This article is part of our MLB Picks series.
World Series Picks, Props, and Predictions
The American League and National League playoffs this October could hardly have been more different. In the AL, we saw just one upset in the wild-card round before the higher seed went on to win every remaining series. The highest seed of them all, the Astros, cruised to their fourth pennant in the last six years, not dropping a single game along the way. Over in the senior circuit, underdogs won all six series, with the Phillies reaching the World Series as the sixth seed in the first season of the new, expanded playoff format. Will they become the third NL East team in the last four years to defeat the Astros for the title after entering the postseason as an apparent afterthought, or will Houston finally get over the hump to win the only World Series in franchise history outside of their scandal-plagued 2017 victory? Below, I'll make the case for each team, noting how I'd bet them if I were interested in looking their way and also selecting my favorite series MVP candidate from both rosters.
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World Series Odds
Here are the odds for both teams to win outright as well as to win in a specific number of games, as found at DraftKings Sportsbook.
- Astros (-185)
- Phillies (+165)
- Astros in 4 (+850)
- Astros in 5 (+500)
- Astros in 6 (+340)
- Astros in 7 (+390)
- Phillies in 4 (+1800)
- Phillies in 5 (+750)
- Phillies in 6 (+700)
- Phillies in 7 (+700)
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Key Regular Season Stats
Playoff Stats Comparison
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The Case for the Phillies
The primary case for the Phillies is the same as it would be for any other underdog: favorites are consistently overpriced during the MLB playoffs, while underdogs are consistently underpriced. There's a reason the league plays 162 games to determine its playoff field. It simply isn't unusual at all for a great team to lose four times in a seven-game stretch, especially against another team that's at least good, if not in the same tier. We don't even have to make the case that the Phillies themselves are all that remarkable of a team to make them look like an appealing choice. The 2019 Nationals and 2021 Braves weren't anything special during the regular season, either.
That's not to say that the Phillies are unremarkable. Yes, they won 19 fewer games than the Astros over the course of the regular season, the largest gap since 1906 per MLB.com's Sarah Langs, and yes, that gap is reflected in Houston's noticeably better team stats, as noted above. But this isn't the same Phillies team that produced that regular-season record and those regular-season stats. For starters, they went 65-46 since Rob Thomson took over for Joe Girardi in early June, a 95-win pace. More importantly, $330 million man Bryce Harper played a mere 99 regular-season games due to injury and didn't look like himself late in the year after his return, but he's rebounded to hit an absurd .419/.444/.907 with five homers through 11 postseason games, including the shot off Robert Suarez in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the NLCS that sent the Phillies to their first World Series since 2009. (Girardi managed the series-winning Yankees that year, with Thomson serving as his third base coach.)
Power and just enough pitching have been the Phillies' formula throughout their Cinderella run. They lead all playoff teams in runs per game thanks in large part to their .442 slugging percentage, the highest mark in the league and 20 points higher than their regular-season performance despite the fact that they're now facing almost exclusively the best pitchers on the best teams. When you pair Harper in the form of his life with National League home run leader Kyle Schwarber and surround them with more hitters with plenty of pop like Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto, you have as good a chance as anyone to score with one swing of the bat. That becomes vital in the playoffs, when the quality of pitching makes it even harder than it already is to string singles together, though the Phillies have also done as good a job in that area as you can ask for this time of year. Philadelphia's .237 playoff batting average may not look impressive, but it beats every other team except the Blue Jays, who played just two games.
On the pitching side, the story begins with Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, and it nearly ends there as well. The two aces have handled 44 percent of the Phillies' innings this postseason, combining for a 2.32 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. They'll give Philadelphia a fighting chance against any opposing pitcher, even Justin Verlander. Impressively, however, the Phillies have somehow gone 4-0 in games started by other pitchers this postseason, though that hasn't necessarily been due to strong starting pitching on their part. Still, it proves the team can beat pitchers as good as Max Fried and Joe Musgrove without Wheeler and Nola on the mound. The Phillies' bullpen has just enough quality arms to see out the final innings of any game the team's capable offense gets the lead in, led by Seranthony Dominguez, who owns a 1.17 ERA, 0.39 WHIP and 15:0 K:BB in 7.2 frames this postseason. The late-season emergence of flamethrowing lefty Jose Alvarado and the return of David Robertson from his celebration-induced calf strain give Thomson two trustworthy enough options to turn to, though things drop off quickly after that, so the Phillies will have to be judicious in how they deploy their best relievers.
Best Phillies bet: Phillies +170 (Caesars)
This is easily my favorite World Series bet, and it's quite a straightforward one. The Phillies are clearly the underdogs here, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an objective observer who would take them at even money. These odds are too friendly to turn down, however. A +170 payout implies the Phillies have a 37 percent chance of winning, but that's simply not how postseason baseball works. Even in a series with a clear better team, the projection-based playoff odds over at FanGraphs give the underdogs a 46 percent chance. While taking projections as gospel is bad practice, we can't ignore a gap that large. It's going to be difficult for the Phillies to beat a juggernaut like the Astros, but it was difficult for the Braves to do so last season and for the Nationals to do so in 2019. In other words, it's far easier than the books make it seem, especially with the way the Phillies have been playing of late. It's not hard to envision them going 3-1 in games started by Wheeler and Nola while their big bats steal one of the other three contests.
