MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

This should be one great World Series.

The Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros sounds like an old National League game, but the Astros have been making a meal out of the American League for four out of the past six seasons, including the New York Yankees once more, sweeping the Yanks for the AL pennant for the third time in six years.

The Phillies? They barely got into the postseason, but they did so by being a hot club and by carrying it all the way to the World Series, much to the glee of one of the greatest cities in America.

Bryce Harper? The Bryce Harper we have been hearing about since he was a teenager? Not the merely outstanding Bryce Harper, who has already won two MVP awards, but the really great Superman Bryce Harper we’ve been hearing about since he was a teenager?

He’s here. And now everybody understands what the fuss was about.

The guy is a load; there’s nothing he can’t hit and right now he’s hitting all of it into the gap against the wall and high above ground level over the walls. He is carrying this Phillies team, but the load is hardly heavy as this Phils lineup is made up of mashers. They’re a heckuva lot of fun to watch.

Watching the Astros play baseball is like watching a fine wine age. These guys get it, this system teaches it and produces it and the players play to it, which really should make Orioles fans a bit giddy since it’s the same system General Manager Mike Elias brought with him from Houston to Baltimore.

The Astros lost their manager and general manager to the cheating scandal of 2017-18, they lost George Springer, Carlos Correa and Gerrit Cole to free agency. Yet they just swept the Yankees. The Astros aren’t just deeper and more talented than the Yankees are, they have a far better organization than the Yankees do, who will now go 13 years without playing in a World Series.

Pitching, of course, is always the answer to Final Jeopardy, and the Astros have plenty of that top to bottom. But when you watch the hitting approach of two teams and how both teams play the game, particularly the Astros and the Yankees since the contrast was so sharp, you get it. The approach to analytics opens up right before your very eyes.

There is nothing wrong with the Yankees. They won 99 games and their slugger Aaron Judge set the American League home run record of 62, and will be the Most Valuable Player of the league. The Yankees are the model of how a team was built 10 years ago. They live by the home run and, particularly in a short series, they die by the home run when homer bats go into prolonged slumbers, as they always do for stretches.

The Astros are less prone to those hit stoppages because, aside from having great players being piped in from their fertile farm system, they embody the pass-the-baton approach to baseball offense – hit it where they ain’t, get on base, hit behind the runner, hit up the middle and drive the ball to gaps. With that approach, home runs come by accident, as we just saw.

Remember when the Yankees were a cinch to win 115-120 games during the first half of the season? They finished with 99, and since the All-Star break went 38-41, including the postseason.

It’s the system, which starts and ends with a strong farm system blended with approach. It is a system Yankee higher-ups are said to believe the club does not embrace warmly enough, which could be costly to long-time general manager Brian Cashman, whose contract with the Yankees is about to expire.

As for the World Series, which begins on Friday? It’s a World Series some of us would have faked illness or skipped school to see if all of the games weren’t already played at night.

The Astros were named the favorite, first thing on Monday, which is no surprise. Until proven otherwise, they are clearly the best team in baseball, having won their first seven games of postseason play. Yet in a best-of-seven World Series, the best team does not always win, and the Phillies seem ready to be the latest team to prove that.

The Phils, having replaced their former manager Joe Girardi 51 games into the season with current manager Rob Thomson, could be that team of destiny.

Yet what other destiny involving a manager could be more sweet than universally-loved Dusty Baker, the manager of the Astros, finally winning a World Series ring?

He has accomplished everything in baseball as a player and a manager dating back to 1968. He is a Hall of Fame manager already, but is 0-2 in the World Series. He was brought in to manage the team after the cheating scandal and in that time has achieved the unthinkable – he has made the Astros likeable.

He’s managed some great ones, but this is clearly his best team …

You know it’s going to be a great World Series when your team’s not even in it, yet you have strong feelings for wanting each team to win.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT