The Houston Astros have four games to get two wins for their first World Series crown in franchise history. What that means is that the Los Angeles Dodgers need to win three out of the last four in order to snap their World Series drought, which is approaching 20 years. The Astros are around a -125 favorite if you take an average of the market with a total of 8.5 for Saturday night’s Game 4. A win for the Astros would mean a chance to finish it in five at home on Sunday night. A loss guarantees a return trip to Los Angeles in a best-of-three series.
Friday night could not have gone better for the Astros. They banged out 12 hits and only used two pitchers, as Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock did everything that they needed to do in order to pitch the ‘Stros to a 2-1 series lead. The Dodgers needed 6.1 innings from their bullpen because Yu Darvish left after just 12 batters faced and got battered in the process. Maybe the Astros could have cashed in more than three of their 14 at bats with a runner in scoring position, but the bullpen got a day off, McCullers kept rolling and was kept to 87 pitches so he’ll be a relief option later in the series, and Peacock efficiently got through 3.2 innings in just 53 pitches.
The Dodgers have to regroup under sub-optimal conditions on Saturday night. They’ve dropped two straight, something that hasn’t happened in these playoffs, and the pressure is really mounting on a team that was built at a high cost solely to win baseball’s Tournament of Variance. Anything less is a disappointment. But, from more than just a narrative standpoint, the fact that Game 4 falls in the lap of Alex Wood is the biggest problem.
With the decision to use Kenta Maeda in a relief capacity, the Dodgers have been forced to turn to Alex Wood in a huge swing game. Wood had a very good regular season with a 2.72 ERA, a 3.32 FIP, and a 3.34 xFIP, but he fell apart late in the year. His velocity dropped off dramatically and this is an era when velocity rules the world. In Wood’s only start of the postseason, he allowed three solo home runs out of four hits across 4.2 innings of work. He did strike out seven and didn’t walk a batter, but the drop in command was something that we saw as the season went along with the lower margin for error with less miles per hour on the radar gun. Over his last 54 innings of the season, Wood allowed 20 runs on 53 hits in 54 innings of work, including 10 home runs. He only struck out 41, despite averaging about a full strikeout per inning over the course of the entire regular season. In the first half, Wood struck out 30.9 percent of batters faced. In the second half, that number plummeted to just 18 percent. His HR/FB% went from 5.1 percent to 18.1 percent.
Fatigue was speculated as a reason, which it shouldn’t be anymore with so much downtime in October, but that’s not going to fix Wood’s command problem. This is a situation that could be very costly for the Dodgers. The Astros have really gotten the bats going over the last 20 innings with 12 runs and 26 hits.
Charlie Morton takes the hill for the Astros. Morton, who had a 3.62 ERA with a 3.46 FIP and a 3.58 xFIP in his 146.2 innings in the regular season, has had a big gap between stuff and results in the postseason. Morton’s arsenal shows elite upside, with a high-velocity fastball and a really good curveball. As he takes the ball for Game 4, though, he has allowed nine runs on nine hits in 13 postseason innings. He has struck out 14 and walked five. On October 21, though, he worked five shutout innings and was removed after 54 pitches in Game 7 of the ALCS, so he saved his best effort for the biggest stage to date. Morton has worked 159.2 innings this season, which is the most that he has worked in a year since 2014 when he threw 157.1 frames. The adrenaline of pitching in the World Series should be enough to overcome any fatigue or help mask discomfort, but we will have to keep an eye on Morton heading into next season.
In any event, he’s a guy that has battled with command a little bit at times in these playoffs, but has also gotten unlucky with some low hit probability batted balls finding some patches of grass. The stuff in his October 16 start against the Yankees looked significantly better than his stat line, but some low-percentage balls found holes and then he exacerbated the problem with a three-run homer, that probably shouldn’t have been in a different year with different baseballs. More runs got added to his total from a dinger given up by a reliever. Keep this in mind when evaluating these small sample size stat lines. Morton has pitched better than a 6.23 ERA would suggest.
If the middle of the Dodgers order doesn’t wake up, it could be curtains pretty quickly. Justin Turner has two hits. Cody Bellinger wore a Golden Sombrero around after yesterday’s game and doesn’t have a hit in the series. Yasiel Puig’s second hit of the series erased him from the bases when he tried to stretch a single and got thrown out at second. Even at the top, Chris Taylor’s only hit is the leadoff home run he started with in Game 1. The Astros have done an excellent job of shutting down the middle of the Dodgers order and inducing weak contact. Some of it has to do with variance, but the Dodgers only have 15 hits in three games in this series. Houston’s pitchers have had terrific advance scouting reports and Los Angeles is 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
Both bullpens will be at full capacity tonight, except for Kenta Maeda for the Dodgers and Brad Peacock for the Astros. With Thursday’s off day and smaller workloads for the Dodgers relievers that did pitch on Friday night, all hands will be on deck, but the Astros are certainly in a more advantageous position from a rest standpoint. The Dodgers had hoped to get Kenley Jansen right back out there, but didn’t get that chance.
Free Pick: Houston Astros
The Astros have the starting pitcher advantage here and have an offense that is doing exactly what it did during the regular season. Houston is banging out a bunch of hits and getting plenty of chances with runners in scoring position. Typically, baseball games swing on a handful of high-leverage plate appearances and having more of those significantly increases a team’s chances of winning. After not having a single at bat with RISP in Game 1, the Astros have 27 such at bats over the last two games.
With Alex Wood’s stock depreciating and his command waning, things are set up really nicely for the Houston offense. Keep an eye out for live betting opportunities as usual, but the Astros are set up nicely as far as I’m concerned.