If styles make fights, then this World Series is for you. While the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies have their similarities (like green mascots), they also occupy opposing poles in a lot of ways. And also the perception of them is actually opposite to reality in some ways as well. There are plenty of currents running in opposition to each other for this Fall Classic.
At the very top, the Astros are basically MLB royalty now. Their fourth World Series appearance, after yet another 100+ win season, has become their territory even more so than the Dodgers. They have been a fixture for seven seasons. Meanwhile, the Phillies are the party-crashers, the last one into the whole thing who have then fucked everyone’s shit up upon arrival, sticking their fingers in the Cardinals’ drink, sneezing on the Braves’ food, peeing on the Padres’ seat (you can easily picture Kyle Schwarber doing all of this). It’s hard to know if MLB truly wanted a wildcard team in the first year of its expanded playoffs to get this far or not. It is likely the owners did, for nefarious reasons.
Which is where the perception of these teams also diverges in strange ways. Yes, the Phils are only an 87-win team and the lowest seed in the National League. While most fans know better, you can be sure there will be ownership groups pointing their front office at that 87-win total and asking for no more because hey, look where it got the Phightins. This was always the drawback of the expanded playoffs, combined with its inherent randomness and variance.
And yet the Phillies are built to be much more. They are a wildly collected group of mercenaries, as it were, with Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos all either expensive free-agent signings or trade acquisitions that were then paid appropriately. This is a Dave Dombrowski team after all, and there is no waiting around in Dombrowski’s world, nor ever keeping the financial powder dry. 162 games showed the roster’s overall wonkiness — horrible defense, strikeout-heavy tendencies, especially top-heavy when Harper was hurt — and yet it was built to be right here, if not via the path they took. They aimed big and got it, just through the side door.
And while the Astros are seen as the big behemoth in the entire league, making themselves at home in the World Series now, they are a bit… thrifty? Outside of Justin Verlander they are basically entirely homegrown, and have let Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Gerrit Cole walk in preference to younger, cheaper replacements. Their payroll comes in some $63 million less than the Phillies. They are a marvel of player development, and you could argue are actually a bigger plague for baseball, as more team owners question why their front offices can’t come up with the record the Astros have for the past seven seasons while basically eschewing being in any big free agent rumbles during the winter. It will certainly confound a lot of MLB hierarchies which model to chase to both win and, more importantly to them, be profitable as possible — the highly expensive wildcard team that snuck in and got here anyway or the 100-win machine that is always here and is close to a complete inside job.
On the field, the juxtapositions continue. The Phillies are seen as the big hairy mash-monsters, an all-or-nothing offense that can pop at any time or strike out 19 times in a game. Whereas the Astros are mostly described as the intelligent, make-a-pitcher-work, exhausting types that are much better at putting the ball in play. Which they are… but they also hit more homers than the Phillies during the regular season. They do strike out a lot less than Philly (19.5 percent during the season vs. the Phillies’ 22.4) and one can’t help but think that somewhere a game will turn on the Astros putting a ball in play that will cause the Phillies’ defensive Benny Hill-ness to kick in. Especially in Houston, where the sizable right field will probably cause Castellanos to think he’s a glass of orange juice.
The quirks in this series run rampant too. The Padres and manager Bob Melvin certainly heard all about not bringing in Josh Hader to face Bryce Harper in that fateful 8th inning. Dusty Baker won’t have such conundrums, because he doesn’t have a left-handed reliever to call on. Ryan Pressly, Bryan Abreu, and Hector Neris were especially gruesome to lefties this year, though Harper and Schwarber will probably be happy to take their chances late in games.
Those two will be especially needed in Verlander’s and McCullers’ starts, as the Phillies lineup wasn’t too swift against breaking pitches from righties, which we know they’ll get a ton of from those two. They’re the only two regulars to slug over .400 against those offerings. Meanwhile, this lineup obliterated left-handed pitching, with seven of their starters managing a 110+ wRC+ this season. But not every lefty is Framber Valdez.
