CHICAGO -- How long can the Dodgers keep doing this, covering inning after inning with a relief corps worked at an historic rate this season?
The answer you'll hear inside the clubhouse is "2-3 weeks," and it was the same before Saturday night's 8-4 loss to the Cubs in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series as it was after. That's how long it would take to win the World Series. The Dodgers' quest continues with Game 2 on Sunday night, live on FS1 at 8 ET/5 PT.
:: NLCS: Dodgers vs. Cubs coverage ::
"We wouldn't be here today without these guys," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "They've had to carry more load than probably any playoff team, ever, in the history of the game, I'd say."
• NLCS Game 2: Tonight at 5 PT on FS1
During a regular season in which 28 Dodgers hit the disabled list, manager Dave Roberts set an all-time record by making 606 pitching changes. Dodgers relievers combined to set a franchise record with 590 2/3 innings pitched and 607 total appearances, both of which led MLB.
Yet, that 'pen has been a team strength, ranking among MLB leaders in ERA (3.35, second), opponents' batting average (.221, second), strikeouts (633, first) and WHIP (1.16, second). And after a solid NL Division Series against the Nationals, Dodgers relievers were on their way to another good night in Game 1 of the NLCS in relief of starter Kenta Maeda, who was out of the game after allowing three earned runs in four innings. Pedro Báez plodded through two scoreless innings and Ross Stripling worked a perfect seventh before the Dodgers tied the game at 3-3 in the eighth and turned to the resurgent Joe Blanton, who has emerged as a reliable setup man behind closer Kenley Jansen.
After throwing 51 pitches over parts of three innings against the Nationals three days earlier, Jansen was available Saturday, Honeycutt said, and the righty might have seen action in the eighth after Blanton found trouble had the Dodgers been in the lead. But given his huge workload in Game 5 of the NLDS, it was not realistic to expect another multi-inning outing with the Dodgers and Cubs locked in a tie.
So Roberts stayed with Blanton, who faced the bases loaded with two outs before surrendering pinch-hitter Miguel Montero's go-ahead grand slam and Dexter Fowler's homer as the Cubs took an 8-3 lead.
"It's tough to rely on a bullpen for five innings in the regular season, let alone the playoffs, but that's what we've done. They keep stepping up," said the Dodgers' Andre Ethier, whose homer started L.A.'s comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
Honeycutt said the team made an effort to rest certain relievers after the Dodgers clinched the NL West on Sept. 25, and Blanton said fatigue was no factor at this point.
"Just move on," Blanton said. "It's over, don't know what else to say."
Have any Dodgers relievers shown signs they feel fatigue?
"I bet they are, but they're not showing it," Ethier said. "It's not a time to show it, just because of the fact we've got two weeks here to give it everything we've got."