Game 2 of the World Series was the definition of wild and weird. The scoreboard was a see-saw, and the seemingly unhittable Dodgers bullpen surrendered six runs in four innings. Headlines and thoughts after the game may have revolved around something like “Dodgers bullpen implodes,” or some variation of that, but Dave Roberts and Dodger fans should keep faith in the arms that blew Game 2.
The legendary Dodgers‘ bullpen in the postseason, the one that went 28 scoreless innings, is a little misguided. Sure there have been contributions from Kenta Maeda, Tony Watson and Toni Cingrani, but over 21 of those innings were pitched by Kenley Jansen and Brandon Morrow.
The duo could arguably be the MVPs for the entire postseason for the Dodgers because their effectiveness in the back end of the bullpen affected Dave Roberts’ decision making. For example in Game 2, Roberts wouldn’t have pulled Hill in the fourth or Ross Stripling after just four pitches in the seventh, if Morrow and Jansen hadn’t been lockdown all postseason.
It’s a little odd to say that them being so good actually hurt the Dodgers last night, but it’s a false sense of security to believe they’d be perfect all postseason when they’re being extended so heavily.
In Morrow’s case, he was his playoff-self in the seventh but gave up the double to Bregman in the eighth. Some will overreact and say Morrow has been figured out and lost his effectiveness. No, first of all, he took the mound after a lengthy bottom of the seventh, which included “God Bless America,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and a blown run-scoring opportunity that proved to be crucial later on.
Second, Morrow is not a starting pitcher anymore. He rarely throws more than one inning, with the exception to the postseason. If you’ve watched him all season, Roberts limited him to one inning because often the first batter he faced in the next inning got on base.
Lastly, it’s not like Morrow was Jansen’s set up man all season. He only came into that role after Pedro Baez’s decline. He only threw 43.2 innings in the regular season, and now he’s already thrown 10.1 in just ten games. It’s understandable if he’s a bit fatigued.
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Jansen is a little different. He’s used to throwing multiple innings for multiple days at a time. However, he only recorded one six-out save and that was last year’s NLCS Game 2 when he and Kershaw had to carry the team.
Despite all the talk that neither Jansen nor Kershaw needs to carry the Dodgers, it sure seems like Jansen still does.
But this can go back to the failed run-scoring opportunity in the bottom of the seventh. If Joc Pederson or Chris Taylor knocked in Cody Bellinger from third, the lead would’ve been 4-1, and Dave Roberts may not have had to bring in Jansen for six outs.
Five or four outs is understandable, but at that point in the game, every out counts. As lights out as Jansen is, when he does make a mistake or isn’t sharp, he gives up home runs. With six outs to get, that only increased the chances that he’d make a mistake.
In the case of Ross Stripling, Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy, it’s forgivable why they were ineffective last night. Stripling is a former starting pitcher, and despite being moved to the bullpen for the season, he still needs regular innings. He threw a total of 19 pitches all postseason before last night. Stripling led the Dodger relievers in innings pitched in 2017, yet he hasn’t completed an inning in the postseason yet.
Brandon McCarthy can plead the same case. Not only is it difficult for a starting pitcher to come out of the bullpen with minimal playing time, but it’s an impossible task if his first postseason appearance comes in a tie game in the World Series. It’s hard to ease anyone into the postseason, there’s no time for that, but it would’ve been unrealistic if McCarthy just came out with smoking guns.
Josh Fields couldn’t be more frustrated after last night. He’s only thrown 13 pitches all October, after being an essential part in the victory formation for the Dodgers (taking the sixth or seventh inning usually). His October included a brief three-pitch outing, after which he was visibly upset with Dave Roberts’ decision not to let him complete the outing, even though the Dodgers were in no danger of losing the game. Now his short postseason legacy includes surrendering back-to-back home runs to start the extra-inning frenzy of Game 2.
It was a bitter loss for the Dodgers, and it should worry some that the Houston Astros hitters are capable of hitting the Dodgers’ bullpen and are gaining confidence. However, the loss last night was merely an accumulation of unfortunate circumstances.
A combination of tired and unused arms resulted in the false Dodgers bullpen implosion. The bullpen is still the best, but for this not to happen again, Dave Roberts needs to trust the guys not named Jansen or Morrow.