World Series 2017: This intangible could be X-factor for Dodgers, Astros

LOS ANGELES – Well, so, yeah, the bullpen.

The Houston Astros have gotten this far, so they’ve managed to work around it, survive it, duct tape it up and get on to the next day. Doesn’t make it any less inconvenient, that to be dragging a 5.03 postseason ERA from their relievers into, all things considered, the biggest baseball games in their history. They do, generally, believe in the men, however, and the pitchers they’ve been and can be again, so, yeah, open the door and let ‘em fly.

Nobody might’ve even noticed were they not being held up against the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose bullpen went from good to unhittable over a couple weeks. That’s a lie. But, still, in the hours before the first pitch of the first game of this World Series, if one were searching for the difference between Dodgers in 7 and Astros in 7, one would be left with a shut-down, paint-by-numbers bullpen and a here-comes-the-big-one, hold-on-for-your-life bullpen.

You know, so far.

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The next pitch. Sometimes, especially after a few bad ones, it’s what gets them on a plane, into a new town, into a whole new mess to clean up. Even if they really believed in the last one, loved it, wouldn’t have delivered it any other way, sometimes all that’s left then is the next pitch too. A few uneven innings, even in October, wouldn’t change that, even if a good part of the summer was spent the same way, when getting from the starting pitcher to the handshake line was an exercise in patience and faith and willpower.

Since the Astros left behind their 101 regular-season wins, their closer, Ken Giles, has allowed eight hits, three walks and five runs in six innings. He’s also saved two games. Chris Devenski, an All-Star who once got outs all over games, has allowed five hits, two walks and four runs in three innings. Will Harris, also once an All-Star, has given up four hits and a walk in two innings. Joe Musgrove, whose big stuff made him a natural as a high-leverage reliever, has allowed three runs and gotten eight outs. Luke Gregerson’s ERA: Zero!

18 PHOTOS
1988 World Series: Dodgers defeat Oakland Athletics
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1988 World Series: Dodgers defeat Oakland Athletics
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 15: Manager Tommy Lasorda of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tony LaRussa of the Oakland Athletics, shake hands during the player introductions during the World Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California in October 15, 1988. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 15: First Lady Nancy Reagan throws the ceremonial first pitch of the 1988 World Series featuring the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California on October 15, 1988. The Dodgers defeated the Athletics 5-4 in game one of the series. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 1988: Mickey Hatcher #9 of the Los Angeles Dodgers stands on deck circle and waits for his turn to bat against the Oakland Athletics during the World Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California in October of 1988. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 15: Dave Stewart #34 of the Oakland Athletics throws the first pitch of the 1988 World Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California on October 15, 1988. The Dodgers defeated the Athletics 5-4 in game 1. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 15: Los Angeles Dodgers teammates rush Kirk Gibson #23 after he hit a home run against the Oakland Athletics during the World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 15, 1988 in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers defeated the Athletics 5-4 in game 1 of the series. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 15: Jose Conseco #33 of the Oakland Athletics and Mike Davis #20 of the Los Angeles Dodgers, former teammates, pose before the competition during the World Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California in October 15, 1988. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15: Los Angeles Dodgers' Kirk Gibson #23 gestures to the crowd after hitting a home run during the World Series against the Oakland Athletics at Dodger Stadium on October 15, 1988 in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers defeated the Athletics 5-4 in game 1 of the series. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 16: Orel Hershiser #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws the first pitch against the Oakland Athletics during the 1988 World Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California on October 16, 1988. The Dodgers defeated the Athletics 6-0 in game 2 of the World Series. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 16: Alfredo Claudino Griffin of the Los Angeles Dodgers runs across home plate against the Oakland Athletics during game 2 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California in October 16, 1988. The Dodgers defeated the Athletics 6-0. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 16, 1988: Infielder Steve Sax #2 of the Los Angeles Dodgers slides in at second base ahead of the tag of shortstop Walt Weiss #7 of the Oakland Athletics during game 2 of the 1988 World Series, October 16, 1988 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers won the series 4-1. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 19: Mark McGwire #25 of the Oakland Athletics bats against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game 3 of the World Series at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on October 19, 1988. The Dodgers defeated the Athletics 4-3 in game 4. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 20: Orel Hershiser #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Oakland Athletics during the 1988 World Series at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on October 20, 1988. The Dodgers defeated the Athletics 4-3 in the decisive game 5 of the World Series. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15: Kirk Gibson #23 of the Los Angeles Dodgers bats in the bottom of the ninth inning of game one against the Oakland Athletics during the 1988 World Series, October 15, 1988 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers won the series 4-1. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 20, 1988: Third baseman Carney Lansford of the Oakland Athletics makes a diving catch in game 5 of the 1988 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics, October 20, 1988 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Dodgers won the series 4-1. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 20, 1988: Picher Orel Hershiser (L) of the Los Angeles Dodgers is lifted in the air with jubilation by catcher Rick Dempsey (R) while teammates Jeff Hamilton #33 and Mickey Hatcher #9 rush to the scene after Hershiser pitched a complete game to win game 5 and the 1988 World Series against the Oakland Athletics, October 20, 1988 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Dodgers won the series 4-1. Hershiser was the series MVP and played for the Dodgers from 1983-94, 2000. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 20, 1988: Picher Orel Hershiser (L) of the Los Angeles Dodgers is lifted in the air by catcher Rick Dempsey (R) while teammates Mickey Hatcher and Tracy Woodson #21 Jump with jubilation after Hershiser pitched a complete game to win game 5 and the 1988 World Series against the Oakland Athletics, October 20, 1988 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Dodgers won the series 4-1. Hershiser was the series MVP and played for the Dodgers from 1983-94, 2000. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 20: Franklin Stubbs #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers receives a champagne shower in the clubhouse after winning the World Series against the Oakland Athletics on October 20, 1988 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Dodgers won the game 5-2 and won the series 4-1. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
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But, not a disaster, because on Monday evening, they were here at media day, eager to play for the franchise’s first World Series championship, smiling because, presumably, there would be a next pitch. It would be better than the last. Or, the outcome would be better than the last. For, at some point, one must let go of the thing and live with the result. It’s way easier, it should be noted, when there’s a Champagne bath between those pitches.