Though that’s no different on the other side, where the Astros sport six regulars who had a 115 wRC+ or better against lefties during the season, and the Phllies will start two of them instead of the Astros’ one, and will feature two out of the pen as well. The Astros especially murder fastballs and sinkers from lefties, kind of Ranger Suarez’s specialty, and only four teams hit the ball on the ground less than the Astros, which is really Suarez’s wheelhouse.
This is the third time the Astros will see a team in the World Series that didn’t crack 95 wins in the NL East, losing the previous two, and their only World Series win coming against the super-charged Dodgers of 2017. Of course, there were mitigating reasons for that.
It’s beautifully set, and almost certainly will be decided on exactly nothing that’s been covered here. That’s the fun, and when you crash opposing forces like these into each other, you’re probably going to get a mess of some sort.
Who’s to blame for Atlanta Hawks turmoil — Trae Young or Nate McMillan?
Here’s a multiple choice essay question. You’ve got a blossoming superstar in Trae Young who has plateaued after some early career triumphs. Young is 24, played in a conference finals two seasons ago, but he’s also got a penchant for taking too many heat-check shots which are exhilarating to watch go in, but most observers shudder when he hits inevitable cold streaks.
However, Young has been working through soreness in his right shoulder, and during a shootaround Friday, was undergoing treatment on his shoulder according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Sam Amick, when an argument between McMillan and Young erupted.
According to The Athletic, McMillan did not approve of Young’s stance and presented him with an ultimatum: Play off the bench or don’t show up to the arena. As a result, Young was surprisingly scratched from Atlanta’s lineup before their home contest on Friday against the Denver Nuggets.
So how would you respond?
A) Nate McMillan was right to give Trae Young an ultimatum!
B) Trae Young beefs with every coach. No big deal.
C) This is about more than just one shootaround.
D) All of the above
Correct Answer: D
McMillan needed to ease up, but he and Young have never vibed on the same frequency, and it remains to be seen if McMillan’s coaching style even fits this franchise’s needs.
McMillan chalked his dispute with Young up to a misunderstanding, but leaders in a locker room shouldn’t have the communication standards of two strangers arguing in a nightclub. In a climate where organizations hand nights off to their star players at a dizzying pace, treating one of the NBA’s most high-usage stars like a problematic diva before a low-stakes early December matchup, while he receives treatment on a shoulder injury, hints at some turmoil bubbling beneath the surface.
To paraphrase the sage words of Allen Iverson, “we’re talkin’ about shootarounds. Not a game, not a game, not a game, but a shootaround.” To his credit, Young is surprisingly durable, despite being one of the league’s bantamweight guards. In five seasons, he’s missed only 23 games.
However, this is about more than just one failure to communicate. Young and McMillan are speaking different languages. Since Atlanta’s run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2021, McMillan’s connection with Young has deteriorated to the point that the Hawks have held several team meetings to address their issues. Lloyd Pierce’s record led to his firing, but discord with Young was also at the forefront of his departure.
McMillan and Young’s tenuous relationship wouldn’t be as much of a concern if the Hawks were producing wins at the pace expected of them. Their 13-10 record to start the season is strikingly similar to Atlanta’s sluggish 12-11 record through its first 23 games in 2021. To McMillan’s credit, the shorthanded Hawks are still fourth in the East and beat Denver on Friday, 117-109. However, Atlanta is also three games out of the Play-In Tournament, and the team’s ceiling has more leaks in it than when team president Travis Schlenk constructed his Dejounte Murray-Trae Young backcourt atrium.
The white-hot offense that torched opposing defenses and led the league in points per 100 possessions last season is no more. The Young-Murray Hawks have improved from the 26th-worst defense to the top-10, but at the expense of their halfcourt offense, which is now a bottom-10 unit. McMillan’s offense ranks last in 3-pointers made, is ranked 22nd in effective field-goal percentage, which weighs 3-pointers more heavily and they’re missing the je ne sais quoi that made them an All-League Pass team.
Atlanta’s Kevin Huerter trade illustrates how the Hawks front office and their coaching staff have mismanaged their roster. Soon after the offseason of Dejounte Murray, Atlanta shipped Huerter, 24, to Sacramento in exchange for 33-year-old Justin Holiday, 29-year-old Mo Harkless and a 2024 first-round pick. The Hawks envisioned Huerter evolving into Klay Thompson Lite, playing off of Young, but more importantly they seemed to be taking a chance on Sacramento stumbling so they could inherit a lottery pick.
