The big story coming out of Game 3 is that Lance McCullers Jr. was tipping his pitches and Bryce Harper and the Phillies took full advantage by ripping five home runs off of the Astros starter to take a 2-1 series lead. The second-biggest story is how Dusty Baker could possibly leave McCullers out there to get his brains beaten in and not even give the Astros a sniff of a chance at coming back.
How that could happen in a World Series game is simply beyond comprehension. McCullers wasn’t locating well and the Phillies were on everything, which is very unlike a pitcher who has a career 3.47 ERA and has only allowed 57 home runs in 718.2 innings of work. People on Twitter picked up on McCullers tipping pitches, but the Astros, with all of today’s technology, didn’t notice? Didn’t see it? Didn’t think, “hey, maybe something’s wrong here?”. I cannot fathom how that happened. To make matters worse, his fastball velocity also took a big dive after the first inning.
Oh, but here’s the other thing that isn’t getting as much run – the Astros scored zero runs and managed only five hits. The Phillies didn’t have to use any of their primary relievers and Ranger Suarez got through five shutout innings and scattered some weak singles. After knocking around Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, the Astros did nothing against a pitch-to-contact left-hander on their better side of the offensive split.
Nola gets another run at the Astros tonight and he’ll be opposed by Cristian Javier in a pivotal Game 4.
Houston Astros (-110, 7.5) at Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are just two wins away from fulfilling the Team of Destiny label that has been following them around for a while now. The long ball is the great equalizer during the postseason and can very quickly and efficiently bridge the gap between the better team and the lesser team. The Phillies certainly aren’t playing like the lesser team right now, but there’s a reason why Houston was -180 or so before the series started.
The honest truth is that I have no idea what to expect in Game 4. The playoffs have not been kind to me and they’re frankly about as unpredictable as it gets. McCullers has pitched in MLB since 2015. He’s never allowed more than three homers in a game and he only did that once. Yet, he allows five in one of the biggest starts of his life? Teams were 220-5 when leading a World Series game by five or more runs. The Astros blew a 5-0 lead in Game 1. Fluky things happen and they’re magnified on a grand scale when it’s the postseason, and especially the World Series.
I’ll break this one down, but I won’t have a bet. I won’t have a bet the rest of the way. If you want to choose your own adventure and take what I’ve said into consideration, by all means please do. I’m cutting my losses here because the playoffs just haven’t worked out from a betting standpoint.
With the off day and the rainout, Nola is on regular rest here after pitching on Friday in Game 1. He allowed five runs on six hits with two walks and five strikeouts over his 4.1 innings of work. As we all know, the Phillies came back and won the game despite his rough outing, but they’ll obviously be looking for better returns tonight. There was some bad luck in there for Nola, as he only allowed five hard-hit balls, but the hits were clustered together, including the two homers that he allowed. His velocity and spin rates were both up, so it wasn’t any kind of health issue. Kyle Tucker homered twice off of him and the Astros other hits were singles of 81.9, 63.2 and 92.5 mph plus a 104.4 mph double. The first Tucker homer only had an expected batting average of .220.
Nola didn’t throw enough good curveballs in that first start, as many wound up near the left-handed batter’s box. He didn’t give up any hits on the curveball, but a lot of them were taken for balls. (This new Statcast tool (scroll through) is absolutely incredible) Let’s see if Nola can adjust in Game 4. He’s certainly at his best when he’s able to get chases or whiffs in the zone with the hammer because, like most pitchers, his sinker and fastball can get hit hard.
Nola had a 3.25 ERA with a 2.74 xERA and a 2.58 FIP during the regular season and it was his best season statistically to date, even though he only went 11-13. It was his best season in HR/FB%, BB%, FIP and WAR. This is the guy you want on the hill with a chance to take a 3-1 lead if you’re the Phillies.
What also helps the Phillies is that Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarado and David Robertson weren’t used in Game 2 or Game 3. Those guys are extremely well-rested now. The goal in the playoffs is to get as many outs as possible from your best pitchers. In theory, these three guys plus Nola could account for all 27 outs. Dominguez could be used for multiple innings as well. This is now set up very well for the Phillies thanks to their blowout win last night.
Cristian Javier is one of many dynamic arms that the Astros have developed during this spectacular run. He had a 2.54 ERA with a 2.43 xERA and a 3.16 FIP in his 148.2 innings of work. After a big innings bump from 2020 to 2021, the Astros took it a little easier with him, as he made 25 starts and five relief appearances, but wasn’t pushed too hard. He improved his K% by 2.5% year over year and cut his walk rate by nearly 4%. The one thing he did do is allow 17 home runs, but that comes with the territory as an extreme fly ball pitcher. He also had a 13.4% IFFB% (infield fly ball rate), which effectively adds to his strikeout total.
Javier worked 5.1 innings against the Yankees on October 22 with five strikeouts against three walks. He only allowed one hit. He’s only pitched 6.2 innings in the last 31 days, so rust could be a real concern, especially given the circumstances and the high BB% he’s had in the past. I’ll be intrigued to see how Dusty Baker manages this game. He’s taking a lot of flack (and rightly so) for leaving McCullers out there. Does he have a quick trigger on Javier? If so, it will have to be Luis Garcia in relief after Jose Urquidy mopped up the last three innings yesterday. At least Houston’s primary RP are all good to go after yesterday’s rout.
I don’t have a bet here and won’t have a pregame bet the rest of the way. This is just too unpredictable of an environment to keep losing money in. But, I’ll keep presenting the stats and analysis the rest of the way. I’ll just squirrel away my pennies for Opening Day next season.