Stream of Consciousness: About the 2022 World Series

1. I agree with baseball fans and media everywhere who believe Monday’s rainout of Game 3 was beneficial for the Phillies.

And it’s all about the pitching.

— The Phillies were able to move effective lefty starter Ranger Suárez to Game 3. Suárez’s impromptu, impeccable 11-pitch relief appearance in Game had pushed his start back from Game 3 to Game 4. And now he’ll go on Tuesday night, giving the Phillies a better chance to win Game 3 from the Astros and take a 2-1 series lead.

— The original plan called for reserve starter Noah Syndergaard to start Game 3, but he wouldn’t have more than two or three innings. Game 3 would have been a bullpen game – with many Philadelphia relievers in service – for manager Rob Thomson.

— By moving Suárez up a day, the Phillies could slide co-ace Aaron Nola into the starting role in Game 4, and he’ll be on normal rest. Without the rainout, Nola would have been held back until Game 5. As a result, the Phillies can throw two of their three best starters at the Astros and have a full bullpen ready to go in an aggressive pursuit of two wins and a commanding 3-1 series lead.

— Syndergaard or Kyle Gibson will start Game 5, and that’s hardly ideal for the Phillies. (It will be Syndergaard unless Thomson needs to usher the righthander into Game 3 or 4 as a reliever. If that happens, then Gibson is the likely starter in Game 5. If Suárez and Nola can pitch fairly deep into their assignments, Thomson should have enough bullpen firepower to use in Game 5.

“We can empty our bullpen, so to speak, and then we have a day off, and everybody should be ready to go the next day (in Game 6),” Thomson said in his media session Monday.

— As you can see, the Phillies were happy with MLB’s decision to have a travel day on Friday instead of playing a fourth consecutive game without a break. The day off between Game 5 and a potential Game 6 gives Thomson’s bullpen a chance to rest and come back fresher. This is important because the Astros have a much deeper bullpen, packed with high-leverage relievers. (The Phillies basically have only three reliable high-leverage relievers.) The day off can ease the possibility of a more acute disadvantage. Thomson doesn’t want to go into a Game 6 with a weary set of relievers.

— Another positive for the Phillies: they could have started co-ace Zack Wheeler in Game 5 but opted to hold him until the potential Game 6 – using the Friday off day to give Wheeler extra rest. And he could use it. He was troubled by elbow miseries late in the regular season and has experienced a dip in velocity in his most recent postseason starts. If there is a Game 6 on Saturday, and Wheeler starts it, he will be on six days rest since his Game 2 outing.

— “He’s fine,” Thomson said of Wheeler during a media session Monday. “It’s just, it’s late in the season. Velocity’s dropped a little bit. He’s fatigued. I just feel like he needs more time.”

— But if the Phillies face a must-win scenario in Game 5 – needing to win to survive – would Thomson change his plans and go with Wheeler for Thursday in an effort to save Philadelphia’s season? We’ll see how this develops.

2. A key question: will Nola and Wheeler reestablish their effectiveness? They are absolutely essential to Philly’s success. The Phillies were fortunate to leave Houston with a 1-1 split. Nola and Wheeler started the first two games (in that order) and gave up 10 runs overall, nine earned, in their combined 9 and ⅓ innings.

In his last two postseason starts – road assignments at San Diego, then Houston – Nola has been scorched for 13 hits, four homers, and 11 earned runs in nine innings for a 11.00 ERA. Opponents smashed their way to a .333 average and .718 slugging percentage in the two poor starts. But Nola should be better at home when he gets the ball for Game 4.

As for Wheeler: in his last two postseason starts – at home against the Padres and on the road at Houston – he had a 4.91 ERA in 11 innings and allowed two homers, three doubles and a .429 slug. If the Phillies reach Game 6 in Houston, Wheeler will have to pitch much better than he did in Game 2.

3. Back to Suarez and Game 3. Keep this in mind: he’s an above-average pitcher, a good one, but the Astros were MLB’s second-best team against lefty pitching this season, batting .261 with a .330 OBP and .453 slug. (The Cardinals were No. 1 against LHP.)

4. The Phillies got a gift from Houston ace Justin Verlander and manager Dusty Baker in Game 1, winning 6-5 in 10 innings after erasing a 5-0 deficit. It was a great triumph for Philadelphia, and the Phillies deserve our praise. But Baker gave them the chance for a comeback by staying with a clearly tired and collapsing Verlander for a fifth inning. Verlander, who gave up three runs in the 4th, was entrusted to return for the 5th inning. It was a huge mistake by Baker who watched Verlander yield the game-tying two-run double to J.T. Realmuto. This was totally avoidable; Baker had the best bullpen in baseball at his disposal, and it was fully rested and ready to roll. Why wait until a five-run lead blow up?

