World Series: Phillies’ Zack Wheeler caught ‘off guard’ as he was thrown out of season-ending loss

World Series: Phillies’ Zack Wheeler caught ‘off guard’ as he was thrown out of season-ending loss

The Philadelphia Phillies‘ chances to win their first World Series championship since 2008 were dashed on Saturday night, when they lost Game 6 (and therefore the best of seven series) to Houston Astros in the final 4-1. The highlight of Game 6 came in the sixth inning, when Phillies manager Rob Thomson replaced the starter Zack Wheeler with José Alvarado in relief. Alvarado followed that up with a three-run home run to the Astros left fielder Yordan Alvarez.

After the game, Wheeler admitted that Thomson’s decision to remove him from the game “caught him [him] clumsy.”

For his part, Thomson said he thinks Wheeler still has good stuff. He simply preferred the match Alvardo gave against Alvarez.

Wheeler worked 5 1/3 innings in the bottom line, surrendering two runs on three hits and a walk. He threw five and 49 of his 70 pitches for strikes. Despite his success through the first five-plus innings and low scoring output, his removal from Saturday night’s contest probably shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise.

For one thing, the Phillies have approached Wheeler with a conservative mindset since he returned from the injured list late in the season. He hasn’t thrown more than 80 pitches in his last three regular-season starts and has thrown less than 90 in all six of his postseason appearances. The Phillies decided to give him an extra day of rest not once but twice in the World Series — they could have brought him back for Game 5 on his usual rest, but instead chose to give him a full five days of rest after his Game 2 outing.

At second, Wheeler made his third trip through the order — typically a danger zone for rookie pitchers. Even pitchers as good as Wheeler suffer with more exposure to opponents. Namely, his OPS went from .609 and .583 the first two times he saw a hitter in a game during the regular season to .722 the third time. That’s still better than the league average for hitting third in a game, but that doesn’t mean he was necessarily the best pitcher going up against Alvarez.

Indeed, Alvarado has allowed a .630 OPS against lefties this season, and a .585 OPS overall. It was reasonable to think he had a better chance of retiring Alvarez — and, perhaps, even inducing an inning-ending double play — for other reasons. As we wrote as part of our review of the first five games of the World Series:

Afterward, people were quick to point out that Alvarez hit just .265 against sinkers this season, his lowest against any type of pitch he’s seen regularly. Moreover, his .283 average against left-handed sinkers was nearly 60 points lower than his average against any other type of pitch delivered from the southpaw. If you’re doing this kind of surface-level analysis, then yes, a flood is the way to go.

Add it all up and Alvarado was the defensive pick at that position. It just didn’t work.

Alvarado, who generated nearly 60 percent of his groundballs during the regular season, simply threw a bad pitch: a hot one that caught too much of the plate. Alvarez crushed it, some 450 feet to center field, and that was that. That’s the beauty and agony of baseball, especially in the postseason: What makes sense on paper doesn’t always translate.

Still, you can understand Wheeler’s position. He wanted to give his team and keep them alive in the fight for a World Series title. In most respects it did its job. Unfortunately, there is little margin for error when playing against a team as good as the Astros. Alvarado and the Phillies simply fell on the wrong side.

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