Not that you were ever worried about a sweep -- the Phillies are hot, but no one’s that hot -- but Houston’s 5-2 win in Game 2 on Saturday assured us that this series is going at least five … and it sure looks, at least to these eyes, to be potentially going a lot longer than that. (Particularly when a rainout pushes everything back a night and gives pitchers on both sides another day of rest.)
With the rain behind us, here's a look at the five biggest storylines heading into Tuesday night’s Game 3.
1. Can Philly contain the resurgent Jose Altuve?
Because the Astros had the AL West wrapped up so quickly early on, a lot of people missed just how fantastic of a year Altuve had in 2022. (His 160 OPS+ was tied for his career high, which came in his 2017 MVP campaign.) But the playoffs got off to the most miserable possible start 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 he was the spark plug in Game 1 that he has been for his entire Astros career.
Altuve's leadoff double led to a three-run first inning, and he ended up going 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 to being the Altuve he was all year, the Astros should be able to take advantage against a Phillies pitching staff that isn’t ideally lined up right now.
2. Did the rainout benefit the Phillies more than the Astros?
If not for the rainout, the Phillies were likely to run into a real innings pinch: Noah Syndergaard in Game 3 and Ranger Suárez in Game 4, two pitchers who have thrown a total of 11 1/3 innings in their three postseason starts so far. But now, thanks to the rainout, they get to split those two up: Suárez will pitch Game 3, Aaron Nola will be able to pitch Game 4 on full rest, and then Syndergaard or Kyle Gibson (with the bullpen presumably better rested after a Nola start) in Game 5.
Plus, this gives an extra day of rest for Zack Wheeler, who did actually look a little tired in Game 2. The Astros are essentially going with the same rotation they were before the rainout, and why not? They have a ton of great pitchers. The Phillies only have a few guys they can rely on, and the extra day of rest should do them a world of good. Expect Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson to be very aggressive with his bullpen in Game 3, and that could change the complexion of this series if the Phillies can pull out a win.
3. Is David Hensley going to get a chance?
The Astros have a DH problem. Trey Mancini and Aledmys Díaz, the two former All-Stars who have been the DH most of this postseason, have not produced: They’re a combined 1-for-34. Manager Dusty Baker tried to fix this issue by going back to Yordan Alvarez at DH in Game 2 with Díaz in left, but Alvarez’s defense has turned out to be just fine in left field, particularly with the modest outfield dimensions in left field in both Houston and Philadelphia; might as well put him out there.
It might be time for Baker to go with Hensley, who was initially in the lineup before Game 3 was postponed by rain. The infielder is a 26-year-old rookie who hit .345 in 16 regular-season games but has had only two plate appearances this postseason. The first one was a huge one: A full-count hit-by-pitch in the ninth inning of the ALDS Game 1 against Seattle, the game in which Alvarez hit his famous walk-off homer. Hensley has shown an ability to get on base, which is more than Mancini or Díaz have shown at all. The Astros need to lengthen their lineup a bit. Every World Series seems to have an unlikely hero; might it be Hensley?
4. When is the Bryce Harper moment going to happen?
Heading into this World Series, Harper looked like was about to have his LeBron James run-down block in the NBA Finals moment: A likely all-time Hall of Famer, at his absolute peak, dominating in a way we’d talk about for decades. It felt like every pitch you threw him was going to leave the park. Well, after a couple of singles in Game 1, Harper went 0-for-4 in Game 2, and he has scored only one run this Series and doesn’t have an extra-base hit yet. It’s obviously a very small sample size, but hey, that’s what the World Series is: A small sample size.
The hope heading into this Fall Classic was that Harper could carry this team, almost by himself, the way he was going. So far, the big Harper moment hasn’t happened, but all it will take is one big swing to get the Philly faithful going. Which brings us to …
5. How wild is that 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 them to an undefeated record at home this October. They had a whole rainout day off -- Halloween no less -- to gear up for this game. The crowds in Philadelphia have been all you could have hoped for and more, and they were just getting warmed up. It might behoove the Astros to strike early and try to take that crowd out of it. Because if these lunatics get going, it will be a three-hour maelstrom of noise and madness. Philadelphia fans have been waiting for this for a long, long time. Beware.