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The game within the game: World Series Game 2 - Yordan Alvarez against the Phillies’ bullpen

They handled him well last night, but you know it’s coming. How do they combat it?

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MLB: World Series-Philadelphia Phillies at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Each game of this National League Championship Series, we’re going to take a microlevel look at an intriguing matchup of the day.

Today’s matchup: Yordan Alvarez against the Phillies’ bullpen

Last night, Rob Thomson pushed all the right buttons. There was some question as to whether or not he might be using his starters on their bullpen days during the World Series, but seeing Ranger Suarez trot in from the bullpen should have answered that question quite resoundingly. The Astros got their hits, as they will during this series, but whenever Thomson called upon someone to get a big out, that reliever seemed to deliver.

Yordan Alvarez has a huge home run in game one of the Division Series against the Mariners, a home run that likely broke Seattle’s back and ended their hopes of a deep playoff run. Since then, he has largely been held in check by his opposition, not a big surprise as he’s the guy on the Astros that teams gameplan for. Much like when Bryce Harper is on the opposing lineup card, teams will build bullpen usage plans based on who gets Alvarez. Using a traditional way of thinking, one might assume that any time a left hander with the Phillies is available, whether it be Jose Alvarado, Brad Hand (shudder) or Suarez, they’ll be the ones called from the bullpen to the mound.

Maybe it isn’t that simple.

Listening to the Athletic podcast the other day, Eno Sarris mentioned that Alvarez has struggled against certain pitches this season, suggesting that maybe a left handed isn’t necessary to get Alvarez out, but instead focus on which pitches can be used to get Alvarez. It might be foolhardy to think that the team should be focusing so much on one batter, but Alvarez has a case as the best hitter in baseball. It has to be done.

Take a look at how Alvarez has fared against different pitches this year:

The first thing to notice is that he crushed fastballs. Makes sense; he’s huge with power. Fastballs are what he hunts.

But notice also that he struggles with two particular pitches: the cutter and the curveball. “Struggles” might be a powerful word, so maybe we can say he doesn’t do as well against them. Based on these numbers, Alvarado is probably the best choice to face, but is it strange to think that maybe the second best choice is....

...David Robertson? If you had to use someone else, assuming Suarez isn’t throwing tonight, would you go with....Zach Eflin?

These are pretty random choices, but there is evidence that based on how Alvarez has performed against these pitches and what Robertson and Eflin have in their arsenals, maybe they are the best choices to use against him late in games. It’s doubtful that Thomson would summon either of these two guys over, say, Seranthony Dominguez late in the games, but if tonight’s starter, Zack Wheeler, cannot go deep into the game and a reliever is needed to face Alvarez in a high leverage spot in the fifth, sixth, seventh innings, it’s nice to know that Thomson has choices in reserve.

How Thomson deploys his arms in the bullpen throughout the series is going to be the thing to watch, but these tiny matchups are the ones that decide the game. We’ll have to see how it all goes.