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What to know ahead of the World Series between Houston and Philadelphia

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Baseball's World Series gets underway tomorrow night. It's a matchup between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros. The seemingly invincible Astros are back in the series for the fourth time in six years, led by veteran manager Dusty Baker. They're also undefeated so far in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Phillies squeaked into the postseason as a wildcard team. But they've definitely impressed on their way to making their first World Series appearance since 2009.

So let's preview the action with Washington Post national baseball writer Chelsea Janes. Hey there.

CHELSEA JANES: Hi. How are you?

CHANG: Good. OK. So another season down, and the Houston Astros are back in the World Series. I know you covered their sweep of the New York Yankees in the runup to all of this. Can you just tell us, like, just how good is this Houston team?

JANES: They've been outstanding. You know, during the regular season, they didn't have as many wins as, you know, maybe one other team. So by that standard, you know, people kind of were sleeping on them, I think. But they're dominant. They are really well-rounded. They've got a lot of depth. This time of year, you start to see teams get broken down by injuries, and everyone kind of wears down. And they just show no signs of it. So they're unique.

CHANG: Well, what about the Houston manager, Dusty Baker? Like, he's had this legendary career, but he's missing a World Series title as manager. He wasn't there when the Astros last won it all in 2017. What have Baker and the players said about their chances this year?

JANES: I think they feel good. I think he has been around the game long enough, as have, you know, the Astros have been around these championship kind of series enough to know that they're not promised anything. I think that they know that there's kind of no guarantees here, that you have to get here and then take your chances. So I think everyone's sort of cautiously optimistic, but I know they would love to get Dusty, you know, his first title. He's got this amazing, wide-ranging career, has touched many people's lives in the sport. And, you know, he's getting older. And I think, you know, there's a feeling that maybe he can ride off into the sunset here and get one and then be done with it. And we'll see what happens.

CHANG: OK. Well, let's turn to the Phillies. They are the underdogs heading into this series, but they're still really good. Like, in what ways have they been impressive to you?

JANES: They have been impressive because they were a mess a few months ago.

CHANG: (Laughter).

JANES: I mean, they were such a mess, in fact, that they fired their manager that they - you know, no one knew what they were doing. They had spent all this money, and it was just completely imploding. And, you know, little by little, they started to kind of climb their way back in. And they've just been magical. I mean, it's - baseball is one of those sports where if you get momentum and think you can do things, you probably can. And, you know, this time of year, it really - it matters to kind of have the vibes. And they do.

CHANG: Is there anything in particular that you're keeping an eye out for in this series?

JANES: You know, I think the one person that made a huge impact last series and probably will have a great deal to do with how the Phillies fare here is Bryce Harper. He, you know, has been this highly touted player since he was 15 years old. And all the expectations that came with it - almost couldn't exceed them. They were too high. He has somehow met them. This is his first World Series, his first chance on the stage. And he has been incredible this postseason. And I think, you know, if he kind of put them on his back, then they're going to be in good shape.

CHANG: So, Chelsea, if you were to, like, close your eyes and imagine you were at the World Series final game, can I ask you, which team do you see winning?

JANES: I think the Astros probably do it in the end. I think they can...

CHANG: Once again.

JANES: ...Outlast almost everyone. Yeah. And so, it's cool because it's really hard to say. That's not an easy question to answer. So it's definitely no lock.

CHANG: It's definitely not a lock. That is Chelsea Janes, national baseball writer for The Washington Post, joining us from Minute Maid Park in Houston. Thank you so much.

JANES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.