5 storylines to watch in World Series Game 1

October 28th, 2022

The World Series is here! The World Series is here! It’s certainly unlikely that many predicted an Astros-Phillies World Series at the beginning of the season -- it’s unlikely anybody predicted it in early October, when the Phils were clinching their Wild Card spot at Minute Maid Park -- but that’s part of the fun of the Fall Classic: No one likes a matchup everyone can see coming.

These are two compelling teams, with their own backstories, plotlines and narratives. The stakes are high for both teams, but of course they are: It’s the World Series.

Here’s a look at the top five storylines heading into Friday’s Game 1.

1. Is this Harper’s coronation?

It feels like we’ve been talking about Bryce Harper our entire lives, doesn’t it? He was the brash kid who was going to Change The Game, then he was the phenom we were always comparing with Mike Trout, then he was the MVP who, in 2015, had one of the best seasons in decades. Then he took a step back to become just another really good player, then he signed a 13-year deal with the Phillies (and watched his old team win the World Series), then he won another MVP … then he spent most of this season injured. But he’ll never have a bigger highlight than his series-clinching homer in Game 5 of the NLCS, and it feels like Harper is in full-on Beast Mode right now, on the sort of heater that could nearly win a World Series by himself. This is an all-timer at his absolute best at the moment his team needs him the most, and the spotlight is firmly affixed upon him. The Bryce Harper story may have been building up to this moment all along.

2. Can Verlander finally have a World Series moment?

Justin Verlander has won just about every honor there is to win. Two Cy Youngs (and very likely to win his third), Rookie of the Year, MVP, ALCS MVP, nine All-Star appearances, with a spot likely reserved for him in the Hall of Fame. But you know what he hasn’t been great in? The World Series.

This will be Verlander’s fifth World Series -- two with Detroit, now three with Houston -- and he has been extremely un-Verlander-like: 0-6, with a 5.68 ERA in seven starts. In fact, the last World Series game Verlander pitched in was on Oct. 29, 2019, when he had a chance to clinch the series at home in Game 6 against the Nationals but gave up three runs in five innings, ultimately outdueled by Stephen Strasburg. Verlander will start Game 1 and is the sort of pitcher who we might see start another game and potentially show up in relief if the Astros need him. The only thing he has never done is have a terrific World Series. This would be the perfect time.

3. Can the Phillies ride two starting pitchers to a title?

The Phillies’ best path to winning this World Series -- other than Harper just hitting home runs every time he comes to the plate -- involves Game 1 starter Aaron Nola and (presumably) Game 2 starter Zack Wheeler winning each of their two starts. Whiz, bang, boom, super easy. This may say more about how concerned the Phillies are with their rotation outside of those two, but there’s no question the Phils are doing a little Spahn, Sain and pray for rain here.

The other issue here is that both of their first two games will be on the road, which means your best path to a title requires you to, uh, win the first two games in Houston. It starts with Nola, a Phillies lifer (Nola is 10th all-time in starts for Philadelphia, particularly impressive when you consider how long this franchise has been around) who got to pitch his first postseason game just three weeks ago and is now starting Game 1 of the World Series. He’s got a tough matchup with Verlander and this Astros lineup, but Nola is one of the few matchups for Verlander that feels like a fair fight.

4. Can Dusty finally get one?

Even if you are one of the people who aren’t cheering for the Astros -- either because you’re still sore about that whole sign-stealing scandal, or you just are downright sick of them -- it’s pretty difficult not to root for Dusty Baker. The 73-year-old manager is ninth on the all-time managerial wins list (with five teams), and every single person ahead of him on that chart both is in the Hall of Fame and has won a World Series.

You’d really like to see Baker end up reaching both of those achievements. (Though he did win a Series as a player, for the 1981 Dodgers.) For all the talk about how Dusty might clash with the “analytical” Astros, he’s been a perfect fit, reaching the ALCS all three years in charge and now the World Series for the second year in a row. He’ll never have a better chance to get that managerial ring than this year … 41 years after he got one as a player.

5. Are the Astros ever going to lose?

The Phillies are 9-2 this postseason and are the very definition of a team that has gotten hot at the right time. That 9-2 still pales in comparison to 7-0, which is what the Astros are. That’s right: The Astros still haven’t lost in the postseason. When you’re 7-0 and about to play the first game of the World Series, it’s tough to come up with a bigger storyline than “can Houston run the table?” The last team to go undefeated in the postseason was the 1976 Cincinnati Reds, and they only had to win seven games, and no one has done it in the Wild Card era (since 1995). But the Astros are four games away, and they just swept a team that won 12 more games than the Phillies in the regular season. Until the Astros actually lose a game, you have to ask the question: Can they do it?