Game 5 provided high drama for the first time in the World Series since Game 1, but with a different one-run result. The Houston Astros took down a 3-2 win and lead the series by the same count going into Game 6 on Saturday night. The Philadelphia Phillies now need to win two games at Minute Maid Park to be the champion, the same thing that the Washington Nationals had to do back in 2019.
It will be Game 2 hero Framber Valdez for the Astros and Zack Wheeler for the Phillies, as Philadelphia pushed him back a bit to get a little bit of extra rest after experiencing lowered velocity in Houston’s 5-2 victory last Saturday. Is the MLB season over tonight or will the Phillies push the Fall Classic to a decisive Game 7?
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If this rematch of Game 2 plays out in a similar fashion, the Astros will be the first team to celebrate winning the World Series at home since 2013. Valdez went 6.1 spectacular innings with nine strikeouts against three walks and four hits. He allowed one run in the seventh as he was reaching the end of his rope. In true Valdez fashion, he had a 7/1 ground ball ratio in the game.
Wheeler did not look the part, as the Astros took a hyper-aggressive approach against the right-hander. He only needed 69 pitches to get 15 outs, but allowed five runs on six hits with just three strikeouts against three walks. After giving up three in the first, Wheeler settled down a bit, but Alex Bregman’s two-run homer in the fifth put the game out of reach.
Wheeler only had eight whiffs on 35 swings. His sinker velocity was down 0.6 mph from his season average, which is a major red flag given that a lot of guys tend to throw a bit harder in the postseason when they are going max effort. He only made three starts over the final six weeks of the regular season due to injury and has already made five starts covering 30.1 innings in the postseason. His last start was the only bad one that he has had, but it does leave some questions as to what we can expect in this outing. It was pretty telling that he wasn’t a Game 5 option following the rainout, but it could work out in Philly’s favor if he’s sharper here.
As I talked about prior to Game 2 when I made a losing bet on the Phillies, the split against lefties was absolutely better for Philadelphia throughout the season. On the whole, they posted a 106 wRC+, but that mark was heavily aided by a 115 wRC+ against southpaws. The problem in Game 2 was that they simply could not elevate the baseball. Valdez gave up five hard-hit balls, but most of them were grounders. Nick Castellanos had the only high-velocity batted ball with a little bit of air under it and that was a line drive double in the seventh when Valdez’s outing was coming to a close.
Valdez had nine strikeouts and seven ground balls, including two double plays, That makes it extremely hard to score runs. The Phillies have lived on the extra-base hit this postseason and you can’t hit a home run on a ground ball. We’ll see what kinds of adjustments they are able to make in this one, as 86 of the 104 pitches that Valdez threw were either sinkers (44) or curveballs (42).
Ranger Suarez is said to be available in relief of Wheeler if necessary here, which could create an interesting conundrum for Game 7, but that only matters if you get there. Manager Rob Thomson has to play this like there is no tomorrow and that may mean deploying Suarez if the situation presents itself. He also has a fresh Seranthony Dominguez to call upon with the day off. Dominguez did allow a run on two hits and a walk while shaking off a bit of rust from not having pitched in nearly a week.
Thomson did say that Nola would start Game 7 if we get to that point. It’s just a matter of whether or not Suarez would be available also.
Similarly, Dusty Baker has his relief aces good to go as well. The day off was important because Ryan Pressly recorded a five-out save in Game 5 and threw 26 pitches in the process. All hands are always on deck in an elimination game for both sides.
Game 6 is a tough handicap because it’s hard to know what the Phillies will get from Wheeler. He’s dealing with something, otherwise he’d have pitched in place of Noah Syndergaard on Thursday night. How serious that something is remains to be seen. He had been great up until Game 2, but the gas light may be coming on or could already be lit up. Valdez was as sharp as ever in his Game 2 effort, so that would be the greatest concern for Philadelphia.
As regular readers know, I swore off betting this series after Game 3. I’m just hoping the Astros series price comes through, either tonight or tomorrow night. The Phillies do have two runs on six hits in the last 18 innings, so it isn’t all on Wheeler. The offense needs to get it going as well. The teams did combine to go 2-for-18 with RISP in Game 5, so there were some scoring chances, but neither team capitalized.
We’ll see what Game 6 holds, but this would obviously be a good time for the Phillies to flex that offensive muscle against a lefty.