Last night, the Houston Astros’ pitching staff combined for the second no-hitter in World Series history. Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero, and Ryan Pressly allowed only three baserunners (all walks) while striking out 14 Phillies en route to evening up the World Series. There were only four other games all season where the Phillies struck out more times.
The highlight of the game was undoubtedly Astros’ starter Cristian Javier, who compiled nine strikeouts through six innings while walking only two batters. He was lights out like Super Bowl 47. He hadn’t allowed a single baserunner since the third inning, and was only at 97 pitches through six. The old adage is that you want to throw under 15 pitches per inning, and while Javier was above that threshold, he was still far under his season-high pitch count of 115.
This series is going to go at least six games, and at this rate, nobody would be shocked if it went 7 innings, and that’s why saving the team’s bullpen is all the more important.
This isn’t about Javier getting a shot at a solo no-hitter. While that obviously would’ve been awesome to see, and people likely would’ve tuned in to watch it potentially unfold, that’s not what’s important. Dusty Baker and the Astros don’t care about no-hitters. They care about winning, and that’s how it should be. If Baker believed taking Javier out was the best decision to help his team win, good on him. I disagree.
Leaving Javier in might have MAYBE lowered his team’s chances slightly in Game 4 (that’s obviously unprovable), but it also would’ve helped his team in the long run. Ryan Pressly is an All-Star-caliber closer who posted a 2.98 ERA, 12.1 K/9, and 2.31 FIP in 2022. He has already thrown in three games this World Series. Rafael Montero is an elite setup man. He’s pitched in three games this series. The best arms in that Astros’ bullpen are getting burnt out and leaving Javier in would’ve perhaps given that bullpen some much-needed rest. Sure, the World Series was postponed and there was an extra day of rest given to both teams, but your arms can never be too fresh, and using guys like Pressly and Montero when Javier likely could’ve gone one or two more innings is a poor decision that could harm the team should a Game 7 be required.
It’s easy to sit back and look at what unfolded last night and assume the best decisions were made. After all, how is it possible to make a mistake when your team throws a no-hitter? And if I’m being honest, there are a few counterarguments that could be made. For one, Javier had only gone over 100 pitches twice all season. In both of those instances though, Javier didn’t allow a single hit in his final inning. In fact, he only allowed one baserunner (Josh Donaldson, who got on by error). In total, batters went 0-for-7 with four strikeouts. He’s got the arm to go deep into games and has proven effective in those situations.
Javier’s career ERA in the 7th inning of games is 2.93 with a .572 OPS against. That’s a very solid number. And sure, the heart of the Phillies’ lineup was coming up in the seventh — JT Realmuto, Bryce Harper, and Nick Castellanos — and this would’ve been their third time facing Javier in that game, but remind me how those three had done against Javier to that point? Oh yes, 0-for-5 with five strikeouts and a walk.
Obviously, great hitters make adjustments and those are three great hitters, but Javier wasn’t doing anything special or tricky on the mound. He was throwing gas, over 70 percent fastballs, and was just dominating the Phillies’ hitters. It was clear he had their number and likely wouldn’t have had to make any adjustments to mow down Philadelphia’s 3-4-5 hitters.
Sure, there’s fear that the Phillies could score five runs quickly again, as they did in Game 1, but Verlander was not on the same tear that Javier was, and I’m not saying that if Javier had returned for the seventh, his leash should’ve been long. Baker still would’ve had the bullpen going, ready and waiting for any sign of regression from Javier, and would’ve pulled the trigger at the first sign of trouble.
Perhaps Javier’s arm was getting tired? Maybe a little, but Javier wasn’t playing like his arm was. In the first inning of that ballgame, Javier threw 13 fastballs and four sliders. The fastball was hitting 93-95 miles per hour. The slider was hitting 80-81. In the sixth inning, Javier threw 16 fastballs and three sliders. Every fastball was either 92 or 93. Every slider was either 79 or 80. He’d lost one mile per hour on his fastball, which is definitely something, but not enough to warrant concern over wear and tear, especially when your guy is tossing the greatest game in recent World Series memory.
“But what about if Baker wants to use Javier in Game 7?” you might be thinking.
This is the best counterargument to my claim. The Phillies hit Lance McCullers really well in Game 3. There are rumors that McCullers was tipping his pitches as well. We’ve all seen the breakdowns. It looks as though that was the case. You could tweak McCullers’ technique to avoid that happening again, but making those changes in the middle of a World Series, especially when he’s scheduled to pitch Game 7, could prove disastrous and isn’t worth the risk. Sure, it would be on short rest, but Javier could absolutely pitch in Game 7 if he needed to. If that’s the case, my argument folds.
However, that would also likely mean a short outing for Javier — four, maybe five innings if they’re lucky. That’s potentially half a game that the bullpen is going to have to cover. Wouldn’t it be nice to have your best guys fresh then? That’s one potential downside I can think of.
The final aspect I want to talk about is the optics of leaving Javier in the game. How would it have looked if Baker kept Javier in the game and he blew the lead? Not good. Obviously, that’d be a difficult question to answer if the press brought it up. However, that argument goes both ways. What if the bullpen ended up blowing the lead? How would it look if Baker took out someone throwing a no-hitter and the bullpen lost the game? That also would’ve been a bad look. We’ve seen it happen before, as recently as 2020 when Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Kevin Cash removed Blake Snell from Game 6 of the World Series after 5.1 innings of one-run ball and only 73 pitches. Look how that turned out.
There were people calling for Kevin Cash’s head after that decision. You’re telling me that leaving Javier in would’ve been a worse look than that? I don’t buy it.
Obviously, everything worked out in Game 4. Although I am worried about the longevity of the Astros’ bullpen coming into play, it’s not a major concern and would only come into play if the series reaches seven games.
I’ll also admit, I’m a little biased. As a baseball fan, I would’ve liked to have seen Javier go for the solo no-hitter, but I know he never would’ve made it through nine innings. Still, there would have been some legitimate benefits to keeping Javier in the long term. As I said, it’s easy to look at how dominant Abreu, Montero, and Pressly were in the final third of the game and say “Yeah, removing Javier was the right call.” I’m just not so sure.