The World Series is close. Game 4 was the biggest blowout of the series so far, 6-2 Dodgers. Timely hitting in the late innings seem to be how games have been won and lost. Yes, both teams have to score runs to win, but more directly both teams need their pitching staffs to prevent runs from scoring, especially the bullpen. Pitching will win the 2017 World Series.
Both teams have pitched 37 innings through the first four games of the World Series. Houston has used nine pitchers, allowing 18 runs, 22 hits, 12 walks, 32 strikeouts, with a 4.38 ERA, and 0.919 WHIP. The Dodgers are hitting .176 with an .252 OBP. Los Angeles has used 12 pitchers, allowing 15 runs, 31 hits, 11 walks, 30 strikeouts, with a 3.41 ERA, and 1.135 WHIP. The Astros are hitting .226 with an .282 OBP.
Houston must bridge the gap between the starter and Brad Peacock to win its first World Series. (Brett Coomer/ Houston Chronicle)
Both teams have had moments of greatness on the mound and at bat. Ultimately the World Series will be decided by how the managers use their bullpen. Astros manager A.J. Hinch has relied on fewer pitchers, but for more innings per pitcher, while Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has relied on more pitchers for fewer innings per pitcher. It will come down to whether the Astros bullpen tires out before Roberts pulls a pitcher too soon and replaces him with someone who is ineffective. Both approaches could work, but only one will win the series.
Houston is averaging more than six innings from its starters. Once the game goes to the bullpen, A.J. Hinch is riding the hot hand. Hinch is relying on Chris Devenski (3 ⅓ innings), Will Harris (1 ⅔ innings), and Brad Peacock (4 innings) to finish games. Harris and Devenenski are the bridge from the starters to Peacock. Unfortunately for the Astros Ken Giles has not helped, a 27.00 ERA in only 1 ⅔ innings has hurt Houston. This late in the World Series it is doubtful the Astros can give him more chances to figure it out. The Astros bullpen is a little shorter due to Giles struggles, but they are not alone in potential bullpen issues.
The Dodger bullpen has a cast of many to bridge the gap between the starter and Kenley Jansen, but is there a week link? (Matt Slocum/ AP)
Dave Roberts is sticking with the formula that got Los Angeles to the World Series. Dodgers starters are averaging less than 4 ⅔ innings per start, less than 5 ⅔ innings if you remove the disastrous start by Yu Darvish in Game 3. Los Angeles is relying on its bullpen for more outs. Brandon Morrow (4 innings), Tony Watson (2 ⅔ innings), Kenta Maeda (4 innings), and Kenley Jansen (4 innings) have been the workmen keeping the Dodgers close. Los Angeles has seen Brandon McCarthy (18.00 ERA in 1 inning pitched) and Josh Fields (infinite ERA) not perform when called upon, and with each out being so precious there is little reason to expect them to pitch again. The Dodgers too have a shortened bullpen in the now best of three series.
Defense wins championships, while this is true, at least in part, in the 2017 World Series bullpen management and usage will decide the victor. The Dodgers and Astros are playing a great team World Series. No single player has carried either team. How each bullpen performs will dictate if Houston gets its first ever World Series championship or if Los Angeles gets to relive the glory of 1988. Time will tell, but the key to winning lies within the bullpen. Every time the call to the bullpen is made, the entire World Series could be able to change.
Major League Baseball has approved a patted hat for pitchers to begin wearing this coming season as added protection against come backers which can do major damage to a players head. Obviously this padding is not going to make the pitchers completely safe, but it is better than wearing a thin hat as they have previously. Ask Alex Cobb, Brandon McCarthy, J.A. Happ, and Steve Shields if they wish they had had something between their heads and the baseball when it hit them doing well over 100 mph. I bet they would say yes. While McCarthy has already said he will not be wearing the new padded hats, I bet he would if he did not think it would impede his pitching.
Everyone makes their own choices in life, but I am glad to see MLB is giving pitchers a choice and an additional way to protect themselves. The batting helmets, arm and leg guards, plus the tools of ignorance worn by the catchers should have shown MLB a long time ago that the pitcher needs some sort of protection as well. While they are not hit every game, when pitchers are hit everything stops. The stadium is not going to fall silent if Jason Giambi, the active leader in getting hit by pitch, gets hit on the elbow, but it will when Brandon McCarthy is hit in the head. Everything that can be done to prevent catastrophic injuries should be done to protect the players, umpires, and fans. However baseball comes with come inherit risk. Pitchers need to learn to finish their pitch and land in a position where they can protect themselves. Greg Maddux was the master at this, and his landing position helped him win 18 Gold Gloves. He was able to protect himself and be an active fielder, which undoubtedly allowed fewer base runners on and fewer runs to score.
You cannot prevent every injury, it is an unfortunate part of the game, but you can mitigate it. Head injuries have become big news in football and I think MLB needs to get out in front of these preventable injuries to protect pitchers. Baseball has often been criticized for being slow to change. I think this is a perfect opportunity for baseball to show that it is serious about protecting its players from the hazards of the game.