Control of the series is now in the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies after a Game 1 victory on Friday night. Game 2 on Saturday features Zack Wheeler for the Phillies and southpaw Framber Valdez for the Astros, which is significant because both teams performed better against lefties than righties, but only the underdog gets to face a left-handed pitcher in this one.
Game 1 sure was interesting in that the Astros blew a 5-0 lead and both teams had to use their bullpens extensively. There is a sense that the Phillies are kind of playing with house money to a degree. The fact that they won Game 1 puts a lot more pressure on the Astros now, as home-field advantage has been taken away.
Game 2 is an enormous game for both teams, so let’s see what we can expect.
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The Astros went into Game 1 with an unblemished record of 7-0, but they had some close calls. The Mariners should have won Game 1 of the ALDS and Game 3 went 17 scoreless innings before Jeremy Pena’s solo homer in the 18th untied the game. They are not impenetrable, but they are extremely hard to beat. The Phillies did it and took a 1-0 series lead in the process. They showed a ton of heart and flipped into the series favorite now.
Game 2 is a hugely important game for the Phillies. Not all lefties are created like Valdez, but what really gave Philadelphia a leg up in the NLDS against the Braves was beating up on a similar pitcher in Max Fried. Like Fried, Valdez is an extreme ground ball guy from the left side, albeit much more extreme with a 66.2% career rate and a 67.1% rate in his two starts thus far. One huge difference between the two, however, is that Fried posted a 4.4% BB% this past season and has a 6.6% BB% for his career. Valdez, meanwhile, had an 8.1% BB% this season and has a 9.6% mark for his career.
Valdez had a 2.82 ERA with a 3.31 xERA, 3.06 FIP and 3.00 xFIP. Fried had a 2.48 ERA with a 2.85 xERA, 2.70 FIP and 3.09 xFIP. Fried may be a better version of Valdez and the Phillies knocked him around to the tune of six runs on eight hits in 3.1 innings. I’m not saying that Philadelphia will inflict similar damage on Fried, but I am saying that it would go a long way with their chances of winning the series.
In two starts this postseason, Valdez has only allowed two earned runs on eight hits over 12.2 innings of work with a 15/3 K/BB ratio, so he has been stingy and his control and command have exceeded what we saw during the regular season. The Phillies were a little better than league average against righties with a 102 wRC +, but finished fourth in wOBA and sixth in wRC + with a 115 against lefties, meaning they were 15% better than league average.
In other words, this is the game that the Phillies probably need to win. They’re going to run into Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers Jr. in Games 3 and 4. The Astros had a 124 wRC + against lefties during the season, so their chances of hitting Ranger Suarez are pretty good. This is a hugely important matchup for the Phillies. I’m not sure I can state that clearly enough.
Philadelphia opted to flip Wheeler and Aaron Nola in this series, so we’ll see Wheeler in Game 2. In four postseason starts, he has been brilliant with five runs allowed on just 10 hits over 25.1 innings with a 25/3 K/BB ratio. The pessimist in me is really concerned about Wheeler, simply because a .153 BABIP against is really hard to maintain with how bad the Phillies are defensively. However, Wheeler has only allowed one homer and just the three walks (though he has hit three batters) to refrain from allowing unearned traffic on the basepaths. For the regular season, Wheeler had a .287 BABIP against with an excellent Hard Hit% of 34.5%, which was actually the highest he has had since 2017.
What really makes Wheeler effective is that he’s about as good against lefties as he is against righties. Against a pretty balanced Astros lineup, that is a huge asset. The Astros do slant a little more towards the right side, but Wheeler is less worrisome than most against a guy like Yordan Alvarez.
The same thoughts from yesterday’s game apply to today’s. Will Phillies skipper Rob Thomson know when to pull the plug here? Wheeler’s third time through the order splits are similarly concerning to Nola’s, though he’s done a better job of managing them over the last two seasons than he did in the previous two. It may also be more of an issue for Astros manager Dusty Baker in this spot given how the Phillies hit lefties.
That’s where handicapping the bullpen usage is so important. Coming out of Game 1, the Phillies used all of their key relievers, including Suarez, and the Astros used their primary guys as well. It would seem that Game 2 gives the advantage to the Astros because of how last night’s game played out. Bryan Abreu threw 32 pitches, but no other Astros reliever threw more than 16. Meanwhile, Seranthony Dominguez threw 24 pitches over 1.2 innings for the Phillies and they had to deploy Suarez. It’s a small advantage, but could be meaningful.
All in all, I’d like to think that this is the best opportunity for the Phillies offense to do something of consequence. Valdez has the lowest strikeout potential in the Houston rotation and is also on the good side of the splits for the Phillies lineup. I had circled this game for them from the jump and what’s crazy is that they now have the chance to take a 2-0 lead.
I’m going to wait and see where this line goes throughout the day, but there is a good chance I end up on the Phillies. This is a good opportunity for them against a lefty and the Astros really squandered an opportunity leading 5-0 with the AL Cy Young winner on the mound. There’s a lot of belief in that Phillies dugout, and while we can’t quantify it, it sure seems to take the pressure off of them.
Pick: Phillies at the best price you can get