If someone told you on June 1 that the Phillies would be playing November baseball this year…well, we all know what the reaction would be. But, here we are. Red November has arrived, and the Phillies will host the Astros for Games 3, 4, and 5 of the 2022 World Series. In Houston, the Phils stole Game 1 after trailing 5-0 early in the game, winning 6-5 in 10 innings. In Game 2, though, the Fightins couldn’t seem to muster anything off of Astros lefty, Framber Valdez, dropping the game by a final score of 5-2. Now, the series moves to a “so-called hostile environment” (right, Brian Snitker?) in Philadelphia where the Phillies will have the opportunity to clinch the world championship in front of their home fans. After a decade-long playoff drought and a surprising run in the postseason, we are just three wins away from partying on Broad Street.
Tonight, the Phillies will send Ranger Suarez (10-7, 3.65 ERA) to the hill opposite Astros right-hander, Lance McCullers Jr. (4-2, 2.27 ERA). The Phils initial plan was to start Noah Syndergaard as an opener for Game 3 with Suarez pitching Game 4, but the forecast had other plans. Game 3 was postponed to tonight, moving each World Series game back a day. It has yet to be seen whether the rotation shuffling will benefit the Phillies, but on the periphery, delaying the start of the fourth starter is more likely to help the team than not. Rob Thomson announced yesterday that after Suarez, Aaron Nola will follow in Game 4 and either Syndergaard or Kyle Gibson will get the first few innings of Game 5.
In his first postseason, Suarez has been outstanding. The 27-year-old lefty has appeared in four games while making two starts against the Braves and Padres. In 9.2 innings, he has struck out nine while holding opponents to a measly .167 batting average against. He was on the mound during the final out of the NLCS and appeared in Game 1 of the World Series, striking out Yordan Alvarez in one of two crucial outs. Similarly, McCullers has pitched well in his two starts this postseason, striking out 13 batters in 11 innings. While Suarez relies on location and changing speeds, McCullers is dependent on an electric curveball. The righty’s pitch ranks in the 97th percentile among major league pitchers in spin rate––generating sharp, late break making it difficult for hitters to lay off. He mixes his pitches well, too, throwing the curveball and slider each 25% of the time, while mixing in a sinker and changeup. It should be an excellent pitching matchup in the all-important Game 3.
With Suarez and Nola pitching Games 3 and 4, it is imperative the Phils take one of these games. Manager Rob Thomson has not been hesitant in his bullpen usage, managing to win early in the series with little regard for later games. It has worked thus far, with the Phillies defeating the Braves in the Division Series in four games and ousting the Padres handedly in just five games. It can be expected Thomson will continue his aggressive management style––it is what got them here, anyways. But, with the uncertainty of how Syndergaard or Gibson will pitch in Game 5, it becomes even more important that the team takes some pressure off whoever gets the nod on Thursday night. As a result, don’t be surprised if we see a heavy dose of Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarado, and Zach Eflin over the next couple of nights.
If there is any clear disadvantage the Phillies have in this year’s Fall Classic, it’s the pitching staff. Though the club’s pitchers have thrown the ball well this October, the Astros are simply deeper and more talented. During the regular season, Astros pitchers combined for a 2.90 ERA with a 3.33 K/BB, ranking second and fourth in baseball, respectively. In those categories, the Phillies rank eighteenth and twelfth. It won’t be an easy task for a team built on mashing their way through games, but the Phillies weren’t supposed to be here. They’ve proven the obvious: in October, it isn’t about who’s the most talented. It’s about who’s the hottest and most confident. A team playing like they have nothing to lose, the Phils certainly fit that bill.
Tonight’s contest, like each World Series game, will begin at 8:03 EST with Joe Davis and John Smoltz on the call. With the Phillies surprising and dominating this postseason, it sure feels like this club is a team of destiny. They were the last team to clinch a spot in October. The Phils’ clubhouse, with a little help from “Dancing On My Own,” has gotten the city to fall in love with baseball again. Other than the Wild Card Series, each Phillies postseason matchup had them winning Game 1, dropping Game 2, then sweeping at home. Previous World Series Game 3’s in Philadelphia have also experienced a weather delay. The economy is nearing a recession, like it did when the Philadelphia Athletics won the championship in 1929 and when the Phillies won in 1980 and 2008. Maybe it’s just a coincidence––but maybe it really is happening. By the end of the weekend, we’ll find out if Red October will continue in November, and if Bryce Harper prophesied a party on Broad Street.
Photo: Miles Kennedy/Phillies Team Photographer