Thanks to the Cubs taking as long as humanly possible to clinch and move into their third-straight NLCS, we don’t have a huge amount of time to preview the Dodgers. So we’ll crunch it down to two instead of the three we used last time, putting the rotation and bullpen together and then we’ll toss out the hitters later today. And all of it is downright scary.
The Starters: Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood?
The Dodgers didn’t have to get to a fourth starter because the Diamondbacks had burned out their whole rotation in the coin-flip game (boy that sounds familiar), so we’re guessing Wood would get a Game 4 start here. At least the Cubs are guaranteed a fourth game.
So you don’t need me to tell you much about Kershaw. Best on the planet, one of the best of all -time. Still, Kershaw’s closing to the season was not Kershaw-like. His ERA in September was 3.48, and hitters hit .265 and slugged .410 against him which for this creature is beyond astronomical. It’s hard to pinpoint why, though. He didn’t really lose velocity or movement on any of his pitches. There was a big rise in his BABIP, and seeing as how his line-drive rate rose slightly but was still a very healthy 18.4% you’d have to say it’s mostly luck. Still, the Cubs have gotten to Kershaw the last two times they’ve seen him, whatever that’s worth.
As readers of this blog know, I will never, ever buy into Rich Hill. He’s aching for a reason to spit it up, and wasn’t terribly good in his start against Arizona. I know he handcuffed the Cubs last year, but you can have it. Put him in trouble once and I’m sure it’ll go well.
Darvish might be the true X-factor in this all this. Darvish is capable of striking out 15 in seven innings. Or walking eight. Or both. We saw both in his start in Game 3, as he struck out seven in five innings but as soon as things went silly in the 5th inning Dave Roberts wasn’t messing around. Darvish had a rough go in his first few starts in Los Angeles blue, but September he was quite solid. Either way he’s going to strike out a ton of Cubs when he arrives, it’s just a matter of how many he walks and how many he leaves something out over the plate too. If he’s on, the Cubs are in awfully deep here.
Wood was mostly really good this season but kind of collapsed in the last month of the season and fell to the back of the rotation if not out of it. Wood sometimes goes through phases where he can’t find the plate, and always looks like he might blow his elbow out with the next pitch. He handcuffed the Cubs pretty well in June though.
This is a real problem. It obviously starts with Kenley Jansen, who will get six or seven or nine outs when necessary, and you’re not going to hit him. Which is scary, because it feels like the Cubs are going to have to get to Jansen at some point in this series to win it. No one has in the playoffs though. He gave up two hits to the Diamondbacks? So there’s that?In 15 innings in the postseason the last two years he’s struck out 26 and walked five. He’s given up seven hits. So yeah, do your best to not get to this while trailing.
Sadly, he’s not alone. Josh Fields, Pedro Baez, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, and Ross Stripling have all been effective relievers this year. The Cubs will have familiarity with Watson and Tony Cingrani who’s also lying out there, so there’s that. Cingrani has been a real weapon since arriving in Chavez Ravine. And if they need innings Kenta Maeda has been installed out there, and Wood might be as well. And all of these guys throw fucking hard. Morrow, Baez, Fields, Cingrani and Watson all average over 94 MPH on their fastballs, and Jansen usually does but for some reason doesn’t this year. Again, this feels like a unit the Cubs are going to have to break through against at least once to take this because the Dodgers are going to get a couple if not a few really good starts from Kershaw, Hill, and Darvish. And it’s a challenge. Combined against the D-Backs the Dodgers pen threw 11.2 innings, struck out 10, walked one, gave up eight hits and only Morrow and Watson gave up earned runs, totaling three.
It’s not a star-laden pen. In fact, Kintzler-Madson-Doolittle might have had more name recognition and reputation than whatever the Dodgers will throw in front of Jansen. But Jansen is Jansen, and this is really tall timber.