Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, the 2017 World Series will begin with Game 1 between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros. This is the first pennant since 1988 for the Dodgers. The ‘Stros last won the pennant in 2005, when they were an NL team. Now they’re representing the AL.
Houston punched their ticket to the World Series with a Game 7 win over the Yankees in the ALCS. The stars of Game 7 were Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr., who combined to curveball their way to a three-hit shutout. McCullers came out of the bullpen to get an old fashioned four-inning save. His final 24 (!) pitches were curveballs.
Depending on the length of his relief outings, McCullers could, in theory, appear in four World Series games. There’s a scenario possible in which he appears in Game 1 or 2 in Los Angeles, two of Games 3-5 in Houston, and Game 6 or 7 back in Los Angeles without throwing back-to-back days. Even if he goes only an inning at a time, Hinch could use him during what he considers the biggest inning of the game. He could make McCullers his moment of truth reliever.
McCullers came out of the bullpen in Game 7 because it was an all-hands-on-deck situation, and he stayed in for the four-inning save because he was so effective. In a perfect world, he’d be the team’s No. 3 starter in the postseason and dominate that way. Now that he seems to be over the back trouble, McCullers can be a real weapon for the Astros, and you want your best pitchers starting games.
The ‘Stros could go into the World Series with McCullers prepared to pitch in relief behind Keuchel and Verlander in Games 1 and 2, and if he’s not needed — or he doesn’t pitch much in either game — they could then start him in Game 3 or 4. And if that happens, they could still be a bullpen option in Games 6 and 7.
It is entirely possible we could see McCullers throw an inning or two in relief in Game 1, start Game 4, then give whatever’s got left over out of the bullpen in Game 7. That is an option. Hinch has left himself some flexibility, and McCullers has shown he can get outs in relief. And given the state of the team’s bullpen, he could make a meaningful difference in the World Series.