The Astros and Phillies traded zeroes through the first four innings of Game 4 of the World Series on Wednesday. But in the fifth, the dam broke, and then some, as the Astros got on the board for the first time in Philadelphia in the series.
Phils starter Aaron Nola was rolling early, but he allowed three consecutive singles to start the fifth. With the bases loaded and Yordan Alvarez coming up, Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson pulled his ace for top left-handed reliever Jose Alvarado.
Alvarado plunked Alvarez to force in a run, and then served up two more hits and a sacrifice fly before the end of the inning. By that point, Houston led the game 5-0.
Thomson has been praised for his handling of the team’s pitching staff throughout the postseason. Why did he decide to pull Nola and bring in Alvarado? Here’s what we know.
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Why did the Phillies pull Aaron Nola?
The result might not have worked out, but the reasoning was sound.
Though Thomson has not yet had an opportunity to defend the move to reporters, it’s obvious why he made the move. Nola had just given up three straight hits to one of the best lineups in baseball and the Astros’ best hitter was coming up.
And Nola wasn’t quite as dominant as the numbers showed. Though he began with four scoreless, by the time he was pulled, he had given up seven hard hits (95 mph or faster off the bat), per Baseball Savant. Two of those hits came in that fifth inning.
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Where the speculation started to emerge was in how Alvarado handled the inning. He hit Alvarez with his first pitch to bring in a run and then gave up a two-run double to Alex Bregman. Kyle Tucker roped a sacrifice fly to center to score Alvarez, and then Yuli Gurriel singled past a drawn-in infield to drive in Bregman and make it 5-0.
While Alvarado eventually got out of the inning, he was charged with two runs — the first runs given up by the Phillies’ bullpen in the World Series — and allowed all three inherited runners to score. That took the energy out of what had been a raucous Philadelphia crowd.
Why did the Phillies go from Aaron Nola to Jose Alvarado?
So why make the move? While Nola has pitched well against left-handed batters this year (.557 OPS vs. LHB, .646 vs. RHB), he, like most pitchers, starts to wear down when facing batters for the third time. He has allowed a .672 OPS when facing a batter for the third time and 10 of his 19 home runs in those situations.
Alvarez had a 1.052 OPS against right-handed starting pitching in 2022 and a .927 OPS when facing a starter for the third time. But he also mashed left-handed pitching, posting a .998 OPS against lefties in 2022.
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Alvarado, though, has been dominant against lefty hitters and is the team’s top left-handed bullpen arm. In 2022, left-handed batters posted just a .630 OPS against him.
Many will disagree with pulling Nola, who had a lower OPS allowed to lefties than Alvarado and was only at 67 pitches in the game, but in such a high-leverage situation, it certainly made sense to bring in the fresh arm. And if Nola had given up any runs himself, there would have been more speculation about why a starter who began to look shaky wasn’t pulled sooner.