In the seventh inning of last night’s Game 4 of the World Series, the Nationals found themselves in a familiar position. Just the day before, they were down 4-1 to the Astros at this point of Game 3 and were on their way to losing the game wit that same score. It’s one thing if it’s just one game that ends up getting away from you — it’s another when it’s the second night in a row of being frustrated at the ballpark.
However, one positive thing that the Nats could have taken from Game 3 was that their bullpen continued to hold up. All four of the runs that Houston scored in that game were credited to Anibal Sanchez, and their bullpen continued to do their job. That included Fernando Rodney, who was the first man out of the bullpen for Game 3 and managed to escape a situation with the bases loaded without giving up any more runs. It was a bit of a journey but Rodney managed to keep Washington in the game at that point of the contest.
So one night after doing that, Davey Martinez called on Rodney to once again stop the bleeding. This time, Tanner Rainey walked the first two batters of three that he saw and it was up to Fernando to cut off the rally again. Things didn’t go anywhere near as well for both Rodney and the Nationals as it did back in the sixth inning of Game 3. Instead, the seventh inning of Game 4 saw the Astros actually cash in their bases loaded situation — Rodney gave up a single to Michael Brantley and then Alex Bregman put his name in the history books by hitting the 20th grand slam in World Series history.
From a glance, it’ll be easy to just blame Fernando Rodney for failing to do his job and turning what was at least a manageable situation into a dagger moment for the Astros. In my view, this comes down to two very important things — Alex Bregman is just an extremely impressive hitter who managed to get the best of Fernando Rodney and Rodney probably shouldn’t have even been on the mound for that situation.
For starters, let’s look at the pitch that Bregman sent into the left field seats. It was a fastball that was moving towards the lower inside corner of the strike zone. That is not a pitch that usually ends up being put in play for runs — it normally either hits the catcher’s glove or it’s getting fouled off. The pitch location was a good decision, and it checks out when you look at Bregman’s heat map from the regular season.
Again, Alex Bregman normally does a good job of hitting balls on the opposite side of where Fernando Rodney threw his fastball. Throwing a fastball low and inside to Bregman wasn’t a bad idea at all! However, Alex Bregman is also happens to be an incredible hitter and he proved it when he pulled it into the seats for four runs. Sometimes you can’t really do anything if a great player decides that this is his moment to be great and this ended up being that particular moment for Bregman.
Then there’s the matter of whether or not Rodney was the right man for this particular situation. Up to that point, Rodney had done a solid job of limiting the Astros and keeping them off the scoreboard while he was on the mound. This was his third straight game and also his second straight day throwing and that may have been the key moment. While it’s clear that Rodney can still be a perfectly serviceable reliever even at this stage of his career, he’s still 42-years-old. Even though the Nationals have used him on back-to-back days on plenty of occasions (they even had him pitch twice in one day this season!), it’s probably not the best idea to roll the dice by having him pitch in consecutive days.
It’s even more shocking when you consider that Daniel Hudson was also in the bullpen. Hudson hasn’t been seen since Game 1, which was also when Davey Martinez did a great job of managing the bullpen in that one. Game 4 probably wasn’t Martinez’s best moment and maybe he’ll regret not going to a high-leverage reliever in such a high-leverage situation. The Nationals have gained heaps of deserved praise for their utilization of their best pitchers to hide the weakest part of what’s been a somewhat suspect relief corps, and it’s a real shame that it was abandoned in a situation where it could have benefited them.
Asked if he would’ve considered Doolittle/Hudson in 7th if they had scored another run in 6th to trim deficit, Martinez admitted “it would be different.” But also said “you don’t go chasing wins.” In other words: Would use top guys only if tied/ahead/maybe down 1.— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) October 27, 2019
This isn’t to say that Hudson certainly would have thrown a clean inning and that this would have been the catalyst for the Nationals to make a comeback — baseball is notoriously difficult to predict and we’re seeing it right now as the road team has won the first four games of this World Series. This is to say that when it comes to the World Series, this really isn’t the time to stick to “traditional” roles when it comes to your bullpen. Just because you don’t have the lead, that doesn't mean that you can’t use your “set-up” man in that situation. They’re there to prevent runs and that situation in Game 4 of the World Series was a situation that called for run prevention in order to keep your team in the game.
Fernando Rodney has done an admirable job this postseason, but he couldn’t overcome the odds when the deck was stacked against him. Alex Bregman stepped up big-time and made Rodney pay for throwing a good pitch and the Nationals made themselves pay for not going to a better pitcher for that situation.