Instead, Huerter has reached new heights playing in Sacramento’s more decentralized offensive system that ranks second in the NBA in assists and more closely resembles Golden State’s than Atlanta’s Trae Young central attack.
Back to Huerter. In Sacramento, Mike Brown has channeled Huerter’s brilliance into a battery powering the NBA’s second-highest scoring team. He’s the NBA’s most frequent scorer off of handoffs and his two-man game with Domantas Sabonis has allowed him to flex his entire range of skills. Starting alongside Fox, Huerter is averaging a career-high 15.5 points per game, shooting better than 42 percent behind the arc and taking nearly seven 3s per game. He wasn’t getting those looks in Atlanta.
After getting bagged up by the Miami Heat in a first-round sweep last season, Atlanta didn’t just need a personnel change, they needed a cleanse. Trae Young needs a shooting profile that is more similar to Steph’s than James Harden’s. Young’s struggles are a microcosm of what ails the Hawks. They aren’t putting their offensive stars in the best position to score. Atlanta is heavily reliant on predictable isolations and runs more pick-and-rolls than all but one team. Even with De’Aaron Fox at the point, Sacramento has gone the Golden State route by running fewer pick-and-rolls than any team after ranking fifth during their abysmal 2021-22 campaign.
Last season, 14.2 percent of Young’s 2-point field goals were assisted on and 22.3 percent of his 3-balls were. Young has improved slightly, but only to 15 percent assisted 2-pointers and 38 percent of his 3-point makes.
Curry, the most efficient off-the-dribble shooter in league history, is scoring 36.5 percent of his 2-point field goals off of assists, nearly three times Young’s rate. On triples? 58 percent of the time. Getting Young easier buckets so he’s not wearing himself out would be a path to assure McMillan’s future employment in Atlanta.
How Schlenk navigates their plans to trade John Collins will determine Atlanta’s short-term success, but the hands on McMillan’s clock are approaching midnight. Former Warriors assistant Mike Brown unlocked the peak-Red Velvet version of Huerter that Atlanta thought they were getting. Atlanta upgraded the roster, but not the staff that deploys it. If the tumult continues in Atlanta, they may want to consider taking a bite off the Golden State coaching tree.
Japan vs Croatia LIVE! World Cup 2022 match stream, latest team news, lineups, TV, prediction
Japan this afternoon will look to add another famous scalp to an already remarkable World Cup run when they face 2018 finalists Croatia. With Spain and Germany already put to the sword, a place in the quarter-finals is now up for grabs. The Samurai Blue have never made it to the last eight.
Croatia are the seasoned veterans, though, with a midfield of Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic and the versatile Ivan Perisic patrolling the flank, meaning little with phase them at the Al Janoub Stadium today. Head coach Zlatko Dalic says his country continue to perform punch above their weight and a last-eight spot would be just their third in history.
The winner will face the victor between Brazil and South Korea, who play later today. Follow the game LIVE below with our dedicated match blog, featuring expert insight and analysis from Nizaar Kinsella at Al Janoub Stadium.
Croatia team news: Defenders taken ill
For Croatia, left-back Borna Sosa could be sidelined due to illness, while defender Josip Stanisic has a muscle issue. Otherwise manager Zlatko Dalic chould have a full squad to choose from.
Japan team news: Tomiyasu looking to start
Hiroki Sakai and Takehiro Tomiyasu should both be fit for Japan today, although Ko Itakura is suspended and there is an injury doubt over Takefusa Kubo.
How to watch
TV channel: In the UK, the match will be televised free-to-air and live on BBC One, with coverage beginning at 2.30pm.
Live stream: Fans can also catch the game live online via the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport website.
Good afternoon and welcome to the Evening Standard’s LIVE coverage of the World Cup last-16 clash between Japan and Croatia.
Japan have never made it to the quarter-finals, while Croatia are looking to at least emulate their runners-up spot from four years ago.
Kick-off at the Al Janoub Stadium is at 3pm GMT. Stick with us.
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