As awesome as Game 1 was, a loss today essentially puts the Houston Astros and Oakland A’s on even playing ground. This is as obvious as basic addition, but the Astros hold more than a one-game lead; they hold the edge in reinforcements.
On Monday, the Astros used a total of four bullpen arms, who threw 63 combined pitches. The A’s, meanwhile, used seven bullpen arms who threw 86 pitches. None of those arms threw more than 19 pitches, and after extensive rest, all should be ready today, although I doubt Dusty Baker would use Cristian Javier today, and he probably wants to give Enoli Paredes the day off.
The Astros have leverage here. Need Josh James? He’s fresh. What about Brooks Raley? Same. Luis Garcia and Cy Sneed are also available as innings-eaters.
The A’s on the other hand... not so fresh. While their entire bullpen is available, a seed has been planted in Bob Melvin’s mind about their effectiveness. I would imagine if the opportunity presents itself, Liam Hendriks will be deployed for six outs. Given Mike “Dumpster” Fiers’ start in Game 3 of the Wild Card round, Melvin may want to save Frankie Montas for a longer stint, maybe 3 innings in a potential Game 4, potentially paired with Mike Minor.
Dusty, meanwhile, has more at his disposal. His lefties are fresh, and Luis Garcia pitched 5 nearly perfect innings against Oakland four weeks ago.
If Melvin needs to go to his pen early, he should be fine for Game 2, but it will put him in a dangerous situation for Game 3, particularly if he uses 3 or 4 of the 7 guys who pitched yesterday. Dusty has the luxury of sidelining Paredes and Javier today, so that he is free to deploy them in Game 3 in much the same manner as he did in Game 1. It is imperative that Melvin not to go down 0-2, and so he will likely do whatever he can to prevent that.
And if Baker can get a strong start out of Framber Valdez, he will have the opportunity to use his current leverage to gain an even greater advantage.
Yesterday, the A’s greatest strength played out as a weakness. Without a strong start from Manaea, that source of strength may be even further compromised. The Astros have broken far stronger bullpens than this.