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The game within the game: World Series Game 3 - Lance McCullers’ slider against Phillies

Prepare yourself to see a lot of breaking pitches

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MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-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.

Tonight’s matchup: Lance McCullers’ slider against the Phillies’ lineup

Remember this?

To close out game seven of the 2017 ALCS, Lance McCullers threw 24 straight curveballs. It was remarkable then and is remarkable now. To have a starter throw that many breaking balls in a row, regardless of what kind of breaking ball, in that kind of a situation doesn’t just scream “that’s all he feel for”. When it comes to it, it is simply good scouting by the Astros.*

*yes, I know they cheated.

McCullers was a fan of his own deception, falling in love with his curveball and throwing it almost half of the time he was on the mound that season. And for good reason! That year, it ranked in the upper echelons of the game as far as run prevention for specific pitches. If teams can’t do anything with it, might as well throw it a lot.

Since that year, his usage of his curveball has morphed into something a little different. Now, instead of throwing his curveball as much, he’s leaning hard into being a slider pitcher. If you want to take it a bit further, McCullers is starting to lean into using his entire available arsenal on the mound as opposed to being a two pitch pitcher, therefore giving him a chance to face hitters a third time through the order.

It’s all part of a pitcher’s evolution. If a guy wants to avoid being labeled as a “future reliever”, he’s got to come up with something a little different. One cannot simply throw two pitches only all the time lest he start to get whacked as a starter. What is interesting though is that lately, McCullers has started to really focus his efforts on one pitch, starting with his end of the season trends.

Yessir, one might say McCullers is going to be....sliding....into the Phillies’ DMs (that’s what the kids say, right?) He is throwing his slider more and more, amplified in these playoffs. In two starts these playoffs, McCullers has thrown his slider a whopping 44% of the time, backed by his using the sinker 26% of the time. That’s an incredible 70% of his total pitches doing the “one or the other” thing. You pretty much know what you’re going to get with McCullers on the mound. It’ll be up to the Phillies to make sure they’re punishing any mistakes he makes or lay off those that are out of the zone.