For their first 50 years, the Houston Astros were one of baseball's great underachievers. Since being formed in 1962, they rarely made the playoffs. And when they finally did reach the 2005 World Series—Major League Baseball's (MLB) championship series—they were swept aside easily in four games by the Chicago White Sox.
Then around 2015, everything changed. After carefully rebuilding their team over many years, Houston became a dominant team. They went from appearing in just one World Series in 50 years, to being in four of the last six.
Despite challenges, Houston has yet to lose a single game this postseason. That's right, they are undefeated in 2022 playoffs. And now they are back and hungry for another World Series crown. Their competition?
The Philadelphia Phillies, who were the last team in baseball to qualify for the playoffs. Easy pickings for the mighty Astros, right?
On paper, yes. But that is why they play the games! Let's look and why Houston has been so great ... and Philadelphia is not a squad to be taken lightly.
What makes Houston the team to beat? They basically have no weaknesses.
Their four starting pitchers—especially Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez—are exceptionally good. They have an array of players who have a deadly combination of great fielding, smooth hitting, and loads of experience. Players like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel have been to all of Houston's recent World Series and it shows in how they never panic and rarely make mistakes (even if a game goes 18 innings, as one did against Seattle). Newcomers Jeremy Pena and Yordan Alvarez are playing with the same confidence.
If one player goes cold for a game or two, the Astros have six or seven ready to pick up the slack and deliver. Some teams have superstars that carry them. Others just are well balanced. Houston has both elements.
Of course, despite making all of those recent World Series, Houston has won only one of them: in 2017. In the others, they've fallen short. And in two cases, they were beaten by a team (the Washington Nationals in 2019 and the Atlanta Braves in 2021) that were just okay all year, but that then turned it on in the playoffs.
Now, in 2022, they face another team just like that in the Philadelphia Phillies.
Philadelphia is not as deep a team as Houston. But they have two things in their favour.
First, their best players are really, really good. Their two best pitchers, Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler, can go toe-to-toe with Verlander and Valdez. They have a trio of sluggers, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and Kyle Schwarber, who are always just one swing away from changing a game. And there's Bryce Harper, the hottest hitter in all of baseball this month. The former MVP is a menacing hitter who tests even the best pitchers with his patience, timing, and strength.
Second, they are feeling it. Big time. Pretty much everyone on Philadelphia is playing at their peak.
Who have you got?
Almost any matchup has a favourite and an underdog. If you look at the entire season, this is one of the most lopsided World Series matchups, well, ever!
But in a playoff series, what came before doesn't always matter. It's all about how you're playing right now. And right now, these really are the two best teams in baseball.
To learn more about some of the stars—and which team has the advantage at each position—watch the video from MLB below!