In many ways, the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies are back to square one after two games of this World Series.
That applies at the most basic level; the series is tied 1-1 as it shifts to Philadelphia for the next three contests. It’s reflected in the series odds as well: According to the FiveThirtyEight forecast model, Houston has a 65 percent chance to win, with Philadelphia sitting at 35 percent. (Going into the series, the numbers were almost exactly the same: Astros 67 percent, Phillies 33 percent.) A stunning comeback, a 10th-inning home run, fireworks from one of the game’s deepest lineups … all of it has led us right back to where we started.
Games 1 and 2 did, however, offer glimpses into competing visions of success for the Phillies and Astros, underscoring the paths each team might take to the championship.
For Philadelphia, Game 1 contained much of its postseason winning formula. The Phillies didn’t panic after falling behind 5-0 in the third inning, using their explosive offense to strike back against Houston starter Justin Verlander and tie the game in the fifth. The team’s twin punching bags from earlier in the season then kept Philly in the ballgame: Its bullpen threw 5⅔ scoreless innings — with Seranthony Domínguez and David Robertson bearing down in especially tense moments — and its defense was just good enough, as typified by Nick Castellanos’s sliding, game-saving catch in right field to extend the game to extra innings.
The exclamation point was delivered courtesy of a homer in the top of the 10th by J.T. Realmuto, who is finally getting his due as MLB’s best catcher despite often being overlooked next to Philadelphia’s other stars. Realmuto’s blast added to the team’s postseason-high 1.7 batting win probability added,1 and it helped secure the Phillies’ playoff-leading third win after trailing by multiple runs (their 22nd such win of the season overall). It capped off yet another showcase for what this Philadelphia team can do whenever the opponent leaves even a sliver of an opening.
By the same token, Houston’s Game 2 victory epitomized how the Astros have handled their business all postseason long. They got to Philadelphia starter Zack Wheeler early with a trio of first-inning runs and cooled down the Phillies’ hot bats on the strength of an excellent start by Framber Valdez. Along the way, Houston’s runs were driven in by key hitters (Alex Bregman, Yordan Álvarez, Jeremy Peña), and that group didn’t even include the ninth three-hit performance of José Altuve’s postseason career.2
There would be no squandered 5-0 lead for Houston this time around, either (though it was close). Instead, it was the kind of commanding performance that we’ve often seen from the Astros this season, particularly as they were running up a perfect postseason record before dropping Game 1. Relatedly, it followed the ideal blueprint for the team with the better resume and superior roster to follow as it looks ahead to the rest of the World Series. Houston has a much higher OPS in the series so far (.765 versus .629), and it has built five-run leads in back-to-back games. If the Astros simply maintain the status quo, they’ll feel pretty comfortable with their chances from here on out.
Still, there are probably at least a few more twists and turns left in this Fall Classic. Yes, our model gives the Astros a win probability between 54 and 57 percent in each of the next three games, in spite of all three being played on the road. But while the model uses a standard home-field adjustment, it doesn’t know just how dominant the Phillies have been at home (5-0 with a plus-20 run differential) this postseason, for whatever that is worth.3 If Philadelphia is going to steal a few more games from Houston, their best chance starts right now.
And we don’t quite know what to make of Philly’s pitching in this World Series. Its two lead starters — Wheeler and Aaron Nola — have been terrible (8.68 ERA, 1.82 WHIP) thus far, much worse than their Houston counterparts (4.76 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) despite being billed as among the team’s most vital weapons going into the series. At the same time, the Philadelphia bullpen (0.00 ERA, 0.81 WHIP) has outpaced Houston’s (1.17 ERA, 1.17 WHIP), which proved crucial to the Phillies’ victory in Game 1 and even gave them a chance at the comeback in Game 2. Whether each trend holds up is sure to shape the rest of the series.
Noah Syndergaard and Ranger Suárez, the Phillies’ starters in Games 3 and 4, are unlikely to deliver the types of performances the team was expecting from Wheeler and Nola. But if they keep things close enough — and Philly’s lineup puts big numbers on the board at Citizens Bank Park, where the team is averaging 7.0 runs per game this postseason — it would go a long way toward helping Philadelphia follow its prescribed championship path. But if not, and Houston continues going about its business as planned, the Phillies’ magical run could end at the hands of an Astros team that stifles such hocus-pocus — at least, most of the time.
Check out our latest MLB predictions.