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Phillies World Series MVP pick: Rhys Hoskins +1800 (DraftKings)
A bet on one of the Phillies' two aces may be appealing here, but given that pitchers have won just three of the last 18 World Series MVPs, I don't have much interest in either of them. Bryce Harper therefore seems like the logical choice, and I don't hate a bet on him at +650 given his incredible postseason thus far, but it's actually been quite a while since a team's biggest star hitter won this award, with David Ortiz being the most recent player to do so back in 2013. Perhaps you want to go with an even deeper sleeper in the vein of recent winners Steve Pearce and Jorge Soler, but it's Hoskins who I believe fits into the sweet spot. He's struggled to a .182 average throughout the playoffs, but he's also tied Bryce Harper for the postseason lead with five homers. The right-handed slugger should take advantage of the short left field in Houston as well as his hitter-friendly home park. If he leads his team in homers and sees a few more singles fall in, he has every shot at this award despite Harper's dominance.
The Case for the Astros
The case for Houston isn't hard to make. They're an elite team with no real weaknesses. As noted on the Key Stats table above, both their starters and their relievers were second in park-adjusted ERA during the regular season, and they've carried that success into the postseason. The Astros have sent 11 different pitchers to the mound in the playoffs, and the only one of them with a postseason ERA north of 2.50 is presumed AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, whose underlying numbers remain excellent. All four of Houston's projected starters finished the regular season with an ERA below 3.00, and the team has a deep bullpen led by closer Ryan Pressly and setup man Rafael Montero, who recorded a career-best 2.37 ERA. A lack of shutdown southpaws to bring in against Harper and Schwarber is a potential concern, but the Astros' bullpen led the league with a 2.76 ERA against lefties, so that's unlikely to be a major problem.
Houston's offense hasn't been quite as dominant as its pitching, but a sixth-place ranking in team wRC+ still firmly counts as a strength, not a weakness. Yordan Alvarez is the talisman, and he's about as good as it gets with the bat in his hands. His 185 wRC+ trailed only Aaron Judge during the regular season, but he had a better supporting cast than Judge did, with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker all posting a wRC+ of 129 or better. Toss in rookie shortstop Jeremy Pena, who leads the team with three homers and a .991 OPS thus far in the playoffs, and you get a deep lineup that will be tough to navigate even for Philadelphia's aces. The Astros make plenty of contact, striking out less than every team except the Guardians during the regular season, but they're more than capable of clearing the fence and have actually done so more often on a per-game basis than the Phillies have this postseason.
It all adds up to a pretty imposing picture for the Phillies. The Astros have the edge on the offensive side, though you could argue the Phillies deserve to be considered more or less equal their given their postseason performance. On the pitching side, the Astros have the best starter in the series in Verlander, and while you might give Nola and Wheeler the second and third spots in the rankings, the next three spots clearly go Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers in some order. That rotation depth should help the Astros greatly in Games 3 and 4, and their deeper bullpen should become an increasingly distinct advantage as the series drags on. It wouldn't even be a surprise if they take both home games to start the series, even against the Phillies' top two starters, as they'll have excellent starters of their own on the mound and a lineup that can score against anyone.
Best Astros bet: Astros -2.5 games, +300 (Caesars)
While a straight-up bet on the Phillies remains my preferred bet, that's primarily because of the fact that the oddsmakers overstate how likely it is for a favorite to win. Make no mistake: the Astros are clear favorites in this year's Fall Classic. We just have to find a way to bet them that offers a better profit than their -185 odds to win the series outright. To do that, I recommend getting greedy. You don't have to go quite as greedy as I suggested here — the Astros -1.5 games (i.e. to win the series in six or fewer games) at +120 looks fine to me as well — but the payout for this one is huge, and all you're relying on is for the Astros to continue doing what they've done all postseason. It's aggressive to bet on them winning in five or fewer games, but it's easy to outline the path for them to get there. All they have to do is split the first two games at home before beating up on the Phillies' lesser starters and shaky bullpen depth in Games 3 and 4, then take Game 5 when Verlander returns to the mound.
Astros World Series MVP pick: Alex Bregman +1200 (DraftKings)
I don't hate a bet on Justin Verlander (+950) if paired with a bet on the Astros to win in five or fewer games, as the narrative could be that the veteran shut down the Phillies twice to win Games 1 and 5 to cap off his historic Cy Young season if that happens. That sounds like an award-winning plotline to me. But, as noted above, pitchers just don't win this award very often, so I'm uncomfortable choosing any of them as my preferred option. Yordan Alvarez (+650) is the favorite among the Astros' bats and a worthy choice himself, but I like the idea of shooting for the better payout with Bregman. He has enough power (especially with his swing being geared to hit flyballs just far enough to reach the Crawford Boxes) to hit the key homer or two, something which could serve as the standout moment that catapults him to the award. The primary reason I'm drawn to him, however, is the incredible amount of contact he's made throughout the postseason. He's only struck out twice through seven playoff games and is hitting .333. If he crosses the .300 threshold again and hits a go-ahead homer, the award could be his.
World Series Picks
- Phillies To Win (+170, Caesars Sportsbook)
- Astros -2.5 Games (+300, Caesars Sportsbook)
World Series MVP Picks
- Alex Bregman (+1200, DraftKings Sportsbook)
- Rhys Hoskins (+1800, DraftKings Sportsbook)
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