Meantime, Astros manager A.J. Hinch has turned to starters Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. for big innings, in McCullers’ case four big innings at the end of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

“To get through the regular season, you need a little more defined and a little bit more traditional role of how the bullpen plays out,” Hinch said, “and you spread out your guys and use a bunch of different guys. It’s amazing what you’re willing to do in the postseason.”

It was the reason for McCullers and, before that, Brad Peacock. That is, urgency. And alternatives. And survival. And duct tape.

“You’re willing to do a lot more in a small, short series,” he said. “Speaking of no tomorrow, there’s no more games after this series. So, I’ll do whatever I have to do to get the outs.

“Our hope is that our bullpen can get off to a better start and we’ll be able to get the outs. To be honest with you, I don’t have a preference. As long as we get the outs.”

10 PHOTOS
Breathtaking sunsets around baseball parks
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Breathtaking sunsets around baseball parks
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 23: A dramatic sunset illumines the sky during a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts on June 23, 2015. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 6: General view as the sunsets over Busch Stadium during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 6, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Diamondbacks 12-8. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 03: Pitcher Adam Ottavino #37 of the Colorado Rockies delivers against the San Francisco Giants as sunset falls over the stadium at Coors Field on August 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 23: A dramatic sunset illumines the sky during a game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts on June 23, 2015. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 2: A general view of Oriole Park at Camden Yards during the game between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles on Friday, September 2, 2016 in Baltimore Maryland. (Photo by Dan Kubus/Baltimore Orioles/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 20: The Conan blimp flies over Yankee stadium as the New York Yankees play against the Texas Rangers in Game Five of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 20, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 11: Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch in the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies on August 11, 2015 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 21: The Arizona Diamondbacks line up for the National Anthem during a sunset before the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on September 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 14: Fans of the Atlanta Braves watch the action during sunset against the San Diego Padres at SunTrust Park on April 14, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Well, the regular bullpen guys have noticed, of course. They’re not in the same roles, or not for long. When the pundits sort through the series’ most likely outcome, none of which is anything like fact, by the way, or even punditry, for that matter, the respective bullpens are most often cited. Where Dodgers manager Dave Roberts looks for reasons to pull the chute on his starter and start waving in fresh arms, Hinch, it would appear, seeks opportunity to stick with his starters. Either strategy can win. The former is more comforting, perhaps.

Devenski, a salt-of-the-earth young man and downright nasty right-hander who threw 80 2/3 innings while also being holstered late for October, said he’d noted the observations their bullpen – his bullpen – could be the pivotal element here, and not always in a nice way.

“I think we have taken it personal,” he said. “We know we’re better than the way we’ve performed. We’ve worked harder than anyone in the league to get to this point. How we performed to this point in the postseason really doesn’t mean anything. Now it’s game on.

“Oh yeah, it stings to hear that kind of stuff. It stings not to perform at your best. But, can’t focus on the past. The past is the past.”

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Harris allowed a three-run home run to Aaron Judge in Game 5 of the ALCS, which can happen. He was the first man up had McCullers faltered in Game 7, and has pitched in three of the Astros’ 11 postseason games.

“I’m not going to shout from the rooftops, ‘Show us some respect,’” Harris said. “It’s not the way I am. But what we can do is be better. Change people’s minds, through performance.

“Who knows what’s going to happen in the next four to seven games. We’ve got talented guys.”

He listed most of them.

“So,” he said, “it’s more than meets the eyes. It’s our opportunity.”

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