There’s one game in Major League Baseball today and it’s kind of a big one. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals meet in a winner-take-all Game 5 with a trip to the NLCS on the line. It’s rare for the picks and analysis piece to be so short, but that’s what you can expect moving forward since we’ll be down to the final four teams after today.
Apologies for not getting an NLDS piece up the other day. Lines came out late for the games and there wasn’t a whole lot of lead time by that point. In any event, there’s a lot to chat about for this one, so let’s take a look and see what’s going on.
Los Angeles (NL) at Washington (-150); Total: 7
Rich Hill was acquired to pitch in games like this. The Dodgers knew the risks that they were taking by adding him in the midst of his blister woes, but they also knew that he would be following Clayton Kershaw if it came to a must-win game. The Nationals will be able to throw their ace, Max Scherzer, who struggled a bit in Game 1.
This has been a really strange series. As you would expect, the Dodgers won both games started by Clayton Kershaw, though neither one came easy. The loss of a travel day seemed to hurt both teams, but it actually felt like it hurt the Dodgers more. The bullpens desperately needed yesterday’s off day. With no day off, Kenley Jansen had pitched in back-to-back games and three times in four days. Joe Blanton has also done the same in this series. Mark Melancon pitched in the first three games for the Nationals, but he has had two days off. Oliver Perez had worked three straight days before the off day.
In an elimination game, all hands are on deck. Thanks to the off day for travel, that is a possibility now. Both managers will have a quick trigger finger in this spot and it doesn’t help that each starter struggled in this series.
Because of the rainout that pushed Game 2 back a day, Rich Hill is pitching on three days rest for the first time in his career. He used to be a reliever, so coming in on back-to-back days or three out of four was something that he did with regularity, but he just became a starter last season at the age of 35 for the first time since 2009. That has to be a concern for everybody. That being said, four great innings from Hill and a Johnny Wholebullpen approach may be in the cards. It all depends on how Hill is throwing the ball and what his velocities look like.
Dave Roberts strikes me as the kind of guy that will play the “What if?” game with Hill. Remember that he took Hill out of that perfect game earlier in the season after seven innings because he had been having the blister problems. That was obviously a much different situation, but it leads me to believe that Roberts will err on the side of caution with a player rather than push him too hard. I don’t know if he can pull out all the stops in an elimination game and get over his personal feelings for players.
This may just be small sample size variance, but Hill’s ground ball rate has dropped from 50 percent with Oakland to 34.6 percent with the Dodgers. His pitch usage is effectively the same, so that’s when I start to point to command problems. His velocity is also down a little bit, so that’s a possible reason. The Nationals had some good at bats against Hill the second time through the order and he lasted five batters into a third time through the order. That’s why I do think he’ll be a bit limited here in this start and that’s something that you have to handicap because the Dodgers drop off in a big way from Hill to the patchwork middle relief corps.
Max Scherzer has had command issues at times this season and he was victimized by two big home runs in Game 1. Corey Seager hit a solo shot and Justin Turner hit a two-run shot in the third. Otherwise, Scherzer pitched well. Those mistake pitches that have been hit out of the ballpark have been the only blemishes on his performance this season. He only gave up three singles aside from the homers. That makes him a tough guy to handicap in this spot. The Dodgers hit righties very well, but it’s not like Scherzer gives up a collection of hits.
He only had eight swinging strikes out of his 91 pitches and six innings last time out. The Dodgers had some decent swings, particularly early in the count. Both Seager and Turner homered on the first pitch of their respective at bats. Scherzer will probably make an adjustment for this game. If he throws more breaking stuff on the first pitch, will it hurt him to be down 1-0? Justin Turner was really the only guy that hurt Scherzer in a big way. He was hit by a pitch, homered, and singled off the right-hander.
This line is a little bit inflated to me, as it should be in the -140 range, but the concerns about Rich Hill going on short rest are very real. I also look at Scherzer’s start and see some bad luck that two first pitches were hit out of the ballpark. If this number comes down a little bit, I’d look to play Washington in this spot. I think their bullpen has been the better of the two here in this series and I think we’ll see more length out of Scherzer than Hill.