CHICAGO -- For 9 2/3 innings to open the National League Championship Series, the Los Angeles bullpen was -- quite literally -- unhittable.It took until the ninth inning of Game 3 for the Cubs to finally put an end to the Dodgers' bullpen no-hitter. By then, L.A. was well on
CHICAGO -- For 9 2/3 innings to open the National League Championship Series, the Los Angeles bullpen was -- quite literally -- unhittable.
It took until the ninth inning of Game 3 for the Cubs to finally put an end to the Dodgers' bullpen no-hitter. By then, L.A. was well on its way to a 6-1 victory at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night and a commanding 3-0 series lead in the best-of-seven series.
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If it feels like every late-inning matchup has favored the Dodgers in the NLCS presented by Camping World, well, that's by design.
"As an organization, we've done a great job of putting together not only a roster, but a 'pen that we feel can combat any lineup," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "[The Cubs] are very dangerous and can do a lot of different things. But for us to be able to match up ... that obviously instills confidence in me when I go to them in the 'pen."
Roberts fashioned four perfect innings out of his relievers in Game 1. He got four hitless frames in Game 2, with the only Cubs baserunner coming on a hit batter by closer Kenley Jansen.
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On Tuesday, Tony Watson relieved starter Yu Darvish -- who was brilliant in his own right -- by retiring a pair in the seventh. Brandon Morrow followed by getting Benjamin Zobrist to ground to second, completing nine no-hit innings for the bullpen. He would seamlessly work around a one-out walk for a scoreless frame.
When Thomas Stripling allowed a pair of hits to start the ninth, Jansen slammed the door for his sixth scoreless outing of the postseason. In seven innings, opposing hitters have combined for two hits, a walk and 12 strikeouts against Jansen.
"You come in in the eighth inning, and you know you've got Kenley behind you -- you can attack and do whatever you want, as long as you're not giving guys free bases," Morrow said. "You've always got that life preserver there. Kenley's coming in to shut the door.
"You got the lead in the eighth inning? It's almost like closing. Kenley's so good, it's almost a guaranteed win."
These days, it's a victory for the Dodgers, so long as Roberts can hand the ball to his 'pen with a lead.
Morrow has developed into something of a setup man this postseason. He's pitched in every game, allowing one run on two hits over seven innings. Meanwhile, Tony Cingrani and Watson have served to stifle opposing lefties. And Kenta Maeda has transitioned from the rotation into a dominant weapon against right-handed hitters.
"Dave just puts everybody in in the best spot to succeed," Morrow said. "We haven't had any [inning] roles, other than Kenley. Guys are ready from the fifth inning on -- earlier if need be. We're ready for anything."
Perhaps the strangest part of this bullpen's success is that this isn't the group that built the Dodgers a huge lead in the NL West during the first half of the season.
Maeda started 25 games. Cingrani and Watson were Trade Deadline day acquisitions. Morrow didn't routinely pitch in high-leverage spots until July.
"You add that type of depth to the bullpen, and it seems like they just kept getting better as the year went on," said Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. "You've got Kenley at the back, and you just keep filling in the pieces."
AJ Cassavell is in his seventh season as a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.