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Astros' title hopes hinge on bullpen reliability

Hinch must choose right matchups down stretch to put relievers in position to succeed
MLB.com @RichardJustice

HOUSTON -- He had made the pitch he wanted. That's the thing that bothered Astros reliever Joe Musgrove after he'd had some time to think it through.

"Right where I wanted it -- fastball up in the zone," Musgrove said. "He just beat me to it."

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HOUSTON -- He had made the pitch he wanted. That's the thing that bothered Astros reliever Joe Musgrove after he'd had some time to think it through.

"Right where I wanted it -- fastball up in the zone," Musgrove said. "He just beat me to it."

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Stuff happens, etc.

"You get away with plenty of fastballs down the middle that guys foul off," Musgrove said. "You throw one up out of the zone where you want, and they beat you."

Dress for the World Series: Get Astros postseason gear

Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson certainly did. He hit Musgrove's well-placed fastball out of the park with two teammates on base in the top of the ninth inning.

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That was the biggest blow on a night when Houston's bullpen let a late lead slip away as Los Angeles won Game 4 of the World Series, 6-2, on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

This was a game the Dodgers needed to win to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole. To dig out and tie the World Series at two games apiece changes plenty.

No surprise there. From the beginning, this World Series had the look and feel of two evenly matched teams who were going to be exchanging punches for a while.

For the Astros, it's not that they lost a game. It's how they lost it. Manager A.J. Hinch's most reliable postseason reliever, Brad Peacock, was unavailable after pitching 3 2/3 hitless innings in Friday's 5-3 victory.

So Hinch went back to the guys who'd been his core relievers for most of the season. They'd all been solid, if not dominant.

Chris Devenski was a member of the American League All-Star team this season. Will Harris was an All-Star in 2016. Musgrove had a 1.44 ERA after moving to the bullpen in the second half of the season.

Finally, there was the closer, Ken Giles. He, too, was very good for most of the regular season -- 34 saves, a 1.04 WHIP and 83 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings.

Video: WS2017 Gm4: Hinch on bullpen struggles in Game 4 loss

That was then. Giles, Devenski and Musgrove have been hit hard during the postseason, forcing Hinch to use three starters -- Peacock, Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. -- out of the bullpen at times.

Hinch said Houston probably can't win this World Series if he can't find some favorable matchups for Devenski, Giles and Musgrove.

Video: Giles' struggles cost the Astros Game 4

The skipper came close. Harris and Devenski combined for 1 2/3 shutout innings in relief of Charlie Morton, and Hinch turned to Giles in a tie game in the top of the ninth.

Giles faced three hitters, and he didn't retire any of them. All three eventually scored when Musgrove followed him into the game.

"They're all crappy pitches, not where I want them," Giles said. "I need to do better."

Giles expressed confidence in himself, saying he hoped -- and expected -- Hinch would call on him again.

"I know A.J. has the confidence in me, and I'm going to be ready to go for him, and I'm going to pick up my weight," Giles said. "I'm going to do what I need to do."

Video: WS2017 Gm4: Devenski strikes out Pederson in the 8th

Around the clubhouse, Giles' teammates said they had his back.

"I love those guys," outfielder George Springer said. "I love all these guys in there. This game's hard. They're not out there trying to fail. I hope skip keeps giving 'em the ball. I have the utmost confidence in them, and I'm glad they're on my team."

Relievers are almost never noticed until they don't do their jobs. Then every mistake becomes magnified, and they become the loneliest men on the planet. That's why doing what they do requires an ability to turn the page on a bad day.

"So, clearly, he's trying to push through the adversity that he's had," Hinch said of Giles, who has allowed at least one run in six of his seven postseason appearances. "But to be a back-end reliever, you've got to live on that edge of not carrying too long of a memory, because of the things that can happen at the back of the game.

"But you have the ball in your hands at the most critical times, because you have the best stuff. He can get outs, and he'll continue to get outs, but it's been tough on him."

Given that Harris and Devenski had scoreless appearances on Saturday, they could figure prominently on Sunday if Game 5 starter Dallas Keuchel turns a lead over to the bullpen.

In the end, though, the Astros probably can't win this World Series without Giles and Musgrove getting some important outs.

Hinch won't commit to specific roles for anyone, saying he'll look for the best matchups to put his guys in position to succeed.

"Obviously, it builds in the postseason, because there's so much attention on these outs," Hinch said. "And when you're a back-end reliever, oftentimes -- unless you're extraordinarily dominant -- you're only talked about when you suffer, when you struggle."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter @RichardJustice.

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