The time has come. The Dodgers, having lost a late-inning lead and eventually the game in an all-time exciting and unlikely Game 2, lost Game 3 in Houston in much more typical fashion.
Typical Houston Astros fashion, that is.
Houston improved to 7-0 at home this postseason, and the wins are all starting to look familiar. Good starting pitching and runs scored in bunches have been the formula, and after stealing Game 2 in Los Angeles, their 5-3 win in Game 3 has them in the driver’s seat with the next two games in Houston.
The time has come for the Dodgers to panic. They may only need to win one game in Houston, but even for the Dodgers this is no small feat, and after getting just what they needed in L.A.—one game—the Astros may be poised to finish the series without going back to Dodger Stadium.
Houston’s confidence comes with a caveat. Despite the brevity that’s being attached to their winning a game in Los Angeles and seizing home-field advantage, L.A. only needs to do as much to wrestle it back. Three consecutive games at Minute Maid Park may be daunting, but with Yu Darvish pitching in Game 3 and Clayton Kershaw going in Game 5, the circumstances favored the Dodgers taking at least one of the three.
But against Darvish, who has been dazzling in his starts against Arizona and Chicago, the Astros got one big inning and rode it to a painless victory. Lance McCullers, Jr. and Brad Peacock were reminiscent of Charlie Morton and then McCullers in their Game 7 ALCS win over the Yankees.
A.J. Hinch’s touch with this starter/super-reliever combo has been deft. Rather than one of his starting 5 becoming obsolete in a shortened playoff rotation, Hinch has allowed his 3rd, 4th, and 5th starters–McCullers, Morton, and Peacock–the opportunity to pair up in different combinations and each and all play key roles in Houston wins.
Game 4 will pit Morton for Houston against lefty Alex Wood for the Dodgers. Morton has been a successful reclamation project for the Astros and has pitched well in the postseason, and Wood was previously an ace for the Braves who has been just as effective pitching fourth in the rotation for Dave Roberts.
The burden now is firmly on the Dodgers–on the offense to score early and on Wood to be perfect until they do.
If Houston can push across multiple runs in an early inning, can the Dodger bats answer? And If the bats show no signs of life early, how long is it until Alex Wood cracks?
Look for more of the same approach from Houston in Game 4. The lineup will likely place urgency on having a strong inning early, and will dig in if a rally develops. And if they can get to Wood before the Dodgers can get to Morton, all eyes will turn to the Dodgers offense.
This L.A. lineup has not shown any vulnerability so far this postseason. Chris Taylor has raked and has been a tough out every time in the box. The same could be said of Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig. Game 4 will be the time when these red-hot Dodgers hitters either fan the flame or fizzle out.
In this season where they ran away with the National League, with their back against the wall for the first time, can L.A. hitters face down the moment and carry them?
It could be that for L.A., the time to panic will bring out the best.
But if they want to see Dodger Stadium again in 2017, the time has come to earn it.
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