives a firm answer to the age old question, “Is the post-season a crapshoot or does the cream rise to the top?” The answer, it seems is, “Yes.”
Start with the American League, where the Houston Astros — no matter how you feel about them — were the best team both on paper and on the field. If you want aces, take your pick of Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, if you like rotation depth consider that Christian Javier, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy all vied for spots but could have made 30+ starts for most teams.
Focus too heavily on Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, and Alex Bregman, and you’ll be terrorized by Kyle Tucker, Jeremy Peña, or Yuli Gurriel. The bullpen is deep from the 100 MPH stylings of Bryan Abreu to the wipeout slider of closer Ryan Pressly. There’s a reason Houston won 106 games and until last night hadn’t lost a game since October 4th.
In contrast, the only reason the Phillies were even invited to the dance is that for the first time in MLB history room was created for “not the best of the rest, and not even next best, but the one after that too”.
As the 3rd wild card, the Phils took an 87 win team to the post-season, 14 games worse than the Atlanta Braves who were WC1. No doubt there’s some talent on the Phillies, from star-power in Bryce Harper to “among the best at his position” in J.T. Realmuto, to accomplished starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. They also have some holes, such as settling for Brandon Marsh in CF, hanging with Bryson Stott’s learning year as a 25 year old rookie, getting a tepid 1.5 WAR performance from 3Bman Alec Bohm, and so on.
As the cream of the AL crop, the Astros enjoyed a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and have ridden it to the World Series. The league’s #1 seed advancing to the tournament’s final round. It’s not a crapshoot, it’s the best teams outclassing their weaker competition.
As the last entry only allowed in because the standards have been lowered yet again, the Phillies took to the road seeking a series of upsets. Lo and behold (mind you not just lo, not just behold, but both), it pays to get hot at the right time.
Up against an Atlanta Braves team that won 101 games? Easy peasy. Down 4-0 in the 1st to the Padres? That’s a win. Down a run in the 8th? That’s another win. Up against Verlander, down 5-0 after 3 innings, in the World Series? Let’s take a 1-0 series lead on the road. Talk about “just getting in” being the key to securing a trophy.
How it will finish is still anybody’s guess. The Astros are better, the Phillies are on fire, the Phillies have a 1-0 lead and the Astros win 4 of their 6 games all the time. But if you’re wondering how valuable it is to build the best roster in the game, or how essential it is just to be good enough to earn a berth somewhere, this World Series matchup has the answer.
There is a “Framber Alert!” for 5:03pm PDT against one of the best “Wheeler and Dealers” around. Game 1 was “one for the ages” — let’s see what game 2 brings...