Coming into the World Series, the Dodgers and Astros seemed pretty evenly matched overall. If there was one area that most would agree the Dodgers had an edge, it would be the bullpen. Not only did the Dodgers have the best group of relievers throughout the regular season, but they had really taken it to another level in the playoffs.
The Dodgers bullpen had pitched 28 straight scoreless innings before the Houston Astros finally got to them on Wednesday night in Game 2. They had been basically untouchable thus far in the post season, mowing down both the Arizona Diamondback and Chicago Cubs offenses. Turns out though, they’re human after all.
— Michael J. Duarte (@michaeljduarte) October 26, 2017
Going forward, Houston should certainly have more confidence now that they’ve cracked that previously invincible bullpen. And on the flip side, the Dodgers may have some concerns with their group. Not with their primary guys, of course. Although Kenley Jansen and Brandon Morrow both finally gave up runs in the post season, Dave Roberts will undoubtedly hand them the ball without hesitation the next time he has the chance to. Kenta Maeda, Tony Watson, and Tony Cingrani have all been solid as well, and there’s no reason not to trust them at this point.
However, the back of the bullpen is a different story.
Josh Fields got absolutely crushed in his brief appearance during Game 2, giving up back-to-back home runs and a double, without recording an out, before he got pulled. And that’s not the first time Fields has struggled to keep the ball in the park, as he’s been known to allow long balls during the course of the regular season.
It would be hard to envision trusting Fields again in the World Series to be completely honest. Who knows where his head is at now, and how much confidence he lost after Game 2.
The same could probably be said for Brandon McCarthy. A surprise addition to the World Series roster, McCarthy came in Game 2 and promptly gave up a two-run homer to George Springer, which would end up being the game winner.
McCarthy hadn’t pitched since Oct 1st and had only three major league appearances with a total of six innings since July 20th. His lack of opportunities down the stretch, coupled with his history of the YIPS, had to have many wondering why he’d ever be included on a post season roster this year. Now, like Fields, one could legitimately argue that McCarthy should probably not be trusted again in this series. He didn’t look comfortable and seemed overmatched by the Astros’ hitters. Having two relievers that you absolutely cannot trust in the most important series of the year is not ideal. And they may not be the only two.
Ross Stripling came in during the 7th inning of Game 2 and walked the only hitter he faced on four pitches. Roberts quickly removed him after that, but once again, it does raise some questions about whether or not Stripling should be trusted. And it’s not just because of this one batter. After all, he really struggled down the stretch, posting a 8.00 ERA in September.
Overall, the Dodgers bullpen is still very good. However, that strength is mostly focused around their top relievers. Jansen, Morrow, and Maeda all provide great options late in the game. However, there certainly appears to be some weak links at the end. While Cingrani and Watson have done an admirable job, they’ve been used almost exclusively as left-handed specialists, coming in to get a batter or two. Roberts hasn’t shown the desire to keep either in longer than that.
With two teams so evenly matched, it’s surely not inconceivable to envision another close, extra-inning game. If that does happen, the Dodgers might not have such a big advantage in relief pitching after all, especially if Roberts is forced (or chooses) to used up his big guns early on. As I’ve pointed out, you can justifiably argue that there are three different relievers in which the Dodgers should probably avoid, if at all possible. That shortens the bullpen from eight guys, to five, with two of them being lefty specialists.
One way for the Dodgers to avoid this possible mess, is to hope their starters can go a little longer in the game. The decision to pull Rich Hill after just four innings was probably pre-designed by Roberts, and it would be hard to really blame him since that strategy had worked out fine up until that point. But now that it’s backfired once, and we’ve all seen how there’s some real weaknesses at the back end of the bullpen, that strategy may change a bit.
If the Dodgers had one clear advantage coming into this World Series, it was the bullpen. That concept may still hold true, but unfortunately, it may not be as one-sided as we previously thought… especially if it gets to the back end.
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