With both the Dodgers and Cubs struggling to put rallies together, line-up changes could alter the landscape of the series.
In the playoffs, good pitching almost always beats good hitting. Last night, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen proved this adage by combining for a two-hit shutout of the Cubs. However, the anemic hitting of both teams so far makes changes in their line-up cards likely.
What Should Chicago Do To Get The Bats Rolling?
Let’s start with Cubs, because they have actually done worse than the Dodgers even though they are supposed to be monsters at the plate. In the first two games, manager Joe Maddon elected not to move up his hottest hitter, second baseman Javier Baez, from the lower end of the batting order. He said he didn’t want to mess with a good thing since Baez is hitting so well down there. Fair enough, the Cubs took Game 1 from the Dodgers. However, last night against Kershaw, it seems like he shouldn’t have stuck with that plan. Baez continued to blister the ball, getting one of the team’s two hits, as he nearly crushed Kershaw and the Dodgers’ playoff hopes with a rocket that took center fielder Joc Pederson to the wall. I’m sure Kershaw, Jansen, etc. counted themselves lucky they only had to face Baez three times.
Obviously, Baez should move up in the order. His .391/.417/.609 playoff slash-line should place him in the coveted three-hole. Maddon’s initial stance that Baez may give into the pressure of being “the man” and swing too hard from anywhere near the top of line-up just doesn’t fly. He is their best hitter right now, he is scary as hell, and he can carry the offense. Also, Anthony Rizzo and his .043 batting average have no business batting third anymore. He should bat sixth. Dexter Fowler is not doing much better at .163, but you need his speed at the top of the order, and he can get on in other ways and get the Cubs going. Kris Bryant‘s production is down in the first two games of the NLCS, but he smoked the ball in NLDS, so he can stay second.
There are a couple of other things Maddon could do. It might seem out of whack to put catcher Willson Contreras at clean-up, but he can rake (12 home runs in 252 at-bats this season), and is slashing .556/.600/.556–pretty much Babe Ruth on the Cubs outside of Baez and Bryant this post season. Also, pathetic Jason Heyward needs to find a comfy place on the bench for Games 3 and 4 against the two probable Dodger lefty starters (Rich Hill and Julio Urias); I don’t care HOW good he is in the outfield, he hasn’t hit all season. Jorge Soler needs to be in there instead, and I would be shocked if Maddon doesn’t sub him for Heyward, if only because he bats right-handed. Ben Zobrist is batting just .182, but he does have three doubles, so he could protect Rizzo if slotted sixth. Soler goes seventh, and the woeful Addison Russell (.045) hits eighth. There you have it–I am rooting against Chicago, and I just made them better. You’re welcome, Cubs fans!
Will Roberts Tinker With the Dodgers’ Line-up?
While the Dodgers are not exactly lighting it up at the plate this post season, the failure factor is not nearly as high as the Cubs; still, some changes should come (though I doubt Dave Roberts will do much of anything beyond his usual righty lineup when Jon Lester takes the mound again). Here are some things Roberts could do to rattle the cages in Games 3 and 4.
Pederson needs to bat fifth. After Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez, Pederson is the best run producer for the Dodgers so far in the post season. He hit a key homer and double in the NLDS, drove in three runs, and is showing some new-found power to the opposite field. Yes, he strikes out a lot, but he cut them down this season, and he should be protecting Gonzalez. It’s nice that Josh Reddick found his swing after a horrendous start with the team, but he shows no pop whatsoever–his skills would fit better in the sixth slot. And for God’s sake, please drop Yasmani Grandal to eighth where he belongs (love his catching, but his terrible slump is not ending this season) and let Andrew Toles bat seventh. Toles brings so much to the table with his tremendous speed and surprising power.
Chase Utley continues to struggle, but his plate savvy can’t be overlooked and there isn’t anybody else who can really lead off. After a powerful start in the NLDS, Corey Seager cooled off considerably, but he did manage to stay out of any prolonged slumps during the season, so he can be left in the second spot. These changes don’t seem to fit Roberts’ M.O., as he likes that left-handed lineup of his. Then again, Kershaw never closed a game before and Jansen never took on the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings in one game. This is the post season, and Roberts is taking risks and putting it all on the line, so never say never.
It’s hard to predict how these managers will react to the lack of hitting in their lineups, but it seems improbable that they won’t shake things up some how.