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The key names to know in the 2022 World Series

The biggest event on baseball’s calendar–the World Series– will begin on Friday night, and while it’s no surprise the Houston Astros are representing the American League for the 4th time in the last six years, their opponent was not exactly supposed to be here. The Philadelphia Phillies had not qualified for the playoffs for a decade and was the final team to sneak into the NL bracket. They were underdogs against the Cardinals, Braves, and Padres but took all of them out en route to reaching the Fall Classic. And with the Astros still not exactly well-liked around the country, a vast majority of baseball fans are rooting for the Phillies to pull off another stunner. Now that the stage is set let’s dive into the important names you should know ahead of the series.

 

bryce harper

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper has been MLB’s prodigal son since debuting in 2012, and while he’s won Rookie of the Year, two MVP awards, and made seven all-star teams, one thing has eluded him to this point. A World Series championship. And this postseason, he’s looked like an absolute man on a mission. In 11 playoff games, Harper is slashing .419/.444/.907 with an insane 1.351 OPS. He’s blasted five homers–including the NLCS winning shot on Sunday that will go down as one of the biggest hits in Phillies history. Harper has spearheaded Philadelphia’s unlikely run to the World Series, and he’s determined to win four more games and capture his elusive first ring. 

 

justin verlander

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

At 39 years old, Justin Verlander is simply pitching as well as he has at any point in his career. The Astros’ ace made 28 starts in 2022 and delivered the best ERA (1.75), WHIP (0.83), and batting average against (.186) in baseball. He’s poised to win his third AL Cy Young award, but more important to him is securing his second World Series championship. Verlander’s first playoff start was shaky as Seattle plated six against him in four innings, but he bounced back nicely to dominate the Yankees for six innings in the ALCS. Houston will assuredly give him the ball in game one, and he’ll have a huge say in how this series shakes out. 

 

zack wheeler

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies’ answer to Verlander is right-hander Zack Wheeler, who will be under a lot of pressure to do for the Philly what Houston’s ace does for them. The two will not go head to head–unless Wheeler throws on short rest later in the series–but for the Phillies to win this series, they simply need Wheeler to deliver a pair of gems and win two games. In four postseason starts thus far, he’s been fantastic, allowing only five runs in 25.1 innings–good for a 1.78 ERA. The task only gets harder from here, but Philadelphia is confident Wheeler is up for the challenge. 

 

yordan alvarez

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The most dangerous hitter Wheeler–and the rest of the Phillies’ pitching staff, for that matter–will have to contend with is 25-year-old superstar Yordan Alvarez, who, in less than 400 career games, has already established himself as one of the premier offensive forces in the sport. The big left-handed slugger is coming off a season that watched him slash .306/.406/.613 with 37 homers, and he’s been a wrecking ball here in October. Alvarez homered in each of the Astros’ first two playoff games against Seattle–including a walk-off winner, and he’s been reaching base at close to a .400 clip in the playoffs. At the risk of oversimplifying things, if the Phillies cannot contain Alvarez, they won’t be able to win this series. 

 

rhys hoskins

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Rhys Hoskins has not exactly been swinging a consistent bat this postseason–but good grief, has the Phillies’ first baseman done some damage in the clutch. In 44 playoff at-bats, Hoskins has only eight hits (a.182 average), but five of the eight have left the ballpark. He homered four times in the final four games of Philadelphia’s NLCS win over the Padres, and his right-handed power ahead of Harper in the Phillies’ line-up obviously has the potential to dramatically flip a game with one swing. 

 

jeremy pena

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Shortstop Carlos Correa was a huge part of the Astros’ dominant core and a member of three AL pennant-winning Houston teams, so when he left to join the Twins as a free agent last winter, it was a big blow to this team on both sides of the ball. But not as big as it could’ve been, thanks to the emergence of young rookie Jeremy Pena. In the regular season, Pena hit .253 with 22 homers, 63 RBI, and 20 doubles, and he has not been overmatched by the postseason atmosphere whatsoever. In 33 playoff at-bats, the 25-year-old is slashing .303/,324/.667 with three homers and three doubles, and he’s a potential difference maker for this team towards the top of their lineup. 

 

framber valdez

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

While Verlander deservedly gets so much of the attention on this Astros’ starting staff, they are far from a one-man show. Lefty Framber Valdez could be the ace on most other teams in the big leagues, and the 28-year-old is coming off easily the best season of his young career. In 31 starts, Valdez went 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP while holding the opposition to a .223 batting average and eclipsing the 200-inning plateau for the first time in his career. So far in the postseason, he’s surrendered only two earned runs in 12.2 innings, and while the Phillies have to win the games Wheeler pitches, Valdez is lined up to be the one opposing him in games two and six, and will not be an easy customer for these Phillies hitters. P

 

hector neris

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to this season, all of the 405 appearances Hector Neris had logged in the Major Leagues had come in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform, and many of the outings were a bit uneven. Neris has a dominant splitter, but much of his Phillies tenure was up and down–particularly when he was given the opportunity to close. Both sides seemed comfortable with a divorce last winter, and coincidentally, now they will oppose each other on the sport’s biggest stage. In Houston, Neris has been an integral part of the Astros’ bullpen, and he plays a key role in getting the ball to closer Ryan Pressly. His former Phillies teammates obviously know him well, however, and it will be interesting to see how he fares against his old mates in big situations. 

