HOUSTON — As the Astros reel back a 3-2 World Series lead at Minute Maid Park, their path to a championship certainly looks a lot cleaner than the challenge facing the Phillies, who will now have to win back-to-back games on the road. to come from behind for the title.
In fact, in all best-of-seven postseason series that have been tied after four games, the winner of Game 5 has won the series 45 of 64 times (70%) – but that doesn’t do any good for the Astros or the Phillies to focus on the odds. In the two-day sprint towards the upcoming finish, that should is each team concentrating on ensuring its best chance of victory?
1. Handle your pitching depth. Seriously.
Houston skipper Dusty Baker approached his use of the bullpen with far less urgency than his counterpart, clearly preferring to save relievers when possible by relying on his starters to overcome high-stress situations. It may well have cost the Astros dearly in Game 1, when a Justin Verlander was left for five innings, allowing the Phillies to complete a comeback – and again in Game 3, when Lance McCullers Jr. was left to bear seven rounds of damage.
But now, coming off a day off to reset the bullpen and with only two games left, there’s no excuse to save the bullpen or anything like that. The Astros’ big advantage on the pitching side is that they have the depth to bring in a dominant relief pitcher at any sign of trouble and still have tons of depth left.
Baker must now deal with this aggression – and indicated on Thursday that he would seek to do so. Another untimely long leash could give the Phillies a chance to get straight back into the series.
2. Don’t let Schwarber or Harper beat you.
Philadelphia’s top of the line has been a story of who’s hot and who’s not throughout this series. Bryce Harper continued his playoff tear with a .929 OPS in the Fall Classic, and Kyle Schwarber has a pair of homers, including his first breath in Game 5. They’re locked up.
You know who’s not locked up? The guys around them. No. 2 hitter Rhys Hoskins is 3 for 21 and enters Game 6 on a 0-for-10 slip since the home run against McCullers in Game 3 (including a four strikeout performance in Game 5). JT Realmutoperhaps bearing the brunt of his immense workload, is also 3 for 21 overall and 0 for 13 with nine strikeouts over the last three games. Nick Castellanos is 3 for 20, although he made more contacts in Game 5 than in the previous four games.
Hoskins, Realmuto and Castellanos had a handful of productive hits, but that wasn’t much compared to the damage a Schwarber and Harper did. If the going gets rough, don’t be afraid to get around the left-handed pair – especially when they’re behind in the count – and attack the others.
3. Free Urquidy (when the time comes).
If this streak comes down to Game 7, it will be McCullers’ turn in Houston’s rotation – and we saw how that ended last time around. Regardless of the right-hander’s playoff history, it will be difficult for the Astros to return to McCullers – especially if things go wrong – especially given the pitch tipping rumors.
The Astros are fully rested Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia ready to go (and, if necessary, Christian Javier on a short rest) – and if they have to make a choice there, they shouldn’t try to tempt fate hoping for a rebound from McCullers. Urquidy has never lost a World Series game and looked strong in three relief sets in Game 3. The moment won’t be too big for him.
1. Get to the starter early.
Well, that’s easier said than done when the Game 6 starter in question is Framber Valdez, who pushed for 6 1/3 one-point ball innings in Game 2 – and barely seemed to sweat in the process. But there are a few different factors at play here.
This will be the third time this month that this Phillies roster will see Valdez, which means they’ve seen everything he has to offer – twice. Also keep in mind that Valdez pitched an American League-leading 201 1/3 innings during the regular season and added 19 more frames this postseason. It’s not hard to imagine fatigue becoming a factor, although he will have had plenty of rest since Game 2.
Although this is not a guarantee of success (the Astros had comeback wins against the Mariners and Yankees), it’s much easier to imagine that than a sustained comeback against the Astros’ bullpen, which has allowed two earned runs in 18 1/3 innings this series – and can replace any troubled reliever by another dominant arm behind him.
It’s impossible to tell how a starting pitcher will react to variable use—let alone pressure points—until they’re actually in those situations. Suárez thrived, with his 5 2/3 scoreless frames in the Fall Classic encompassing a five-inning start and two-out situation as a high-leverage southpaw.
He appears lined up to start a possible Game 7, but Thomson said Suárez could pitch in Game 6 as a reliever if needed. In that case, Aaron Nola would start Game 7 with a short rest – and Suárez could still be available behind him. Suárez hasn’t been affected by any pressure tests this postseason, and even if it comes down to possibly pitching in back-to-back games — unheard of for a modern starting pitcher — it still might be Philly’s best bet. .
3. Wake up Realmuto and Castellanos.
Schwarber and Harper have done a lot of damage — but if the Phillies are to steal two games from Houston to win a title, they’ll need help from their teammates in the big moments.
Realmuto was the hero of Game 1 with his brace and eventual hit in the 10th inning — and he was set for another clutch hit in the ninth inning of Game 5 before the Astros’ center fielder. Chas McCormick stole it with the defensive play of the series. Castellanos showed unusual discipline in several long plate appearances in Game 5 and had a pair of hard-hit balls (over 95 mph) for the outs.
You could say they are struggling. Given their talent, perhaps we could say that they are due. They no longer need sustained success. All it will take is a big swing or two – and Realmuto and Castellanos are certainly capable of that.