For the second time in the 2022 World Series, the Houston Astros barged to a 5-0 lead over the Philadelphia Phillies. In contrast with the taut and stunning Game 1, however, the Astros in Saturday night’s Game 2 were able to preserve that lead and prevail by a score of 5-2. The win evens the best-of-seven series at 1-1 ahead of Sunday’s travel day.
In Game 2, the Astros enjoyed a big first inning and then a fifth-inning two-run home run from Alex Bregman, all off Phillies starter Zack Wheeler. That was more than enough for Houston’s lefty starter Framber Valdez, who fared very well against a Phillies team that was one of MLB’s most potent offenses against left-handers during the regular season. Prior to Saturday’s victory, the Astros had lost seven of the last eight World Series games played at Minute Maid Park.
Now for some takeaways from Game 2.
Valdez stymied the Phillies
Lefty Framber Valdez struggled in his pair of World Series starts last fall, surrendering 10 runs on 12 hits over 4 2/3 innings against the Braves. He vindicated himself on Saturday, allowing just one run over 6 1/3 innings.
Valdez surrendered four hits and three walks, but struck out nine batters on 104 pitches. He didn’t allow the Phillies to get a runner into scoring position until the sixth inning, and he subsequently neutralized that threat by striking out a batter and then inducing an inning-ending double play.
Valdez generated a game-high 15 swings and misses, including nine on his curveball. His signature sinker, meanwhile, clocked in 1.7 mph faster than usual when compared to the regular season.
Altuve and the Astros made history in the first
During the regular season, the Astros’ offense led all of MLB with an OPS of .860 in the first inning. (That sort of thing can happen when you have the likes of Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez coming to the plate in the opening frame on a consistent basis.) In the first inning of Game 2, they lived up to that advanced billing and then some. In fact, they made a bit of World Series history en route to a three-run inning:
As you can see, the Astros are one of just three teams to open a playoff game with three straight extra-base knocks and the only one to do so in the World Series. Specifically, the Astros in the first inning on Saturday night ripped three doubles in a span of four pitches from Phillies co-ace Zack Wheeler, whose night will be examined in further depth below. Altuve yanked a first-pitch sinker from Wheeler for a double, and then Jeremy Peña did the same to a curve. Alvarez fouled off a high fastball and then doubled off a slider that was in almost the same location.
Altuve’s knock was particularly encouraging for him and Houston, as he quite uncharacteristically entered Game 2 just 4 for 37 during these playoffs. Later in Game 2, Altuve added a pair of singles for his first three-hit game since the final game of the regular season against … the Phillies. You had know Altuve wouldn’t stay down for long.
All that work done by the top of the Houston lineup set the desired tone, as it gave them an 80 percent chance of winning Game 2 going into the second inning.
Wheeler struggles on long rest
Zack Wheeler had his start pushed back from Game 1 to Game 2 so that he could have an additional day of rest. Unfortunately for the Phillies, it did him no good.
Wheeler struggled out of the gate, surrendering three extra-base hits in an inning for the fifth time in his career in the first inning. It was the first time in his career that such an inning had led off the game. He would later surrender another extra-base hit, a two-run home run by Alex Bregman that gave the Astros a 5-0 lead. By doing so, he notched the 13th time in his career he’d given up at least four extra-base knocks.
Wheeler finished his night with a line that saw him surrender four earned runs on six hits and three walks. He struck out three and threw 41 strikes on 69 pitches. It’s notable that his velocity appeared to be compromised early on. Both his sinker and his four-seamer checked in a little under his seasonal averages for those pitches, though the disparity decreased over the course of his start. Additionally, his slider and curveball actually exceeded their regular-season speeds, according to Statcast.
The Phillies can only hope that Wheeler will be able to perform like his usual self if and when he’s called upon later in this series.
Bregman makes history with home run
As mentioned above, Bregman uncorked a two-run home run in the fifth to give the Astros a 5-0 lead. That was his sixth career home run in the World Series, establishing a new record for the most by a third baseman in the history of the Fall Classic.
Entering the night, Bregman had been tied with Gil McDougald at five apiece. McDougald appeared in 53 World Series games as a member of the New York Yankees in the 1950s. Saturday’s contest marked Bregman’s 22nd career World Series game.
The win was a huge one for Houston
As noted, the best-of-seven series is now tied 1-1, which in essence makes it a best-of-five series with the Phillies set to host the next three contests. It’s hard to call Game 2 a must-win for a team regardless of circumstances, but it was something close to that for the Astros. Consider, for instance, the alternative outcome. If the Astros had lost Game 2 and been down 0-2 and heading out on the road, then they’d have just a 16.9 percent chance of winning the series, at least according to historical best-of-seven series outcomes in MLB. Instead, they’ve in essence made the series a coin-flip, and maybe a bit more favorable than that considering the Astros were the better team during the regular season. Maybe the Astros didn’t have to win Game 2, but they badly needed to.
What comes next
Sunday will serve as a travel day for the squads as the series shifts to Philadelphia. Game 3 will occur on Monday night. The Phillies were expected to go with Ranger Suárez, but will instead turn to Noah Syndergaard after Suárez made a relief appearance in Game 1. The Astros are expected to start Lance McCullers Jr.