Monday, October 30, 2017

Grinding the bullpens to dust

What a bizarre game the Dodgers and Astros gave us Sunday night/Monday morning. Too much bizarre. Hours later, I'm still processing the idea that a matchup of Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Kuechel could require a calculator rather than a scorecard.

Neither manager came into Game Five intending to bullpen. These were -- are -- two of the top left-handed starters in baseball today. Kershaw, with the 10-season minimum served, is now a lock for Cooperstown; some (who should know better) even claim him to be the greatest pitcher ever.

But neither could get out of the fifth inning, and a month of almost frantic bullpen moves has caught up to both teams.

During the regular season, teams could -- and did -- make roster moves with impunity. Twins fans saw this a lot; Paul Molitor would be waving in five relievers on Monday, and by Tuesday's game somebody new would be in the clubhouse to freshen the 'pen.

That's not the case in October. I noted the other day that nobody worked 162 innings (the minimum to qualify for the ERA title) for the Astros this season. Well, only Kershaw did for the Dodgers, and he was well short of 200 innings.

Dave Roberts and A.J. Hinch are running the games as they did during the season. Five innings from the starter and get them out of there. But a month of this, culminated with a series pitting a pair of powerful lineups, has ground the bullpens to dust. Brandon Morrow had pitched four times in five days; Sunday made it five in six. It was too much.

I surmised a couple days ago that Brad Peacock would be unavailable until at least Game Six. But he pitched Sunday, with the Houston announcers commenting on his lower-than-usual arm slot. This is not a good sign.

But the 'Stros won anyway. They beat Kenley Jansen again -- both times in the star reliever's second inning of work -- and now have the advantage in the series, three games to two.

 And they have Justin Verlander, one of the few starters who has avoided the five-and-fly mantra, set to go on full rest in Game Six. The Dodgers have Rich Hill, talented, fragile and chronically early to leave.

This World Series has always felt destined for seven games, but that destiny relied in part on the notion that neither Kershaw nor Verlander would lose. Kershaw cracked Sunday. My guess is Verlander won't. But I've certainly been wrong on this before.

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