Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes talks with reliever Kenta Maeda as manager Dave Roberts comes to the mound to change pitchers against the Houston Astros in the sixth inning in the 2017 MLB World Series game five at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas on October 29, 2017. The Dodgers and Astros head into the crucial game five tied at two games apiece in the best of seven series. Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo
HOUSTON -- Even before the bottom fell out on his bullpen in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted that his relievers, the same group of pitchers who dominated the early rounds of the postseason, were showing some wear.
That admission covered right-hander Kenta Maeda, who worked nine scoreless innings over seven appearances entering Sunday night, allowing two hits and one walk against nine strikeouts. It included right-hander Brandon Morrow, who had pitched in 11 of 12 games this postseason to a 1.46 ERA, with nine of those appearances being scoreless outings.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen was in that mix, too, even after he became the first reliever to capture Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year honors in consecutive seasons.
The signs of erosion were faint -- Jansen blowing a save in Game 2 and allowing a homer to Astros third baseman Alex Bregman in the ninth inning of a 6-2 win in Game 4 -- yet noticeable. Maeda and Morrow were accumulating innings to the point that Maeda was unavailable in Game 4 and Morrow supposedly was unavailable on Sunday night before declaring himself fit to pitch.
"He called down and said that he felt good," Roberts said of Morrow. "He was throwing today, he felt good. And he called the middle of the game and he said, 'Hey, if we take the lead, I want the ball, my body feels good.' So, in the seventh inning, you can't turn him down. He felt good, he wanted to be in the game, and it's a credit to him to be used like he has been and want the baseball."
Morrow didn't pitch as well as he felt. Quite the opposite, in face.
He surrendered twice as many home runs in the Astros' 13-12, 10-inning victory on Sunday as he had in the regular season and postseason combined. Morrow allowed four runs on four hits without recording an out in the seventh inning, with George Springer and Carlos Correa taking him deep to turn a one-run Los Angeles lead into an 11-8 Houston advantage.
Maeda was victimized earlier, relieving ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw with two outs in the fifth inning and immediately allowing his first run of the postseason on a three-run homer by Astros second baseman Jose Altuve that tied the game at 7-7. Maeda was charged with as many hits (two) and walks (one) in Game 5 as he had on his ledger over his prior seven appearances.
Perhaps the Dodgers' greatest concern rests with Jansen. Roberts has requested the closer to work multiple innings four times this postseason, and both times against the Astros, he proved vulnerable when he returned to the mound for his second inning.
Jansen allowed a game-tying home run to Marwin Gonzalez in Game 2 before the Astros mustered a two-out rally on Sunday night, with Bregman delivering the knockout blow with his walk-off single.
The Dodgers' bullpen, which extended its scoreless innings streak to 28 in Game 2, has seen its decisive advantage wither as this series has progressed. The Astros' bullpen isn't alone in its vulnerability.
"Our bullpen, their bullpen, we all come in with different reputations and different confidence levels and different success rates," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't know that anybody would have expected that."