World Series 2022: Phillies Aces have different concerns about moving forward than Astros

In the World Series matchup between the up-and-coming Philadelphia Phillies and the favored Houston Astros, a reasonable assumption is that the Phils would go as far as their tandem aces — Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler — would take them. On one hand, the Phillies struck successfully, splitting the first two games in Houston and essentially using home field advantage in a best-of-five series for the belt and the title.

On the downside, they’ve achieved that split despite underperforming from Nola and Wheeler, and that’s a concern as you progress into the rest of the series.

In Wheeler’s case, he showed reduced speed in Game 2 (when he conceded four earned runs in five innings), but that’s only relative to his earlier — and very dominant — work in these playoffs. As Todd Zolecki notes, in Game 2 against the Astros, Wheeler’s fastball averaged 96.2 mph in the first inning, which was well below his first inning average of 98.3 mph in his previous postseason starts. Still, he was able to regain some fastball poomph later in his game, and overall, Wheeler’s Game 2 speed numbers weren’t too far from his regular-season norms.

This may be a case where those earlier postseason starts are outliers in terms of Wheeler’s early speed. During the regular season, his four-seamer averaged 96.7 mph in the first inning. In Game 2 against Houston, his first-inning fastball was down a half tick compared to his regular-season norms, but that’s not by much worrying deficit. Again, the standout is the extra early bike he enjoyed during the Wild Card Series, NLDS and NLCS, not the most usual metrics from his start in the World Series.

Wheeler is lined up to start Game 6 in Philly (if needed), and his early fastball stats could be a clue as to whether he’s back in elite playoff demigod mode or “just” the very good starting pitcher he was during was the regular season.

As for Nola, his speed and spin rate were significantly increased when he started Game 1 against the Astros, which could be partly due to serving eight days off. In a related matter, he struggled with his temper in Game 1. Extra speed and spin are very good things in theory, but they have to be used.

His pitch mix in Game 1 (when he conceded five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings) was also largely identical to what he used to dominate the Astros in the final game of the regular season (against a largely normal Houston lineup). The difference is in the results — Nola was in the hitting zone more often early in the regular season, and in Game 1 Kyle Tucker touched him for two homers. Limiting long balls is one of Nola’s established skills, and spikes like the ones Tucker and the Astros had in Game 1 can only be random noise. Looking ahead to Nola’s start in Game 5, the hope for Philly is that his control and control will respond positively to extra rest and that he can keep the ball in the park.

More broadly, the front of rotation is one of the few advantages the Phillies seem to have in this series. That the game is even, even though the front of the rotation has conceded 10 runs in 9 ⅓ innings combined, is both fortunate and worrying from a Philly standpoint. What they need to capitalize on this seeming advantage is Vintage Nola, followed by maybe Pre-Game 2 game start wheeler The latter is obviously a pretty specific request, but that’s the nature of trying to pull off one of the biggest World Series upsets in history.


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