For the very first time: A 97.3 ESPN Phillies mailbag...WORLD SERIES edition.  The Phillies are headed to the big stage to take on the Houston Astros.

Given their past, should the Phillies (a team the Astros don’t play often over the years) be concerned about the Astros sign stealing issues? Or is that a thing of the past?

The sign stealing controversy of 2019 surely dominated baseball headlines.  The fallout was large.  General manager Jeff Luhnow was fired.  Manager A.J. Hinch was fired.  Carlos Beltran lost his new job as manager of the New York Mets, and Alex Cora lost his job as manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Of course, Cora was re-hired as manager of the Boston Red Sox.

I think there was enough attention to that controversy that it is behind us, and I think the scandal is a thing of the past.  Those who seemed to drive the whole process - Beltran and Cora - are gone.  The amount of overlap in terms of players as minimal.

The sad part of that scandal was that the Houston Astros were really, really good.  They did not need to cheat.  Some of the game's most talented players ended up caught using PEDs.  Alex Rodriguez, anyone?  So while it's almost the bad part of human nature to see people attempt to gain an edge, I think it's safe to assume this will be two teams playing honestly.

And to be honest: The Houston Astros are still really good.  A lot of the former talent has moved on.  But a lot of new talent has moved in and there will be some tough competition from the Houston Astros.

They're good enough they do not need to cheat.  And they have the ever high-class Dusty Baker at the helm.  So I expect this to be fair.

This team is very streaky, nothing new. Any worry about them finally cooling off? Personally I do not think they will with how the crowd has been.

"Let's give them something to remember."  Those were the words of Bryce Harper to his long-time hitting coach Kevin Long as he stepped to the plate.  What I saw from Bryce Harper in that at bat was a laser focus.  I have a hard time figuring out how they would lose that.

Saturday was an important game for the Phillies.  A quick, 4-0 deficit at the top of the first made it seem as if the air was deflated from the balloon quickly.  Yet, the Phillies willed a way to climb back - with an immediate three runs in the bottom of the first inning.

This type of resilience is something that is hard to quantify. We can talk about the stats all we want.  We know who has performed brilliantly and who has not just yet.  Some Phillies players are slightly cool.  Others seemed to start to heat up lately.  I have a really hard time believing that just because they are facing a tough opponent that they will just lie down.

But the crowd is something unique that the Houston Astros are not used to.  They are definitely the 10th player on the field when the Phillies are there (or I guess, 11th with a designated hitter now).

We all remember back to the 2008 World Series when an exasperated Tampa Bay Ray asked Jayson Werth something to the effect of, "How can you play in this?"  That was Werth's "We got them" moment.

The 2009 New York Yankees were better equipped to deal with it on their end.  The Houston Astros, after annual success might be unfazed by the fans at Citizens Bank Park.

But even if the opposition is not rattled, the extra confidence in the home team will matter.

Why would anyone pitch to Bryce Harper? Should they move him up for better protection?

This is a really good question, Frank. Bryce Harper has put the Phillies team on his back this playoffs.  Harper now holds the record for extra base hits in a Phillies postseason.  One of them, of course, will be forever remembered.

Unbelievably, the Padres left Robert Suarez in to Face Harper in what will be one of the biggest hits in Phillies history.  But two things happened that led to this:  One, J.T. Realmuto got on base ahead of him, and two, they were too worried to add additional baserunners behind Harper, too.

It's really important that both Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins along with Realmuto get things going ahead of Harper.  And say what you will about Nick Castellanos, pitchers know what he can do in this game.  Jean Segura, Alec Bohm, and Bryson Stott are no freebies, either.

I think that if a pitcher gets a couple quick outs, they might try to let Harper chase something bad without giving him a pitch to hit.  But if runners are already on and there are less than two outs, it's a really bad situation for the opposition to be in.

Granted, the Astros have a pretty strong pitching staff to be in this position.

Simple Zack Wheeler 4 days rest or 5? Which leads with Nola at 5 days? What say you?

This is a very interesting question.  Because Zack Wheeler pitched the clinching game on Sunday, the Phillies did not need to give Aaron Nola a second start in the NLCS.   That means Nola has not pitched since Wednesday the 19th.  That means, at the minimum, he will have seven days rest if he pitches the first game.

Though I've gone back and forth, I would start Wheeler in game one, expecting him to pitch game five.  Nola would pitch games two and six.  Ranger Suárez would get game three and a game seven, if necessary.

That still leaves one "kitchen sink" game in game four.  If the Phillies are down 3-0 I might go with Wheeler in game four to start, expecting him to pitch in game seven, which will come after a second day off.  If they get that far, of course all hands would be on deck.


Do you think that the Phils will be able to split the first two in Houston?

Yes.  With Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola on the mound, how can you count the Phillies out?  The games have to be played but it's hard to say that they are not able to do so.

I'll say this: the Phillies headed to Houston for the final three games needing a big win in game one of that series.  Nola stepped up, and the Phillies stepped up, too.  If winning the division was some sort of mandate, imagine what needing to win a World Series game means?

Let's face it: the Houston Astros have two really sold Cy Young candidates in old man Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez.  I can see the Phillies aces dueling the way the Phillies matched zeroes with a few of the top opposing starters this year.  That means the Phillies could win one, or both.  And yes, they could lose both.  The opposition is that good.

I just have a feeling they'll wish to make Hector Neris wish he stuck around Philadelphia.   I'm sure Neris is coming in to face the righties on the club mostly, but Realmuto sure knows him.  I can easily see the Phillies taking one or both games.

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