The Houston Astros lost Game 4, but they might have unlocked a larger piece of the puzzle after getting to Kenley Jansen yet again.
As the Los Angeles Dodgers evened the World Series on Saturday night in Houston, everyone couldn’t help but wax poetic about Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers rookie sensation had broken out of his slump at just the right time, busting down a door that saw Houston tagged for five runs in the top of the ninth inning.
Don’t be surprised if it’s not Bellinger’s RBI or Joc Pederson’s three-run home run, but the single run Houston picked up in the home half, that we’re analyzing as a turning point after the World Series is over. Houston might have lost Game 4, but Alex Bregman’s solo shot off Kenley Jansen could end up being what swings this series.
Prior to the World Series, the only postseason home run Jansen had given up was to Jayson Werth back in Game 3 of the NLDS last season. In 65 appearances this season, the Dodgers closer only surrendered five homers, and since 2010 he has allowed a homer to roughly only 7 percent of the batters he’s faced (35 home runs in 474 appearances). Simply put, Jansen doesn’t give up the long ball often.
Houston has managed to homer off Jansen twice in the span of a week, something that hasn’t happened since 2015. Beyond that, the Astros are simply hitting Jansen better than any team since St. Louis raked him over the coals during the 2013 NLCS. One-fourth of the 16 batters Houston has sent to the plate to face Jansen have reach base. Stow that nugget away for the next time the Astros have their backs against the wall in the ninth.
To be fair, it cannot be emphasized enough that Jansen approaching a 5-run lead is very different than how he might have pitched if the lead was narrower on Saturday. Merely having to point that out, though, is why fans in Houston shouldn’t be hanging their heads too low after the loss in Game 4.
Twice the Astros have tattooed baseball’s most lethal closer twice, and the confidence boost that gives them is the biggest unanswered question in this World Series.
Say we get to a situation similar to Game 2, where the Dodgers have a slim lead in the ninth inning. All of a sudden for Houston, Jansen isn’t this mythological figure guaranteed to clamp down and close out. The aura has been shattered. Not only will the Astros have the confidence of knowing they got to him in a similar situation, but anyone going to the plate has it in the back of their mind that Jansen can be gotten to. Jansen is still the best closer in baseball, but he’s established now that he’s not perfect. That’s a dangerous door to leave unlocked on a stage as grand as the World Series, against a team as offensively efficient as Hoston.
Alex Bregman’s home run might just look like a minor blip on the stat sheet, but the residual effect it has on how the Astros approach a situation with Jansen on the mound could be colossal.