A year that began with a protracted labor dispute ends with an intriguing World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros.
It’s probably not the matchup that commissioner Rob Manfred dreamed about when he went to bed every night this summer with visions of Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees taking on the Los Angeles Dodgers dancing in his head.
There is even a good chance that Manfred can present the championship trophy he once called “a piece of metal” to Astros owner Jim Crane, two years after allowing Astros players to skate because of the sign-stealing scandal that marred their 2017 title.
However, the World Series begins Friday at Minute Maid Park, with Cy Young Award favorite Justin Verlander facing off against Phillies star Aaron Nola.
Here are eight things to know about the 118th Fall Classic.
1. Who will win?
Barring a complete reversal of form, the Astros should win in five or six games. They have better pitching, hitting and defense, and they’re coming off the Yankees, a much better team than the Phillies.
The key for the Astros will be to avoid handing off to Bryce Harper in clutch situations. In the last two series, Harper has been picked off just once in 38 plate appearances. He is 16 for 36 (.444) with four home runs and 10 RBI, including the game-winning homer in Game 5 that sealed his National League Championship Series MVP honor.
Astros manager Dusty Baker was with the Washington Nationals in 2016 Cubs manager Joe Maddon had his pitchers get Harper out 13 times in a four-game series at Wrigley Field. The Nationals pitcher called it “scared” baseball. The Cubs won the series and Maddon didn’t care what anyone thought about the strategy.
The World Series is a different animal, but if the Astros can pitch around Harper in critical situations and risk getting hit by Nick Castellanos, the strategy makes sense.
2. Why should I watch?
Short answer: you don’t have to. But it’s the World Series, and you’ve been watching baseball for over six months. Even if your favorite team didn’t make it, you owe it to yourself to see this season through to the bitter end.
MLB also decided to start the World Series on a Friday to avoid competition with the Sunday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Buffalo Bills. Now you won’t have to choose between baseball and the NFL, at least until Monday night’s meh matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
3. What is ex-cab factor?
Decades ago, freelance writer Ron Berler created a theory known as “Ex Cub Factor” which declares that any World Series team with three or more former Cubs is destined to lose.
This has been debunked many times, including last year when the Atlanta Braves beat the Astros with former Cubs Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson and Jesse Chavez. Soler was even named MVP of the series.
But in case you were wondering, the Phillies have three former Cubs in Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber and David Robertson.
4. Is it safe to root for the Astros?
The Astros remain the most hated team in baseball after the cheating scandal, but are also one of the most respected after winning four AL pennants in six years.
If you can separate your distaste for the actions of the players who allegedly cheated — including Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman — from the way the current team is playing, you can root for the Astros. But sports also need villains, and it’s okay to root against them.
5. Will we get any glimpses of Philly the Fanatic?
The giant green fur ball will be on display for all games in the series in Philly, as stipulated by MLB’s contract with Fox Sports. Philly Fanatic remains the Babe Ruth of mascots, so no one minds the excess. Often imitated, never duplicated.
6. Has any team gone undefeated in the postseason since the playoffs expanded?
Winning the World Series is not uncommon, but only one team has gone undefeated in the postseason since 1969, when the Champions League Series was added. The only undefeated team was the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, who beat the Phillies 3-0 in the NLCS before sweeping the Yankees in the series. Chicago White Sox 2005 and the 1999 Yankees went 11-1. Entering the first game, the Astros are 7-0.
7. Could this match be a classic?
That doesn’t bode well unless you like to see a lot of strikeouts mixed in with a few strikes here and there. Phillies is batting .237 in the postseason with 94 strikeouts in 11 games. The Astros are hitting .227 with 61 strikeouts in seven games. Look for more of the same.
Perhaps the last true “classic” World Series was in 2016, when the Cubs beat Cleveland in seven games. But in “The Greatest Stage, World Series History,” author Tyler Kepner doesn’t rank the Cubs’ drought-ending victory among the top 10 of all time. The first place was the 1991 series in which the Minnesota Twins beat the Braves in seven games. The runner-up was the 1975 Series, in which the Reds beat the Boston Red Sox in seven games, considered by many to be the greatest World Series in history.
8. Are there untold stories about Dusty Baker?
Not really. You already know that he has the most wins of any manager without winning any titles, and at 73, he will be the oldest manager in the World Series. And that he was one of the inventors of high–five and once got high with Jimi Hendrix. You may have seen the 2002 World Series replay in which his youngest son, Darren, was nearly beaten at the plate while serving as the Giants’ batboy.
Baker is old enough to have played with Hank Aaron and been in the dugout long enough to manage stars from Barry Bonds to Sammy Sosa to Harper to Altuve. When Bruce Bochy, 67, was hired last week to manage the Texas Rangers, Baker said, “Another one for the old dudes.” That sentiment also applies to Baker if the Astros win the series.
Best of Seven Series; All games on fox 32
- Game 1: at Astros, 7 p.m. Friday
- Game 2: at Astros, 7 p.m. Saturday
- Game 3: at Phyllis, 7 p.m. Monday
- Game 4: at Phillies, 7 p.m. Tuesday
- Game 5*: at Phillies, 7 p.m. Wednesday
- Game 6*: at Astros, 7 p.m. Nov. 4
- Game 7*: at Astros, 7 p.m. Nov. 5
* – if necessary