2022 World Series: The underdog Phillies are covering their flaws with home runs during emphatic playoff run

PHILADELPHIA – That was an emphatic performance, eh?

In the first World Series game in Philadelphia since 2009, the Phillies wowed their home fans with a home run attack, hitting five homers off Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. and making him the first pitcher in World Series history to allow that many long balls in play. It started with Bryce Harper in the first inning, continued with Alec Bohm and Brandon Marsh in the second and then Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins jacked back-to-back in the fifth.

Along the way, an electric group of Phillies fans at Citizens Bank Park were having the time of their collective lives.

The final score was 7-0 and the Phillies are now on top of winning the World Series with a 2-1 lead.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of an opinion I offered in August several times in my weekly power rankings: The Phillies have the biggest prospect of any contender – so much so that it wouldn’t surprise me if they win the World Series or lose about 12 games in a row and miss the playoffs.

They lost 10 of 13 through mid-September and flirted with missing the postseason. And now they are just two games away from winning it all.

I also couldn’t help but remember how they signed two big bats that most people believed should be relegated to DH duty in March.

News broke that they had agreed to terms with Kyle Schwarber on March 16th. Surely he’ll make it, we thought. On March 19, it was Nick Castellanos. Well, maybe they’ll take turns. To be clear, first baseman Rhys Hoskins probably also profiles as a DH. I liked it by the way and mentioned it several times in the power rankings. If there are no solutions to make him a well-rounded club, just embrace the boom or bust in the lineup and take the two available sluggers. There’s no reason to run from who you are, and the Phillies have embraced it.

Meanwhile, early in the season, Bryce Harper was revealed to have a torn UCL, prompting the pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery. He can still hit, but he can’t throw. So he should DH. This meant the Phillies fielded a lineup with three DH types in the field.

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This is the wrong team. They score very poorly in most defensive metrics (with the notable exception of Gold Glove catcher JT Realmuto). They can go very cold at times (see their losing streaks that first got Joe Girardi fired and later threatened to knock them out of the playoffs). Obviously, the “crash” part in boom-or-bust means you have to take the bad with the good.

The good is only so good though. They rise in jets and it is a beauty to behold. We’ve seen it during the playoffs, when Schwarber, Harper, Realmuto and Hoskins all managed extra-base hits. Castellanos didn’t hit at all, but he actually made two big catches in the World Series — possibly saving Game 1 and then setting the tone for Jose Altuve’s leadoff hit in Game 3. A supporting cast like Bohm and Marsh and Bryson Stott fit right in. Jean Segura handles the bats.

“We’re all talking about the top of our lineup, right?” Harper said. “But also the bottom of our lineup, our rookies, and we call them our day care, right? They’ve been showing up for us all year. It was fun to watch. It’s another young boy and another young boy and another young boy. Marshi had a great day today. I thought Bryson took some really good swings, and then the top end of our lineup.”

Hoskins said it’s “contagious” how the lineup feeds off each other. “A funny thing, isn’t it?” he said. “We’ve been having a lot of fun lately. We are obviously where we are. I think seeing a lot of different guys get in on the action is what makes us proud.”

“I think all year we kind of knew what we had and we felt good about our team and knowing that everywhere you look on our roster we have really good players, some experience,” Bohm added. “So we have to be confident. I think the more you show that you belong in those situations, I think the confidence naturally grows.”

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This is such a fun group to watch as a viewer. It must be incredibly annoying to watch on the opposing side, of course when they are on one of their heaters.

“Any way you put runs on the board, it’s pressure,” Castellanos said, noting that their huge comeback in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series was done via small ball. “Traffic is pressure. Home runs are also pressure. They know that every single guy in our batting order can hit a home run at any time. It’s pressure.”

“I think the thing that’s more impressive to me than that is just the at-bats and how guys don’t try to go out there and just hit homers,” Bohm said. “We are strikers. The boys worked with bats. Guys take singles differently. And sometimes they make a mistake and we get them.

“But I think it’s just a collective group effort. And just having good shots and trying to move the line and pick up the next one and set them up for success. You look back and, well, Schwarber hits one from 450 feet, you know. Bryce is coming now. You know, the lineup is rich. So I think when we get momentum and guys build off each other, it just happens.”

As for those on the opposite side, the Phillies have been the Kingslayers this postseason. They were heavy underdogs in three of the four series and were slight underdogs against the Padres. They defeated the NL Central champion Cardinals before dispatching the NL East champion, 101-game winner and defending World Series champion Braves. Now they have the Astros on the ropes.

This is an Astros team that has won four of the last six AL pennants. Houston won 106 games in the regular season by an incredible margin of +219. That team also swept the AL side of the playoffs, beating the Mariners in three games before the 99-win Yankees in four. This is a deep team that was firing on all cylinders and was well rested. Before the streak began, it could be argued that the Astros didn’t have a weakness. At least not bright.

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Heading into the series, one of the storylines was the contrast in the two. It was the largest regular-season margin of victory between the two fighters (106 to 87) since 1906. It was David vs. Goliath. When the Astros took a 5-0 lead in Game 1, I actually thought, “Ugh.” I’m always rooting for seven games for dramatic purposes, and at this point I was worried it would be a breakout.

Instead, the Astros erased a five-run deficit to win Game 1, a true World Series rarity that hadn’t happened since 2002. And they just pummeled the Astros here in Game 3.

The flawed underdog stands toe-to-toe with the titan. In Philadelphia. Hmmmm. Sounds like Rocky Balboa, doesn’t it? The quintessential Philadelphia underdog story. He didn’t win the title until Rocky II, of course, but maybe, just maybe, these underdogs are here to get the job done on their first try.

The Phillies also know the battle is far from over.

“Those guys are a good team,” Hoskins said. “They’ve been labeled the best team in baseball for a number of years now for a reason. They’ve got good players and good arms, so we certainly have work to do, but we’re definitely going to enjoy it tonight and talk about what was right for us. We’re going to talk about what we could do better for tomorrow and we’re going to get it done tomorrow.”

They will chase it with a 2-1 series lead. They have embraced their vicious nature from the beginning. They have taken their lumps in the bust parts of the season. They have now boomed to an 11-3 postseason record. Two more wins before three more losses and they have rings.

They stay forever, flawed team or not.


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