Throughout the playoffs, we’ll take a look at some of the smaller matchups that make baseball so much fun. Here is what we’re looking at today.
Were you to poll Phillies fans prior to this series about the team’s chances in Atlanta, you’d have found a large variance on that whole “cocky or distraught” meter that has made the viral rounds. Taking one of the two games was a must for the team when they went down to Georgia, but the order in which they won them was somewhat surprising. Zack Wheeler has been so good lately for the team coupled with the team facing a rusty Max Fried may have been the one people pointed to as the likely victory, yet a defeat is what the Phillies walked off the field with.
Getting to and defeating Spencer Strider in the first game felt like a mammoth undertaking. Historically, the team has just not done well against him. Focusing in on only this year, the numbers were staggering. The team had a .512 OPS against him. He struck out 38 batters in 26 innings against the Phillies. It felt like a true “David vs. Goliath” matchup. Yet while they didn’t exactly light him on fire on Saturday night, they did enough to make sure they had a lead for their bullpen to protect.
So can they do it again?
There may be some things that will change. For example, the pitch mix Strider usually stuck with during the season was changed against the Phillies.
He used his fastball roughly 59% of the time in 2023, his slider around 33%. On Saturday, he relied on the slider 39% of the game, his fastball 54%. The heightened slider usage made some sense too since the Phillies whiffed on the pitch 62% of the game (13 swings and misses), so using it more often was a smart pitcher making smart pitch decisions.
The Phillies, though, now have this information as well. Will they look for it more often? Do they expect him to go back to his fastball more? That’ll be one of the keys of the game. The other key, of course, is make sure they are making more contact with anything Strider throws in the first place. Running a 44% whiff rate up against Strider ain’t gonna get it done, so making more, and better, contact against whatever pitch mix he decides on is a must.
Now, maybe those chances of making better contact will go up if his season keeps following the pattern it has done so far this season.
Days rest is always a topic of discussion. It’s been the hot button issue with the playoffs thanks to two of the top seeds being swept out of the playoffs so far and a third on the ropes. With Strider, it’s been a theme this year with how much rest he has gotten and the numbers that happen when that changes.
It’s pretty interesting that when Strider get what we might consider to be normal four days rest, he’s much worse than when he gets five or more days. We don’t know the reasons why the Braves were giving him five days (innings limits? pitch counts?), but there is a clear line of demarcation between dominant Strider and average to below average Strider: that extra day’s rest.
Let’s also not get too ahead of ourselves. Spencer Strider is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Scoring runs off of him will be a tall task for the Phillies tonight. Creating a successful gameplan and sticking to it will be key to sending Atlanta home with yet another early postseason exit.