Not that you’ve ever been worried about a sweep – the Phillies are hot, but no one is this hot – but Saturday’s Game 2 action ensured that this World Series will last at least five years… and it certainly looks, to these eyes, that it will potentially last much longer than that. The Astros’ 5-2 win in Game 2 sends the series tied in Philadelphia, with a whole host of questions still unanswered.
Here’s a look at the five biggest storylines in Monday Night’s Game 3:
1) Can Philadelphia contain the resurgence of Jose Altuve?
Because the Astros wrapped up the AL West so quickly early on, many people missed just how fantastic Altuve’s year was in 2022. (His 160 OPS+ tied for his career high, which took place during the 2017 MVP campaign.) But the playoffs got off to the most miserable start possible for him: Until an ALCS Game 2 double in the fifth inning, he was 0 for 25 for the playoffs. Since that double though, he’s 6 for 15 and has been the spark plug for the first game he’s been in his entire Astros career.
Altuve’s first brace led to a first-inning three-run, and he ended up making it 3-for-4. The Astros have some issues at the bottom of their order, and Altuve’s early struggles compounded those issues. But if he’s back, being the Altuve he’s been all year, the Astros should be able to take advantage of a Phillies pitching staff that isn’t ideally aligned right now.
2) How much can Noah Syndergaard give to the Phillies?
There was some debate that maybe the Phillies should consider an opening strategy in Game 3, trying to get the Astros big bats out early before letting Syndergaard attack the bottom of the order for a few sleeves. That wasn’t the way manager Rob Thomson went about it, instead planning to send Syndergaard out to start his first World Series game since Game 3 of the 2015 World Series, when he picked up a victory for the Put on the Royals. This game has another key parallel to this one as it will feature a passionate fan base attending its first World Series home game in a long time. (See #5.)
Syndergaard is obviously a very different pitcher now than he was then, as he’s now more of a contact lead/slider guy as opposed to the overwhelming force he was before the Tommy John operation that left him forced to miss almost all of the 2020 and ’21 seasons. This will be his fourth playoff appearance and second start; he went three innings in the deciding NLDS Game 4 against Atlanta, giving up only one run. It really would be the perfect scenario for Syndergaard and the Phillies in this game: three innings, one run, then put it back in the bullpen. Thomson wouldn’t dare push it any further than that, would he? Can Syndergaard even go that far?
3) Will David Hensley have a chance?
The Astros have a DH problem. Trey Mancini and Aledmys Diaz, the two former All-Stars who have been DHs most of these playoffs, haven’t produced: They’re combined 1 for 34. Manager Dusty Baker tried to fix that by returning to Yordan Alvarez at DH in Game 2 with Diaz at left, but Alvarez’s defense has proven very good in left field, especially with Houston’s modest left field outfield dimensions. and Philadelphia; might as well put it there.
Maybe it’s time for Baker to pull the trigger on David Hensley? The infielder is a 26-year-old rookie who averaged .345 in 16 regular-season games but made just two plate appearances in the playoffs. The first was huge: a full hit-per-pitch count in the ninth inning of ALDS Game 1 against Seattle, the game in which Alvarez hit his famous home run. Hensley has shown an ability to get down to the basics, which is more than Mancini or Diaz have shown at all. The Astros need to stretch their roster a bit. Every World Series seems to have an unlikely hero; could it be Hensley?
4) When is the Bryce Harper moment going to happen?
Heading into this series, Harper looked set to have his run-down block of LeBron James by the time of the NBA Finals: an all-time Hall of Famer, at his absolute peak, towering over a way we would talk for decades. It felt like every throw you threw at him was going to leave the park. Well, after a few singles in Game 1, Harper went 0 for 4 in Game 2, and he’s only scored one run this series and has no extra hits yet. That’s obviously a very small sample size, but hey, that’s what the World Series is: a small sample size.
The hope in this series was that Harper could carry this team, almost by himself, as he did. So far, the big Harper moment hasn’t happened, but all it will take is one big swing to get the Philadelphia faithful going. Which brings us to…
5) How wild is this crowd going to be?
It’s the first World Series game in Philadelphia since 2009. It’s a Citizens Bank Park crowd that has carried this team through the playoffs. It’s Halloween. The crowds in Philadelphia were everything you could hope for and more, and they were just starting to heat up. It might behoove the Astros to strike early and try to wipe out that crowd. Because if these lunatics get into it, it’ll be a three-hour maelstrom of noise and madness. Philadelphia fans have been waiting for it for a very long time. You must beware.
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