Thursday, October 26, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment (Game Two edition)

A taut pitchers duel Wednesday turned into home run derby late, and the winning team may well feel a bit worse about itself afterwards than it did before the game.

The bullpen was certainly not a weakness for the Houston Astros during their 101-win regular season, but A.J. Hinch certainly cannot feel confident in his relief staff right now. Closer Ken Giles and All-Star setup man Chris Devenski had difficulty closing out the Dodgers in Game Two, and those struggles have precedent. Devenski has pitched so far this postseason to a 8.44 ERA, Giles to an 8.22 ERA.

Hinch found a way around those struggles at the end of the ALCS -- using Lance McCullers, starter, for four innings of relief work in Game 7. It's likely that the rotation shift the Astros announced before Game Two -- McCullers will start Game Three on Friday, with Charlie Morton pushed back to Saturday -- was designed to make it possible to bring McCullers back in a Game Seven or even Game Six in relief.

But for that to matter the Astros need to get that far. And Hinch has only one Justin Verlander in his rotation. He needs his bullpen to do a better job.

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Each team has a starting pitcher who will presumably spend his 50s and 60s (and probably part of his 40s) going to Cooperstown one weekend each summer to sit on the veranda of the Otesaga Hotel swapping stories with other legends of the game.

It's a plauable assertion that the starts of Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers and Justin Verlander for the Astros are must-win games for their respective teams. Lose one of their starts, and the series gets much more difficult.

In that sense, each team got the minimum they needed out of the first two games.

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The Astros have two former Twins on their active roster for the Series: Francisco Liriano, the sole lefty in their bullpen, and catcher Juan Centeno.

Liriano came in a deadline deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was a struggling starter with Toronto (6-5, 5.88 in 18 starts) and he's been a struggling reliever for the Astros (4.40 in 14.1 innings spread over 20 appearances). Most striking to me in his stat line with the Astros: 10 walks to 11 strikeouts.

Centeno got just 57 major league plate appearances this season (and more than 250 in Triple A). His primary purpose, presumably, is as a security blanket that will allow Hinch to deploy Evan Gattis as the designated hitter in the three Houston games.


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