So the Dodgers Bullpen Is Not Invincible After All

(Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports)

Sooner or later, when you exclusively depend on the success rate of mathematical probability as your primary influence of decision making, things are going to backfire. Ultimately, predictability is not how things will go, but how they can go. And things didn’t go quite the way Dodgers‘ skipper Dave Roberts had hoped in Game 2 of the World Series in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening.

At the game’s onset, many onlookers thought that Justin Verlander would be untouchable, and many also thought that the Dodgers would have difficulty scoring runs. This seemed to be the case early, but in the end, offense wasn’t the problem for the Dodgers—bullpen management was. At one point in the game it appeared as if Los Angeles was poised to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, yet in the end, it was the Astros who both managed and executed better than the Dodgers en route to victory.

The Dodgers’ downfall seemingly stemmed when Roberts decided to remove veteran lefty Rich Hill after only 60 pitches and an even four innings. Prior to the eighth inning of Game 2, the Dodgers’ relief corps had been indestructible to the tune of not allowing a run in 28 postseason innings—by far an MLB record. So there was a comfort level, at least initially. But the undoing wasn’t because Roberts turned to righty Kenta Maeda to relieve Hill, it was because he decided to do it so soon.

Roberts said in the postgame that he liked the way Maeda matched up against the top of the Houston lineup, but the main reasoning behind the decision to pull Hill was surely in the numbers. During the regular season, the lefty tallied an ERA well below 3.00 in innings one through four during his starts, while his ERA was above 4.00 in innings after, as he often gave the impression of losing his effectiveness the third time through the opposition’s batting order.

Sure, Maeda is highly qualified to be a long man, but during the 2017 postseason he has proven to be a valuable late-inning setup man in the highest leverage situations. He has made six appearances in the playoffs so far, and has only allowed one hit and no walks through 6-1/3 innings thrown. That’s quality work. But Roberts didn’t use Maeda in length anyway, yanking him after 1-1/3 frames before emptying out his stockpile of relief arms unhesitatingly.

Just imagine if the game was managed in a way that saw Maeda throw the seventh, Brandon Morrow the eighth and Kenley Jansen the ninth—nice and efficiently.

Instead, Roberts would use all eight relievers at his disposal by the end of the evening. Ross Stripling didn’t even record an out before being pulled. Nor did Josh Fields, whose pitch location was about as center cut as the finest steaks on the butcher’s top shelf, reminding us why he surrendered double-digit long balls over only 57 innings during the regular season.

And veteran righty Brandon McCarthy, with the game on the line, and appearing on the World Series roster for reasons that defy logic, looked as flat as he has all year.

Many fans were saying that Roberts would have been glorified if the Dodgers would have pulled off the win, but his strategies in Game 2—regardless of the outcome— were downright ugly. Indeed, a few of these in-game decisions may have originated from the think tank in the front office. As it turned out, though, it was easy for any fan of the Blue to imagine more gas being thrown on the fire as the game progressed.

Regardless, Game 2 is in the books, and it doesn’t make sense to continue to beat a dead horse, unless, of course, there were lessons learned as the club attempts to regroup and head into Houston with plenty of energy and optimism. In the greater scope of things, the series is far from over, as these first two battles are only very small parts of a much larger war.

Jansen himself perhaps said it best when asked about the team’s outlook after the unraveling in Game 2.

“We don’t hang our heads in here. We didn’t do that all year. We’re not going to do it now.”



One thought on “So the Dodgers Bullpen Is Not Invincible After All

  1. Completely agree with your points about Maeda/Hill (too soon), and I can say that I thought so when it was done, not just after it backfired. That said, if it had worked, Doc would have been correct and I would have been wrong. That’s the way it goes in baseball. I walked around for an hour after the game, feeling as though we had just lost the 7th game of the Series, but when I heard/read Dodger players’ reaction after the game, I felt better. It was a spectacular but gut wrenching game to watch and our guys seem far from beaten. As Kike said, “sometimes you just have to give credit to the other team.” I knew it was just a matter of time until the bullpen imploded and lost us a game. I was just hoping it wouldn’t happen until April 2018.

    Liked by 1 person

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