5. Thomson was the exact opposite of Baker in Game 1. He did not blink. He did not hesitate. He aggressively pulled Nola after 4.1 innings to take his best shot of keeping his team from falling off the cliff by turning to his best relievers early, with the Phillies trailing by two runs. Thomson kept the Astros in check and used Suarez and fellow lefty Jose Alvarado to neutralize Houston’s two dangerous LH bats, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. You simply can’t manage a big game better than Thomson did with his masterful bull-penning in Game 1. As we saw in Game 1, managers can definitely make a difference. Realmuto (double, game-winning HR, three RBI) was the baseball hero of the game. But Thomson was the star.

6. Verlander now has a 6.07 career ERA in the World Series, and his teams have a 1-7 record in his eight starts in the Fall Classic. This all started in the 2006 World Series, when Verlander committed two damaging throwing errors that set up easy runs for the Cardinals. In his two starts in the 2006 World Series (his first), Verlander allowed 10 runs (seven earned) in 11 innings for a 5.73 ERA.

7. With Monday’s wash-out, Baker made a smart decision to hold off on starting Verlander in Game 4. He easily could have made that call; Verlander would have pitched on full rest. But Baker wanted to give Verlander, 39, an extra day. And so the likely 2022 AL Cy Young award winner will have some extra gas in his tank when he starts Game 5 on Thursday. And the Astros will stick with the original choice and start Cristian Javier in Game 4.

8. Wait; but isn’t Verlander a future Hall of Famer? Yes. But Baker had to factor in two things: (A) Verlander’s hideous Game 1 start and terrible World Series history; (B) The brilliance of Christian Javier. He was Houston’s hottest starter after the All-Star break, limiting opponents to a .505 OPS and .152 batting average in 70⅓ innings. And as the Houston Chronicle noted: Of the 85 starters that pitched a minimum 130 innings this season, none held opponents to a lower batting average than Javier’s .169. And only Carlos Rodón and Shohei Ohtani had a higher strikeout rate.

9. This makes me wonder why Javier wasn’t the choice to start Game 3. The Astros are going with lefty Lance McCullers Jr. in Game 3. And don’t get me wrong; McCullers is very good. But Javier’s four-seam fastball heat makes for a good matchup against a Phillies team that isn’t stellar against four-seamers. And the Phillies love to attack the kind of offspeed stuff that McCullers relies on.

10. The Astros are used to sitting around this postseason. They had five days off after the regular season, before playing their first playoff game on Oct. 11. That was followed by three days off in between the ALDS and ALCS. Then came another four days off after the ALCS, before the start of the World Series. And now there’s a 72-hour gap between Game 2 and Game 3.

“I don’t think we need to rest really right now,” Baker said. “We’ve had plenty of rest. We’ve had a lot of off days this last month.”

11. Valdez pitched a gem of a game when given the crucial assignment to shut down the Phillies in Game 2. He delivered under must-win circumstances, allowing four hits and a run with nine strikeouts in 6.1 innings to keynote the Astros’ 5-2 win. In three postseason starts this month Valdes has been touched for three earned runs in 19 innings for a 1.42 ERA. And he’s struck out 34.2 percent of batters faced. Valdes made it easy for Baker, who didn’t need much from his bullpen in Game 2. The Valdes start was the longest World Series start since Zack Greinke also went 6 and ⅓ for Houston in 2019’s Game 7.

12. The Astros are finally getting help offensively from two of their best hitters: Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez. Both – especially Altuve – had been stuck in terrible slumps. But they seem to be stirring. In his last four postseason games Altuve is 7 for 18 (.389) with a .421 OBP and .500 slug. And in his last three games, the giant Alvarez is 3 for 11 (.273) with two doubles, three walks and two RBI. If Altuve and Alvarez can really start cranking, it should have a major impact on the rest of the World Series.

13. The Philadelphia bullpen has been outstanding in its 8 and ⅔ innings against the Astros so far. In Game 1, the relievers made the victory possible by throwing 5.1 scoreless innings. In Game 2, the Astros built another 5-0 lead, but Philadelphia’s bullpen gave their hitters a chance to fight back by contributing three scoreless innings. But the Astros bullpen was too tough to break in Game 2.

14. This should be a long World Series. It’s following the pattern. As ESPN’s Jeff Passan noted, among the 59 World Series that started with a split of the first two games, 45 of them went to at least a sixth game. The Astros are still in a good spot to win this thing, but if Philadelphia’s bullpen can keep coming to the rescue, we’re probably in for more close and exciting games. Philly has the home-field advantage right now, but I certainly think Houston will win a game at The Bank — to be down 3-2 in the Series – as the action returns to Houston. The Phillies’ chances were enhanced by the rainout, but no one should be surprised if Houston wins two of the next three.

15. Enjoy the baseball and the people-watching aspect of three games in Philly. The fans there will be colorful, crazy, totally jacked up to make noise and turn up the energy.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.