Starting Friday night, the Houston Astros will host the Philadelphia Phillies for a three-game interleague series. That's notable because each team is an aspiring contender in 2023, and it's even more notable because it's a rematch of last year's World Series.
In that World Series, the 106-win Astros affirmed their juggernaut status by besting Philadelphia in six games. The Phillies, meantime, failed to achieve their desired capstone to a season that saw them barge back from eight games under .500 following a managerial change, claim a wild-card berth, and pull off upset after upset in the playoffs before running into Dusty Baker's squad.
As for the rematch before us, let's set the scene for this Fall Classic redo in Minute Maid Park with some things to know. Let us commence identifying things and knowing them.
Both teams started off slowly this season but have been faring better
The champion Astros were 3-6 through the first nine games of the season and as recently as April 16 were 7-9 following a 9-1 blowout loss to the division-rival Rangers. Then Houston flipped the switch. Not only have the Astros gone 7-2 since that loss to their in-state rivals, but they've gone 7-2 against the mighty likes of the Blue Jays, Braves, and Rays. All three were playoff teams in 2022, and all three have legit designs on the World Series this season. At this writing, the Astros stand at a more customary 14-11 and boast a run differential of plus-28 (good for third-best in the AL at the moment). In related matters, the SportsLine Projection System presently tabs Houston for 98 wins this season and gives them a 91.9% chance of making the postseason. (Projected records and playoff odds for all 30 teams are available on our standings page.) The Astros have found that level despite playing what's been the fifth-toughest schedule in MLB.
On the Philly side of things, Rob Thomson's club started off 1-5 this season, and a 13-0 thumping at the hands of the lowly Reds dropped them to a season-worst five games under .500 on April 15. Around the same time the Astros leveled up, however, the Phils did the same. Since that nadir, the Phillies have gone 8-3, and Thursday's 1-0 win over the Mariners pulled them to .500 (13-13) for the first time in 2023. On the downside, the Phillies are still lugging around a negative run differential (minus-10), and they've been outscored by their opponents despite ranking 28th in strength of schedule. Still, SportsLine right now gives the Phils a workable 50.2% chance of nabbing a playoff berth.
Both teams have injury concerns in the lineup
The Astros aren't at their healthiest right now. They've been without two of their fulcrums, second baseman Jose Altuve (thumb) and outfielder Michael Brantley (shoulder) all season, and slugger Yordan Álvarez, who finished third in the AL MVP balloting last season, isn't in the lineup for the series opener because of a neck strain. At this writing, Alvarez isn't on the injured list, but he missed the entire series against the Rays. Mauricio Dubón has filled in quite ably for Altuve at the keystone (and carries a 20-game hit streak into this series), but Houston could really use Álvarez's power from the left side, particularly with right-handers Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler lined up to start the first two games of the series for Philly. Thus far in 2023, Álvarez is slashing .253/.367/.533 with six home runs in 20 games.
Across the way, the Phillies are of course still without Bryce Harper, and injuries to Rhys Hoskins and then Darick Hall have left a breach at first base. To cover, the Phils have shifted Alec Bohm across the diamond, and Edmundo Sosa has seen primary duty at the hot corner for some time. As for Harper, given that he underwent Tommy John surgery in late November, but it won't be in time for this particular revenge fantasy.
The front of the Philly rotation has been a surprising weak spot
Barring the unexpected, here's how the pitching match-ups should go in this series:
- Friday: RHP Aaron Nola vs. LHP Framber Valdez (first pitch 8:10 p.m. ET)
- Saturday: RHP Zack Wheeler vs. RHP Cristian Javier (first pitch 5:10 p.m. ET)
- Sunday: LHP Bailey Falter vs. RHP Jose Urquidy (first pitch 7:10 p.m. ET)
Normally, you'd call the first two games of the set a veritable clash of mound titans, but Philly's tandem aces, Nola and Wheeler, have been anything but thus far in 2023. At the moment, the Phillies rank a disappointing 17th in MLB with a rotation ERA of 4.73, and quite surprisingly Nola and Wheeler are in large measure to blame for it. During last season's charge to the pennant, Nola and Wheeler taken together had an ERA of 3.07 and a K/BB ratio of 6.32 in 358 regular-season innings.
This season, however, Nola and Wheeler have teamed up for an ERA of 5.40 with a K/BB ratio of 2.95 through a combined 10 starts. Absent some underlying injury, each figures to eventually find his way to more customary results at some point (Wheeler in particular has been unlucky on balls in play so far in 2023). However, the above-average-and-trending-upward Houston offense may not be too cooperative on that front.
Houston needs Jose Abreu to start hitting
Speaking of the Houston offense, José Abreu, the team's most notable free-agent addition this past offseason, has been struggling in 2023. The 36-year-old former White Sock enters this series with a slash line of .240/.275/.279, and after 25 games he's still hunting for his first home run as an Astro. There was always some risk, given that Abreu is an aging first baseman, and his 2022 success was a bit of a departure for him in that it was driven by batting average as opposed to raw power. Even if decline has taken hold, he's better than what he's shown so far, but Abreu's quality-of-contact metrics thus far in 2023 paint a similarly troubling picture. Suffice it to say, the situation bears monitoring.
The Phillies lead the all-time series vs. Houston
Obviously, the Astros last year prevailed when it mattered most, but overall the Phillies have the edge. They've met more times than you might think, since it's easy for some to forget that the Astros played in the NL from their first season in 1962 until they made the jump to the AL prior to the 2013 season. Overall in regular-season play, the Phillies have gone 294-281 (.511) against the Astros. In the postseason -- last year's World Series plus the white-knuckled 1980 NLCS, which the Phillies won -- the Astros hold a 6-5 edge.