The Dodgers have the chance to complete the unthinkable tonight by sweeping the defending champions Chicago Cubs and advancing to their first World Series in 29 years. We know who’s expected to start the game for the Dodgers, but could we see something similar to game 5 of the NLDS last year?
Tonight’s game is do or die for the Cubs. The Dodgers are sending one of their biggest surprises on the season, Alex Wood to the mound. Wood has not pitched in a live game in over 3 weeks since his turn in the rotation did not come up in the NLDS.
Dave Roberts and the front office has the utmost confidence in Alex Wood. This season was a breakout season for Wood as he won a career-high 16 games and had a solid 2.72 ERA. He did most of that damage as the Dodgers’ number two starter behind Kershaw up until the acquisition of Yu Darvish.
The trade for Darvish and the revival of Rich Hill’s health in the second half pushed Alex Wood to the number 4 slot in the rotation. That’s no slouch on Wood, it’s just telling how deep this pitching staff is. Let’s not forget, Alex Wood was an All-Star this season and had an ERA of 1.67 before the All-Star break.
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It’s going to be interesting to see how Alex Wood responds to this long layoff from pitching. It’s worth keeping an eye out to see if Dave Roberts has a short leash on Wood, or if he lets him pitch over 80 pitches. A great reason for the Dodgers success this postseason has been Roberts’ use of the bullpen.
Aside from Yu Darvish’s stellar start last night and the opening game of the NLDS no starter has pitched more than 6 innings. Roberts has continued to pull starters early in the game to avoid a high pitch count and avoid them pitching a third time around the lineup. This gameplan has worked to perfection for Roberts as he’s able to keep the lineup off balance and matchup which hitters he wants his pitchers to face.
With that gameplan, I expect Wood to pitch no more than five innings before Roberts hands the game over to the bullpen. From there, I think the score of the game can dictate who he uses. Being that Kenta Maeda has only worked in 1 game this series, I see him and Tony Cingrani getting the first crack out of the bullpen. It’s realistic to expect that combination to go for two innings before Roberts needs to make another move.
By this point, we’re into the final third of the game, and I think Roberts could surprise some Dodger fans and employ a strategy he used last year in the game 5 of the NLDS. Bring in Kershaw out of the ‘pen for one inning.
It might sound crazy at first but listen to my reasoning. This will only be considered if the Dodgers have the lead and the game in under their control. Assuming the Dodgers have the lead, Roberts can go to Kershaw for an inning to bridge the way to Morrow and Jansen for the final six outs.
Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen have by far been the most effective relievers in the postseason, but they have also been the most worked. Jansen and Morrow have combined to throw 14 1/3 innings while striking out 17 hitters. It’s fair for Roberts to ask them to pitch back to back to back games if it means closing out the series early, which would give them almost a full week of rest before the next series begins.
I know what you may be asking, why Kershaw? Aside from the obvious fact that he’s our best pitcher, he’s our biggest competitor, and there’s no doubt he’ll want to have a part in a series-clinching game. The Dodgers have their foot right on the Cubs’ neck and they need to go in and finish the series.
Kershaw is scheduled to start tomorrow on regular rest should there be a game 5. If the Dodgers win tonight and clinch the series, Kershaw’s next start won’t be until Tuesday, October 24th. That’s nine days after Kershaw last pitched (10/14). We know that Kershaw is a creature of habit and he’d rather pitch on short rest than extended rest.
I’m not saying Kershaw is available to pitch; I’m just saying don’t be shocked if you see him warming up to come into the game. Obviously, the flow of the game would dictate whether this is a likely outcome, but I can see Roberts going to Kershaw if he’s in a position to close the series out.
Is it likely to happen, I’m not sure. Do I see this happening, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. The Dodgers bullpen has been more than formidable without Kershaw in holding the lead so I can see Roberts playing it safe.