2017 World Series: Dodgers face Games 4 and 5 with a potentially exhausted bullpen

HOUSTON — The Dodgers entered the World Series with what looked like a deep and totally dominant bullpen. They now face a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-seven Fall Classic against the Astros with the possibility of an exhausted bullpen looming for Game 4 and maybe bleeding into Game 5. 

The problem now exists thanks to a quick four-inning hook of Rich Hill in Game 2 and Yu Darvish being torched for four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in Game 3. Given that the Dodgers hung around and kept Game 3 close, Roberts had little choice but to use most of his big guns. Now that they came up short, however, things aren’t in great shape moving forward. 

Kenta Maeda kept the Dodgers in the game through the early innings and into the middle innings with 2 2/3 brilliant scoreless innings. He entered the game with runners on second and third, too, so things could have gotten ugly on his watch. Instead, he mowed down the Astros. 

Of course, Maeda was needed for 42 pitches two days after he threw 25. He hadn’t thrown more than 30 pitches since Sept. 21, when he was stretched out as a starter. He’s not anymore even if he’s been used in long relief at times. If he is available for Game 4, it’ll be for a short stint and then he’s likely out for Game 5. 

Brandon Morrow has now worked three times in the first four days of the series. It was the third time this postseason he was used three out of four days. He hasn’t pitched four out of five days at all in 2017. He wasn’t near as sharp in Game 3 as he had been previously in the postseason, and we could probably include him allowing that double in Game 2. Remember his extensive injury history, too. Surely he’s not available for Game 4. If he is used for some reason, Game 5 is out. 

Tony Watson only threw one pitch in the L.A. leg of the series, so his 18 pitches in Game 3 don’t hurt Roberts yet, but suppose Watson is the one who has to take the long role in Game 4 with Maeda and Morrow down? Then he would be out for Game 5. 

Tony Cingrani should really only be used against lefties, so a long role for him is out. 

Until Game 2, Brandon McCarthy hadn’t pitched in a game since Oct. 1. He gave up two runs in Game 2 as well. It feels difficult to trust him in a big spot, especially an extended one. 

That leaves ace closer Kenley Jansen with Josh Fields, Ross Stripling and Watson as the bridge to him. 

This isn’t quite the “deep” setup I discussed in the intro, and Morrow and Maeda were key cogs in what has made the bullpen dominant in the postseason, at least heading into Game 2. 

Now, Alex Wood can flip the script here. If he can get through six or even seven innings, Roberts likely heads into Game 5 — a Clayton Kershaw start — with full ammo. Then there’s an off-day (unless the Dodgers lose both Games 4 and 5, of course) before Game 6, when his bullpen would probably be back to normal. 

Wood dealing late in the game is no sure thing. He only lasted 4 2/3 innings in his only postseason start, a game where he allowed three solo homers. The All-Star had a 3.89 second-half ERA and hasn’t gotten an out in the seventh inning since Aug. 15. 

Look, Roberts did what he had to do in order to keep his team in a winnable Game 3. I have no qualms with him using Maeda and Morrow aggressively. It’s just that now the Dodgers lost and it’s time for his club to face the consequences in Game 4, possibly into Game 5. In the “next man up” world of baseball, the Dodgers now need the likes of Wood, Watson and Stripling to step up. They very well might, setting them up to take a lead with Kershaw on Sunday. If they don’t, though, they’ll be facing elimination in Game 5. 

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