October 23, 2017

Though the unit led the NL in ERA (3.38), FIP (3.55) and K/9 (10.2), the Dodgers bullpen seemed like anything but a sure thing heading into the postseason, due largely to the late-season collapse of setup man Pedro Baez and a 5.30 ERA from the relief corps as a whole in September. Thanks to some rest as well as the addition of righty starter Kenta Maeda, the bullpen has been a revelation during the postseason, delivering a 0.94 ERA with one homer, two walks, 12 hits and 32 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings, the last 23 of them scoreless (a postseason record) dating back to Brandon Morrow allowing a homer in Game 2 of the NLDS.

Rather than assigning innings to the relievers besides Jansen, Roberts has keyed on stretches of opposing lineups to deploy "The Two Tonys"—lefties Cingrani and Watson, both added at the July 31 deadline—and righties Maeda and Morrow, with Jansen able to take the last three to six outs as needed. The 29-year-old Curaçao native has been training for such stints, and has a win and 14 saves (two in the postseason) in 16 appearances longer than an inning this year; only in one long stint, a July 23 blown save, did he allow any runs. Jansen has a case as the game's best closer thanks to that stamina and an otherworldly 109/7 K/BB ratio; his 1.31 FIP and 42.3% K rate were both tops among relievers while his 2.7% walk rate was 0.1 shy of the lead. So far in the postseason, he's allowed just two hits, a walk and a hit-by pitch in eight innings while whiffing 12 of 28 batters faced.

Maeda, whose fastball has played up out of the bullpen, has retired all 15 batters faced so far this postseason, 14 in October. Given his wide platoon split (.580 OPS vs. right-handed batters in 2016-17, compared to .730 vs. Lefties), he'll be called upon to snuff out a string of righties anywhere from the fifth to the eighth inning. The hard-throwing Morrow, one of the Dodgers' best scrapheap finds, turned in a 2.06 ERA and 1.55 FIP while whiffing 10.3 per nine. He's allowed just one run, three hits and one walk in 8 1/3 innings thus far while whiffing eight.

Cingrani, generally used for one batter at a time, struggled to contain lefties before being traded by the Reds but within the small-sample theater of his Dodgers career has held them to 6-for-36 with one walk and one double. Watson is slightly more likely to face multiple lefties, though the Astros' rightward tilt likely means keying on Josh Reddick or switch-hitting Marwin Gonzalez.

Astros closer Ken Giles was a shutdown reliever in the regular season, striking out 83 in 62 2/3 innings en route to a 2.30 ERA and 34 saves, but he’s been shaky in the postseason, allowing five runs and walking three in six frames. Houston’s bullpen as a whole has been a mess, with no reliable options to get Hinch through the night.

Devenski was his top setup man during the regular season, but the lanky righty has been awful when called upon in October, with four runs allowed in three innings; after getting beat up in ALCS Game 4, Hinch didn’t use him for the rest of the series. Harris and Gregerson are his best middle relief options, but the former has barely pitched this postseason, appearing in only three games, and the latter’s lack of velocity makes him a shaky late-innings bet. Liriano is the only lefty, but he doesn’t seem to have Hinch’s trust, appearing only once in the ALCS (and in garbage time at that); against good lefty hitters, Hinch has no real weapon.

Peacock and Musgrove, then, have found their way into high-leverage roles almost by default, though neither has particularly excelled. After a terrible Game 3 start in the Division Series, Peacock was shifted to the bullpen for the ALCS, giving up two runs and two homers across 2 1/3 innings in Games 5 and 6. Musgrove’s lone ALCS appearance was disastrous: He gave up two runs while getting only two outs in Houston’s Game 4 meltdown in the Bronx.

Simply put, the bullpen is a real weak spot for the Astros heading into the World Series.

Edge: Dodgers

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