Dodgers: Rich Hill is a Playoff X-Factor


The Dodgers’ playoff quest has temporarily stalled with the recent 5-game slide they were on. Despite this, everyone is still fixated on their inevitable playoff run, and have been for quite some time. Even more so when they added additional star power by acquiring starter Yu Darvish at the trade deadline a month ago. Playoff baseball is simple: pitching wins championships.

The Dodgers are hoping the back issue will not continue to hinder ace Clayton Kershaw, who was excellent in his return last night in San Diego. And they need Darvish to keep striking batters out at an elite rate while keeping the ball in the park.

But the most important piece of the playoff rotation won’t be Kershaw or Darvish because we pretty much know what we will get from them any given night. The x-factor is Rich Hill, who was acquired at the trade deadline last season for the stretch run.

Hill was solid in the playoff run last season, one that saw the Dodgers come up two games short of a World Series berth. He posted a 3.46 ERA, but he only threw a total of 13.0 innings in his three starts combined. Not enough. Kershaw threw a total of 24.1 innings in just four games started, five games total, including that two-out save he converted in Game 5 to win the NLDS against the Nationals.

Kershaw needs help. The big take away from the 2016 postseason run for me was that the Dodgers for sure needed a second, and possibly a third, reliable starter. But not to take the pressure off of Kershaw. Simply to let him get decent rest in between starts.

Pitching on three days rest for any pitcher limits their chance of being effective, especially in the playoffs after the long season.

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You can teach an old dog new tricks. Why will Hill be better this postseason? He got off to a very rocky start this season and was sidelined with blister issues again early on. But since the end of June, when he worked with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to simplify his mechanics and add a third pitch, a cut fastball, he has a 3.01 ERA that is fueled by an astounding 11.43 K/9 and 2.26 BB/9 in 12 starts.

Compared to an inflated 5.14 ERA courtesy of a 9.00 K/9 and an ugly 5.91 BB/9 in eight starts, before that June adjustment, all you can say is wow. He has gone six or more innings six different times since that retooling, compared to none before that.

The 37-year-old Hill is a different pitcher now, throwing like the third ace the staff needs to end this historic season as champions.

If Hill can keep being effective and continue to go deep into games in October, not only will the bullpen be less taxed, but Dodger skipper Dave Roberts won’t feel obliged to use Kershaw in the fourth game of the series on three days rest.

Doc can instead start someone like Kenta Maeda or Hyun-Jin Ryu for a Game 4, if Alex Wood isn’t ready to go, then use Kershaw on regular rest for the following game should it be necessary.

The time is now. This is the year where Hill, Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers need to get the monkey off their back. A World Series appearance and a title have been eluding the team since 1988.

Kershaw has a career 4.55 ERA in 14 games started in the postseason, despite excellent 10.72 K/9 and 2.73 BB/9 ratios. Hill has lost no-hit and perfect game bids in the last two seasons, such tough luck.

Next: Bullpen Grades for August

Hill needs to continue his dominance on the mound on the biggest stage in October. With his help, the Dodgers have an excellent chance of finally bringing home a championship. Nothing better than for Hill and the Dodgers to finish this magical run with a bang.