It’s not Houston Astros baseball if social media isn’t filled with conspiracy theories of their performance in October. Although it’s not the cheating scandal like the 2017 World Series, this theory still does not benefit the Astros. The Philadelphia Phillies dominated the Astros 7-0 in Game 3 of the World Series Tuesday night. Astros’ starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. set a World Series record of surrendering five home runs in a single postseason outing. Several members of the MLB community believe that much of the Phillies success came from McCullers tipping his pitches. However, McCullers insists that his awful game has nothing to do with tipping.

The Phillies got to McCullers early, as Bryce Harper crushed a first pitch 2-run home run in the bottom of the first. Phillies third baseman, Alec Bohm, was set to lead off for Philadelphia in the second inning. Before Alec Bohm stepped into the batter box, Bryce Harper called him over to share some words with him. Bohm, proceeded to rope a 109-mph home run on the first pitch he saw. Social media erupted on what Bryce Harper said to Bohm and whether McCullers is tipping his pitches. MLB players who were eliminated from the playoffs like Will Middlebrooks and Jake Diekman went to twitter accusing McCullers of tipping. It did not help McCullers case as the Phillies continued their home run spree due to the likes of Brandon Marsh, Kyle Schwarber, and Rhys Hoskins.

There is no hard cut evidence that proves that McCullers was tipping his pitches. Much is speculation of Bryce Harper whispering to Bohm before his home run. However, some fans are convinced that McCullers position of his hands and the height of his leg kick are different when switching between fastball and off-speed.

Lance McCullers came out in his postgame press conference denying that he was tipping pitches. “This has nothing to do with tipping… Listen, I am who I am. I’m going to throw a lot of off-speed. Everyone knows that.” 187 starting pitchers threw 750 pitches this season, and only Edward Cabrera of the Miami Marlins threw fastballs less than McCullers. McCullers threw either a cutter or a sinker just 32.3% of the time to righties, and against lefties that rate dropped to less than 25%. “I got whupped,” he said. “End of story.”

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McCullers admitted that he made mistakes but thought that he had some good pitches despite the outcome. “The movement was there. The location for the most part was there.” Houston catcher, Martin Maldonado, felt otherwise and threw McCullers under the bus when addressing the loss. Maldonado had an answer for every home run of the night. Harper’s homer came on a lazy first pitch curveball. Bohm’s was a first-pitch sinker that ran back in. Schwarber’s, a 1-2 changeup that caught too much of the plate. Hoskins’ was a lazy 2-2 slider. Marsh hit a 2-0 slider that barely cleared the right-field wall. He then stated that pitch, too, was essentially a hanger, up in the zone. The blame does not completely fall on McCullers as the Astro’s offense was little to nonexistent in Game 3.

I feel that there is a possibility that McCullers was tipping his pitches. Nonetheless, I believe that the more realistic explanation is McCullers was rusty and couldn’t locate his pitches. McCullers has been extremely effective in the postseason as prior to Tuesday night, he only allowed 4 homeruns in 58 2/3 innings pitched. McCullers, however, entered the game with a very predictable trait. Through his first two postseason starts; he had thrown only one fastball to opposing left-handed hitters. McCullers threw 78 pitches on Tuesday night. Statcast identified that only 20 of the 78 pitches were fastballs. This means that the Phillies were able to effectively target off-speed pitches ranging from 82-88 mph: like the slider, changeup, and knuckle-curve.

These statistics lead me to believe that McCullers was not tipping his pitches and the Phillies were just well prepared. McCullers has an opportunity to redeem himself if the series goes to game 7, as he would be set to start. Although McCullers may want another chance, Houston hopes to avoid having McCullers step back on the mound. Aside from Dusty Baker leaving McCullers in for too long despite the great bullpen, social media attacked McCullers. Even if he was not tipping his pitches, social media criticized his terrible performance. These factors don’t particularly inspire confidence, and a pitcher lacking confidence does not lead to quality starts.

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