After a long outing Sunday, the Washington Nationals bullpen is doing their job in the NLDS. Can they keep it up in Los Angeles?
If Game 2 is any sign, the Washington Nationals bullpen will decide if the team moves on to the National League Championship Series.
After needing only nine outs in Friday’s Game 1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sunday’s tally was 14. Tanner Roark scuffled his way through 4.1 nervous innings before Dusty Baker turned to his seven-man pen to finish the job. In 5.2 frames, they did just that.
For the second straight game, the Nats pen kept the Dodgers off the scoreboard. Sure, Marc Rzepczynski walked three and Mark Melancon surrendered a hit, but over 8.2 innings in this series, no Dodger runner has touched home plate. You cannot do better than an ERA of 0.00.
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Now that the scene shifts to sunny Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium for the next two, how the pen holds up determines where the Washington Nationals go from here. Continue to perform well, and it is off to Chicago or home against San Francisco.
Yes, we expected more from Roark in Game 2. He tossed 210 innings this season and six yesterday, would have taken the edge off and saved a few fingernails. Reality, like that jagged edge on your pinky, bites. The good news for Washington is Rich Hill lasted 4.1 innings Sunday and Clayton Kershaw five on Friday. Los Angeles’ pen has been as busy as the Nats.
Game 3 features Gio Gonzalez for Washington and Kenta Maeda for the Dodgers. While we do not know what to expect from the rookie Maeda, Gonzalez is a four-inning 80-pitch disaster waiting to happen. This is the game everyone figured would be the empty the bullpen one.
With a staff of seven, Washington sets up in Los Angeles in good shape. Sammy Solis looked strong in both his outings. Blake Treinen’s four outs yesterday earned him the win. Shawn Kelley and long reliever Reynaldo Lopez have yet to throw a pitch. Considering where the series could be, if Jose Lobaton did not hit the homerun, Baker and pitching coach Mike Maddux must be giddy.
Gonzalez, who has a 20-win season on his resume, can surprise everyone today and throw six solid innings. With a win, Joe Ross can relax in his Game 4 start. If Gonzalez gets torched, then prepare for Max Scherzer on short rest Tuesday and Ross leading the charge out of the pen.
To demand perfection from the bullpen every game when double-digit outs are needed is silly. At some point, especially on the road, a Dodger runner will score and the place will erupt. Because Baker has handled the relief corps well in the first two games, he can mix and match the next two either to minimize the damage or shut the door.
You expected this series to be even after two. After yesterday, this NLDS is.