 

nick castellanos

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a case to be made for both Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, but as far as I’m concerned, Nick Castellanos may be the most important Phillies player in this series. The veteran right-handed hitter did not have a good year in his first season in the City of Brotherly Love, but he can avenge all of that in the next week and a half. Castellanos hits behind Harper in Philadelphia’s line-up, and you simply have to believe the Astros will not let Harper be the one that beats them in crucial spots. And if they’re indeed going to be willing to pitch around the Phillies’ best player, it will be up to Castellanos to make them pay over and over again. Thus far in the playoffs, he’s struggled, hitting only .220 with no home runs in 41 at-bats, but a few clutch hits in this series could dramatically flip the script on a disappointing season and make him a beloved figure in Philly forever.

 

kyle schwarber

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Schwarber might be the most unlikely leadoff hitter in recent memory. Philadelphia’s left fielder is not fast, he hit only .218 in the regular season, and his .323 OBP was far from elite. But you know what Schwarber does as well as anyone in baseball? Crush tape measure bombs. The left-handed slugger led the National League with 46 long balls this season, and he added three more here in October. The Phillies are cognizant that they don’t match up with the Astros on a talent level, but they also know they have several guys that can flip a game with one big swing, and Schwarber is at the top of that list. 

 

jose altuve

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve has quite possibly been the most consistent player in baseball over the last decade. The face of Houston’s recent American League dominance has a career batting average of .307 in 12 big league seasons. He’s won an MVP award, been selected to eight all-star games, and is about to participate in his fourth World Series. Altuve is a lifetime .268 hitter in the playoffs with 23 homers and 86 games, but he has been largely invisible in Houston’s run to the pennant this season. In 32 postseason at-bats, Altuve has only three hits and no RBI, and the Astros will need him to turn it up quite a bit as they look to avoid an upset. 

 

kyle tucker

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros offense is loaded with big-name offensive players like Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman, but young outfielder Kyle Tucker has emerged as a dangerous slugger in his own right and should be talked about more on the national level. Tucker has blasted 60 home runs over the last two seasons, and his 107 RBI in ’22 ranked third in the American League behind only Aaron Judge and Jose Ramirez. Tucker is only 6-28 with one solo homer in the playoffs so far, but a big World Series would make him a much more well-known entity country wide. 

 

ranger suarez

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The urgency for the Phillies to win the games started by both Wheeler and Nola has been well documented, but southpaw Ranger Suarez could alleviate a lot of the pressure on Philly’s big two by coming up big in the 3rd spot. During the regular season, Suarez was inconsistent for most of the season, but his final numbers—a 3.65 ERA in 155.1 innings across 29 starts were plenty acceptable for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. What held Suarez back in 2022 was a high 3.36 BB./9 ratio that pushed his WHIP to a high 1.33. In the playoffs thus far, he’s allowed only two runs in nine innings and came in to secure the final two outs in the Phillies’ pennant-winning victory last Sunday. He’s slated to start game three and a potential game seven in the World Series, and like Castellanos, the chance to become immortal in one of the best sports cities in our country lies in front of him. 

 

zach eflin

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

While Suarez has become Philadelphia’s third starter, that job was supposed to belong to righty Zach Eflin, who has made 115 starts for the Phillies over the past seven years. The veteran was turning in a serviceable season in 2022 before a knee injury landed him on the IL in June, and when he came back nearly three months later, the Phillies chose to use him out of the bullpen instead of having him build his stamina back up as a starter in the minor leagues. And it’s a good thing they did because, with the struggles of some of Philadelphia’s late-inning relievers, Eflin has become a critical part of the bullpen. In seven relief outings in late September, he pitched to a 1.17 ERA. He’s been shaky in the playoffs, however, allowing four runs on nine hits and a walk in only 6.1 frames, and that just won’t be good enough in this series. 

 

trey mancini

Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

While a lot of baseball fans around the country are undoubtedly rooting against the Astros due to the cheating scandal from a few years back that they’ll never live down, you simply won’t find a single fan who would be upset if veteran Trey Mancini earned himself a ring. Mancini has long been one of the good guys in this sport and will always be a folk hero in Baltimore. After missing all of the 2020 season while undergoing cancer treatments, Mancini returned to the Orioles a year ago and won the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. He’s been productive again in ’22, and the Astros were thrilled to add his veteran bat at the deadline. Mancini may not be the all-star caliber hitter he was a few years ago, but he’s a dangerous right-handed role hitter on this Houston team, and from a human standpoint, it would be pretty cool to see him come through with a couple of big moments in this series. 

Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears


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