Five days ago, the Astros departed for Philadelphia after being stripped of home-field advantage. They’ve now regained it and then some.
The back-to-back American League champions will have two chances to win the World Series at home as they depart Philly one win away from a title. It’s vital that they do it on their first try, otherwise they risk letting one game decide the final outcome of the series.
The Astros have been here before. The 2019 Fall Classic looms in the background as they return home to Houston following triumph on the road. Granted, this is not the Astros team of three years ago and these Phillies are not the Nationals that beat an all-time great club four times at their place. But with that said, it cannot be overstated how crucial it is that the Astros not chance fate again.
Fortunately, things could not have lined up better for them heading into Game 6.
Aside from being up 3-2 in the series, the Astros have the ultra reliable and remarkably consistent Framber Valdez slated to take the hill. In Game 2, he tossed 6 1⁄3 innings of one-run ball, allowing four hits and three walks while striking out nine. The Astros’ record-setting southpaw was hit hard just five times during his outing, and only one of those batted-balls was lifted into the air. The punchouts and mediocre contact resulted in a .183 xBA for Valdez, stifling a potent offense that was averaging just over five runs per game in the postseason entering Game 2.
On the other side, Zack Wheeler will be starting his second game in Houston opposite Valdez. The first time around, the Astros lineup had little trouble getting to the Phillies co-ace, tagging him for five runs (four earned) in his five innings of work, registering as many walks as strikeouts (3).
As exceptional as Valdez has been, the Astros would seem to have an even greater advantage at the plate. Against Wheeler in Game 2, Houston hitters made hard contact on 11 of the 18 balls they put in play, and seldom swung and missed to boot. It added up to a .308 xBA, the second-highest mark Wheeler’s yielded in 2022.
And that was just the first time the Astros have faced him all year. Now they’ll get another look after having recently gauged his repertoire in-person merely a week ago.
Optimal circumstances seems to be a continuing theme for the Astros this postseason. They’ve largely leveraged them into wins, but they have one more to secure before the job is done.
Though the Phillies don’t have a well-rounded roster, they’ve nevertheless showcased resilience and ability befitting of a pennant winner. Finishing them off will be no easy feat.
The Astros have striven toward this ultimate goal for the last several years — especially the last few — and are just one win away from cementing their place in baseball history as one of the game’s dynasties.
They do have the luxury of technically not needing a victory in Game 6, but for all intents and purposes, it will be a must-win game. The Phillies are the ones that face elimination, but the Astros would do themselves a disservice if they didn’t approach Saturday night with the same sense of urgency — it’s just not everyday that you get to play for all the marbles.