Rain wiped out Game 3 of the World Series, so everything shifts back a day, including the off day between Game 5 and Game 6 if necessary. The rain also shifted the Phillies rotation, as now they’ll go with left-hander Ranger Suarez on Tuesday night in Game 3, followed by Aaron Nola in Game 4. In what could end up being an elimination game in Game 5, the Phillies will likely go with Noah Syndergaard, if he isn’t needed in relief before then.
The name missing from that list is Zack Wheeler, who won’t pitch until Game 6 at the earliest, as he needs some time to rest and recover. Wheeler only made three starts after coming back from injury prior to the playoffs and he did have decreased velocity in his Game 2 start. As for the Astros, they’ll go with their original plan, which means Lance McCullers Jr. tonight.
I’ve left in all my info on McCullers, but have updated the article with Suarez now on the bump for the Phillies.
See the latest betting splits
The line has shifted down with Suarez in place of Syndergaard, which I find pretty interesting. While Suarez did post better numbers during the regular season and has been used more consistently in the playoffs, the Astros were decidedly better against left-handed pitchers during the regular season.
Overall, Houston was sixth in wRC + at 112, meaning the Astros were 12% better than league average. However, when we look at their performance against left-handed pitchers, they posted a 124 wRC +, meaning they were 24% better than league average. Houston slashed .242/.315/.411 against righties, but .261/.330/.453 against lefties.
Much like the handicap that I had going into the original Game 3 matchup with Syndergaard, what concerns me about Suarez is that he pitches to a lot of contact. While his K% was about 3% higher than Syndergaard’s, he also had a higher walk rate. He does induce a lot more ground balls, which helps because the Phillies are not a Tom Emanski-approved offense in the corners of the outfield, but they’re still not great around the horn either. Suarez had a .293 BABIP against during the regular season with a solid Hard Hit% against of 34.7%. In the playoffs, he (and many other Phillies) has been very fortunate to carry a .192 BABIP against and an 84.9% LOB%.
Defense has been a big story in this series already and also in the postseason as a whole. The Castellanos sliding catch in Game 1 saved the day and capped off an outstanding display from manager Rob Thomson and his staff. Wheeler’s rough start put the Phillies behind the eight-ball quickly in Game 2 in a game where both teams kicked the ball around a bit.
McCullers was limited to eight starts during the regular season because of injury, as he only worked 47.2 innings. He was good with a 2.27 ERA, 3.57 xERA and 3.49 FIP. He’s been really solid in two postseason starts over 11 innings with three earned runs on 10 hits and a 13/3 K/BB ratio. This is an interesting matchup for the Phillies. If they can be disciplined and work walks, they’ll have a much better chance at success. The reason is because McCullers threw his slider and curveball more than his sinker for the first time in his career. He allowed a .842 SLG on 37 sinkers in play, including all four homers he allowed and four of nine doubles.
On the slider, though, he allowed just a .222 SLG and just a .163 SLG on the curveball in 34 and 25 batted ball events, respectively. If the Phillies are patient enough to be selective and get into sinker counts, that’s where their high SLG could come into play. If they’re consistently putting the slider and curveball in play, it will be hard for them to generate offense without getting very lucky on the batted ball front.
In past starts, McCullers has almost exclusively attacked righties with the slider and lefties with the curveball. He also only uses his sinker against righties, opting to use the cutter against lefties. That means that guys like Rhys Hoskins and Nick Castellanos are really going to be in the spotlight because they should get the most sinkers to swing at.
Both bullpens are rested following the two off days. The rainout might have helped Houston more on this front because Rafael Montero and Ryan Pressly were used in both games, whereas Seranthony Dominguez was only used in Game 1. He is the biggest weapon in the Phillies pen, so him being fresh is outstanding, but the Astros’ arms are fresher now as well.
Admittedly, the last couple playoff series have been brutal from a preflop standpoint, so I am a little bit hesitant here. The playoffs are such a high-variance beast. It’s not my favorite time of the year to bet at all. I do think the Astros are set up a bit better in this game. Suarez pitches to a ton of contact and Philadelphia’s biggest weakness is on defense. The other part here is that McCullers is an extreme ground ball guy like Valdez that has a higher strikeout rate, so he should be able to smother the Phillies’ bats. I took a chance on the Phillies against a lefty last game, but that was a misstep given the batted ball splits for Valdez and what it takes to score against him.
It’s a lot of the same with McCullers, just as a righty. In some respects, I like the Astros more now because they do profile well against lefties. I felt like they were going to have success against Syndergaard anyway, but now they get a left-hander that they probably have the same or even higher upside against.
There are better prices on the Astros than the -125 at DraftKings, as some shops are as low as -115. It seems like some 1st 5 lines will be late to post, but likely in the -120 range (Caesars had this overnight) and I wanted to update this the night before. I still like them for the 1st 5, as well as the full game, but I’ll stick with the 1st 5 because late-game shenanigans are always possible. I just really like that the Astros have scored five runs against each Phillies starter and both of them to this point have been better pitchers than Suarez.
Pick: Astros 1st 5 (-120)