Karpin: Astros Take No Bull From Dodgers’ Pen

The Astros are World Champions because they won the deciding game seven, but there was a lot more than one win that went into this victory.

In baseball’s “winner take all” game, the Astros beat the Dodgers at their own game, they out pitched Los Angeles. Going into the final game, I felt Houston would have to out hit the Dodgers but it was the pitching, mixed in with some early offense, that decided the final game of the 2017 season.

I picked Houston to win in seven games because I felt they could win one or two games in Los Angeles. I figured they wouldn’t be able to sweep all three games in Houston so they were going to have to win at least one, and, as it turned out, two games on the road.

These two teams were so evenly matched that it took a number of momentum swings that occurred within the series to decide it.

Those momentum swings took place because Houston’s line up was able to put a dent in the armor that was the Dodgers’ bullpen. Remember, coming into the World Series and including game one, LA’s bullpen was riding a post season record 28 consecutive scoreless innings.

The Astros’ offense scored at least one run off of every Dodgers’ reliever (except right hander Ross Stripling who pitched two scoreless innings) in the Series, including Kenley Jansen who gave up three runs in 8.2 IP while yielding Marwin Gonzalez’ game tying home run in the ninth inning of game two. As you look back, that was the first momentum swing and arguably, the turning point of the entire series.

Even though Houston set a World Series record by hitting 15 home runs, their offense wasn’t predicated on the long ball. The Astros’ offense is well balanced. And can attack an opposing bullpen as well as anyone in the sport.

Many felt the Dodgers would have the advantage once the bullpens were involved but it wasn’t the case. After Gonzalez’ home run stunned the Dodgers, their pen imploded from there and could not hold the Astros down as they went on to lose 7-6 in 11 innings. From LA’s perspective, what was even more stunning about this loss is that the Dodgers answered Houston’s two run rally in the tenth with two of their own to keep the game going, but the pen gave up two more in the 11th and the offense just couldn’t muster enough to tie it one more time.

The Dodgers got their road win in game four to even the series. Game five was the next momentum swing.

Six runs against multi-Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. Seven more off of six Dodgers’ relievers including Jansen who gave up Alex Bregman’s RBI single that won the game and gave Houston two shots at winning the Series.

Game seven was the culmination of how the Astros’ offense wore down the entire Dodgers’ pitching staff. As the Series went on, Houston was able to make adjustments “on the fly.”

A prime example of making adjustments was the guy who won the “Willie Mays Award” as the Series MVP. George Springer began the series with a “golden sombrero” (4K) in game one, finished with a home run in each of the final four games and was the spark plug at the top of the lineup.

Yu Darvish was brutal once again and the Dodgers never recovered.

The Dodgers’ offense reminded of the Yankees in that they both were reliant on the home run. When the home runs dry up, so does the offense and that’s what happened in the final two games. The Dodgers scored only three runs in game six but it proved to be enough but one run in game seven would not cut it. The Dodgers had some chances but couldn’t get a timely hit as they left 10 men on base.

The Astros’ attacked the Dodgers’ offense, as they did the Yankees, with a slew of breaking balls, (How many times did Cody Bellinger strike out on a pitch that was low and in) and were able to snuff out rallies by making clutch pitches to get key outs.

One of my baseball theories has always been that, in order to win in the post season, a team needs to overcome its flaws.

Credit Astros’ Manager A.J. Hinch for overcoming an erratic bullpen by using starters in key spots throughout the Series. That proved to be the formula for winning game of the ALCS against the Yankees. It proved to be the formula to win game seven last night. Charlie Morton came out of the pen, got on a roll and never broke a sweat over the final three of his four inning stint.

What we did learn from this World Series is that bullpens can be vulnerable because of fatigue and familiarity. Last year, Indians’ Manager Terry Francona was lauded for his use of the bullpen in the post season and World Series, but in the end their relievers were burnt and it showed in game seven. The more that LA went to the pen in this Series, the better it seemed to suit the Astros’ hitters.

Houston was one game and a rule change short of having the home advantage but they were a good road team during the season. Their three night stay in the Bronx proved to be an aberration as they were able to win two games in LA to claim their first World Series title.

In the end, the Astros are World Champions. If I may paraphrase the late John Houseman, “they earned it.”

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