The Houston Astros still have time, although time is running out.
Even after a demoralizing 7-0 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 3 of the World Series, the Astros are good enough to bounce back and good enough to win the series. They just need someone on their side to answer the likes of Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and Ranger Suarez for the Phillies.
Winning the World Series won’t come down to roster building, analytics, trends or regular season records. If that were the case, the Phillies wouldn’t be up 2-1 right now because they are lacking in all of those areas compared to Houston. Instead, it comes down to someone going through an unfairly short amount of time. It comes down to the clichés.
Someone has to step in and play hero.
It starts with 25-year-old right-hander Christian Javier, the starter for Houston in Game 4 on Wednesday. He finished the regular season with a 2.54 ERA, the 13th-best mark in MLB among those who have pitched at least 100 innings, and he has a 2.70 ERA in 26 career postseason appearances, most recently in Game 3 of the American Championship Series league against the New York Yankees. In that game at Yankee Stadium, Javier came up big with 5 1/3 innings of one-hit shutout to relieve Gerrit Cole for a 5-0 win that more or less put New York out of the game.
Javier’s last playoff appearance will be 11 days ago, an inactivity that sometimes leads to rust, but the Astros don’t have the luxury right now for more corrosion. In three World Series games so far, their starting pitching has allowed 13 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings. It wasn’t all bad — most of those runs belonged to Lance McCullers Jr. and Justin Verlander. If Javier emulates lefty Framber Valdez from Game 2, he’ll be ready.
Javier isn’t the only one who needs to step up. Someone has to hit the ball, preferably over the fence.
The collective hitting numbers for both World Series teams look strikingly similar, excluding long balls. Philadelphia is hitting .218 with five doubles and 11 RBIs in 101 at-bats. Houston’s numbers are identical, with one less base on balls. The Astros also don’t have three home runs. The Phillies hit a record five of them in Game 3, getting one homer each from Harper, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins.
This is where Jordan Alvarez usually steps in. He was held back in the postseason (.200/.333/.425) and is just 1-for-11 with two walks and four hits in the World Series. The Phillies needed Harper and/or Schwarber to step up in Game 3, and that’s what happened. The Astros likely need Alvarez and leadoff hitter Jose Altuve, who is hitting .156 in 45 playoff at-bats, to step up again like he did in Game 2. Where did Houston’s heroes go?
Game 3 was one-sided, while Games 1 and 2 were competitive. And Houston nearly won both at Minute Maid Park. The Astro family would undoubtedly like to do so. To have a chance to return home with the season at stake, they will need to win at least one game at Citizens Bank Park. The prospect sounds scary—and unlikely, given how furious the environment can be. They were 3-0 on the road in the postseason, so it’s not like they’re not used to overcoming hostile environments. However, the road signs were ominous. Houston is hitting just .191/.267/.272 on the road in the playoffs.
Philadelphia has many heroes, not just Harper. Nick Castellanos joked after Game 3, or half-joked, that “someone different” shows up every night, even if it appears to be just Harper.
The Phillies are not a one-man band. They made tough plays to get out, notably a sliding catch by Castellanos in right field that looked a lot like the ninth-inning grab he made against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series to help preserve a victory in match 1.
Unlike other acquisitions made by Phillies president Dave Dombrowski and general manager Sam Fuld, Castellanos was a huge disappointment, mostly because he managed just 13 home runs and couldn’t even hit .390. His defense was supposed to be bad and it was – until the playoffs anyway. But he’s making the plays now.
There’s a lesson the Astros should learn from Castellanos that was carried by teammates for six months of the regular season: It’s never too late for someone else to step up. This is the World Cup when you need someone strong, fast and larger than life to show up – or else you lose.