The Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros will kick off the 2022 World Series on Friday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. The Phillies, aiming for their first World Series title since 2008, would have to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres to reach that point. The Astros, who last won the title in 2017, beat the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees.
On paper, the Astros would look like a great team. Not only did the Astros win 29 more games during the regular season, they also posted a much better record, with Houston outscoring their rivals by 219 points; Philadelphia, on the other hand, was only 62 points ahead of its rivals, or nearly a point per game short.
The beauty of postseason baseball is that macro analysis doesn’t necessarily matter. After all, the Phillies had already beaten the three teams that had the best regular season records. Sometimes these streaks are defined by underlying dynamics that give one team an unexpected edge. With that in mind, CBS Sports has identified three X Factors that could influence the outcome of this year’s World Series.
1. Four-seam tensile strength
During the regular season, the Astros threw the third-highest percentage of four-seam fastballs in major tournaments, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins. Conversely, the Phillies ranked fifth in wOBA (an overall score that weights base percentage more correctly than OPS) compared to the four-seam. (The Astros themselves took first place in this category.) Thus, in this series, it can be decided whose strength will be more dominant.
Note that not all four-seam fastballs are created equally. For example, the Astros as a staff tend to rely on “upward” action heaters thrown onto a flat plane—the combination creates a complex optical illusion that attackers must overcome. More than a handful of Houston’s expected pitching personnel had fastballs that averaged at least 18 inches of faux vertical gap during the regular season; The Phillies fared relatively well on this sort of field, finishing third in the wOBA.
While this may seem like a good sign for the Phillies, keep in mind that the New York Yankees are fifth and the Seattle Mariners are seventh in the wOBA against four-seam fastballs and at least 18 inches of IVB. Neither managed to win a game against the Astros in their playoff series.
2. Inner game
We’ve established that Phillies hitters and Astros pitchers will be a matter of strength versus strength. Guess what? The same goes for the battle between Phillies pitchers and Astros hitters. This time it all comes down to location.
The Phillies fielded the second-highest percentage of fields located on the inside half of the plate during the regular season, behind the Miami Marlins. José Alvarado, Bailey Falter, Ranger Suarez and Zach Wheeler topped the team average.
The Astros, in contrast, had the sixth highest wOBA on pitchers located in the inner half. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Jeremy Peña, and Jordan Alvarez – or, in fact, the best in the Houston squad – were especially good at serving inside.
As in the first section, we would like to caution against guessing which power will win. As good as the Astros were in this area of the zone, the Braves (first) and Cardinals (second) were even better on paper. The Padres, 21st, were on the other end of the spectrum, suggesting they were at a huge disadvantage in the NLCS.
3. Protective ability
If you’re a Phillies fan, you’re probably tired of hearing and reading about your club’s defense. However, the gap between the teams is large enough to be called a potential defining factor in this series.
The Astros had the second-best defense in the majors in the regular season, stopping 25 runs. according to Statcast. Center fielder Chas McCormick, shortstop Jeremy Peña, third baseman Alex Bregman, and right fielder Kyle Tucker all contributed at least four of those saved runs.
The Phillies, on the other hand, registered with the second-worst defense, costing them 29 runs. The worst offenders were corner-backs; Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm and Rhys Hoskins were responsible for five or more runs back, again according to Statcast estimates.
Defense is a wild card because a lot depends on the difficulty of the opportunity. In one respect, though, we feel confident writing that the Phillies defense will be more tested than it has been before, given how difficult it is for the Astros to hit. Only the Cleveland Guardians were relegated less frequently as a team during the regular season. As such, the Astros are likely to put more balls into play than any other team the Phillies faced this October. It goes without saying that only some of them need to be above average difficulty in order to affect the outcome of the game and the series.
One point for the Phillies: They beat the Cardinals and Padres, who are in the top 10 in strikeouts.