All hands on deck out of Astros' 'pen for G7

November 1st, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- About two hours after exiting the Astros' 3-1 Game 6 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday, stood in front of his locker and answered one of the more intriguing questions facing both teams in Wednesday's winner-take-all Game 7.

Might Verlander, who threw 93 pitches in Game 6, be available on no rest in Game 7?

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"Right now, I feel great," Verlander said. "I've got to sleep on it and see how I feel tomorrow."

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Realistically, Verlander, who leads the Majors in postseason innings pitched (36 2/3) by a wide margin, will factor only slightly into Game 7 -- if at all. But his potential availability hints at the reality that the Astros, who avoided using their highest-leverage relievers in Game 6, can turn to anyone on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.

That includes , who started Games 1 and 5, and would be pitching on two days' rest. It includes Charlie Morton, who started Game 3 and, with the exception of Game 7 starter , is Houston's most rested starting pitcher. It even -- potentially -- includes Verlander.

"It's Game 7," manager A.J. Hinch said. "If it's one pitch or 100 pitches, I think we're going to have to have all hands on deck."

Although Verlander took the loss in Game 6, his ability to pitch six innings allowed Hinch to avoid emptying his bullpen, as he did in Game 5 at Minute Maid Park. Joe Musgrove pitched an inning before Luke Gregerson and combined for the final three outs.

That left Brad Peacock, who earned a 3 2/3-inning save in Game 3, unused. It left Will Harris, the Astros' most effective reliever the first half of the season, unused. It left , a crossover specialist capable of neutralizing left-handed hitters, unused. It even left , ostensibly still Houston's closer, unused.

With the exception of Giles, who hasn't pitched since Game 4, all of those relievers will be on two days' rest on Wednesday -- an eternity in an era when nearly half of all playoff innings belong to relievers. As such, it is not difficult to envision a scenario in which the Astros split nine innings among six or seven pitchers, hoping to neutralize the bullpen advantage the Dodgers enjoy against just about everyone. Entering Game 7, Los Angeles has a 2.86 postseason ERA in relief, compared with 5.89 for Houston. Only the 1960 Pirates (8.42 ERA) won the World Series with a higher bullpen ERA than the Astros' current 7.29 mark against the Dodgers.

If a starter doesn't get the win on Wednesday -- which is a real possibility given that neither manager is likely to give his starter much leeway -- this will be the first seven-game Series in Fall Classic history in which starters recorded just two wins ( in Game 1 and McCullers in Game 3). As recently as 2011, there was a seven-game Series in which starters got three wins, and that has happened five other times (2002, 1979, '75, '72 and '47).

"It's all hands on deck," Musgrove said. "You've got to be ready from first pitch to last pitch. There's multiple times throughout the game that you can go in for three outs or one hitter. And you've got to be ready to do your job."

In contrast to the Astros' relatively well-rested corps, the Dodgers' best reliever, , has thrown five innings in the last four days -- including two in a Game 6 save. has pitched twice in three days, and , one of the best relievers in baseball in his own right, has appeared in all six World Series games.

In the aftermath of his outing on Tuesday, Jansen said he's "not trying to be a hero or anything" before adding, "The adrenaline and everything, I feel great. I don't feel tired at all out there. You go out there and compete."

It is that notion of energy, that reality of there being no tomorrow, that could see Verlander return to the mound. But Houston may not need him. Hinch has managed his bullpen to a place where nearly all of his best pitchers will be available in Game 7.

At this point, they simply must execute.

"I think all of our guys are going to have the adrenaline on their side," Hinch said. "They're all going to be ready to pitch."