You know that thing about momentum being the next day’s starting pitcher? The Los Angeles Dodgers are about to put that to an interesting test.

The Dodgers had all the momentum over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series, responding to a Game 1 loss with back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3. But then came a 10-2 drubbing at Dodger Stadium in Game 4 on Wednesday. The momentum is with the Cubs again.

And they have ace left-hander Jon Lester ready to take the mound for Game 5. He might have been opposed by Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ own ace lefty, if manager Dave Roberts had made the bold call of starting him on three days’ rest for the second time this postseason.

Instead, Roberts is giving the ball to Kenta Maeda. As he implied after Game 4, per Arash Markazi of, the situation simply doesn’t warrant going to Kershaw:

This checks out. It’s a best-of-seven series. The Dodgers and Cubs have each won two games. Roberts need not act like tickets to the World Series or tickets home are on the line.

Still, it’s not hard to guess where the Cubs come down on this matter. After going into Game 4 with zero runs since a five-run explosion in the eighth inning of Game 1, they breathed some life into their bats in Wednesday’s blowout. Facing Kershaw in Game 5 would have threatened to suck that life right out again.

He is Clayton Kershaw, after all. He has three Cy Youngs. He had a 1.69 ERA this season. Most recently, he shut out the Cubs on two hits in seven innings in Game 2. He also has a good track record on three days’ rest in the postseason, putting up a 3.21 ERA in four starts.

For his part, Maeda is not a bad pitcher. The Japan native put up a solid 3.48 ERA in his first MLB season this year. He struck out over a batter per inning and, per Baseball Savant, ranked among the leaders in average exit velocity at 86.0 mph.

The Cubs weren’t too scared of him in Game 1, however. They got to Maeda for three runs on four hits and three walks in four innings. 

That performance kept up a trend of not-so-good starts when Maeda only gets four days of rest. He had a 3.97 ERA in such situations in the regular season. When he takes the mound Thursday, he’ll be on four days’ rest once again. Cue ominous music.

“This time around, I think I can better imagine how I’m going to get these guys out,” Maeda said ahead of Game 4, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. “I remember how each hitter reacted to a certain pitch, so I’m going to base off that when I pitch again.”

Simply being sharper with location would be a good idea. Maeda made mistakes in Game 1, and shows the Cubs didn’t miss a couple of them. Otherwise, they waited him out and took their walks.

Maeda is at his best when he’s working the outside edge of the zone with his fastball and getting hitters to chase off-speed. That’s not only where he gets his whiffs, but as Baseball Savant shows, most of his soft contact as well. 

Trouble is, the Cubs don’t do much chasing outside the zone. They did that at a smaller rate than all but five other teams this season. If they can force Maeda in the zone, they can beat him.

That’s not something Kershaw has to worry about most days. He works in the zone as much as any starting pitcher not named Rich Hill. He does that because he has the stuff to do it. It’s no wonder he silenced the Cubs in Game 1, not to mention all the other teams he’s ever stifled.

There’s also the long-game portion of this matter. If Kershaw were starting Game 5, he could be used in relief if needed in a Game 7 on Sunday. After what he did in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, that’s an appealing hypothetical.

But does this mean Roberts is making an obvious mistake by not starting Kershaw in Game 5? Not really.

As promising as Kershaw’s track record on three days’ rest may be, the Dodgers have no idea how he can manage two starts on three days’ rest within the same postseason—much less two starts on three days’ rest within the same postseason following an injury-marred regular season.

Make no mistake, these are scary unknowns. Scarier than any matchup nitpicks to be made about Maeda and the Cubs. Too scary to risk on a game that doesn’t need to be won.

And while getting Maeda a couple extra days of rest would be ideal, the fact he would be pitching away from Dodger Stadium in Game 6 may have rendered that moot. He had a 3.74 ERA on the road in 2016, compared to 3.22 at home.

Roberts is effectively gambling on that split. If it works, he’ll have Kershaw ready for the kill on regular rest in Game 6 back in Chicago on Saturday. If it doesn’t, the Dodgers could ask for a worse duo to pin their hopes of a comeback on than Kershaw in Game 6 and Hill in Game 7.

If the Dodgers were going into Game 5 looking to punch their ticket to the World Series or stave off elimination, this conversation would look entirely different. Either circumstance would have made starting Kershaw on short rest again awfully tempting.

But that’s not the situation. The Dodgers are not in a desperate hour. And as such, they can afford to roll the dice on a tough matchup in Game 5 if it means having Kershaw fully locked and loaded for a Game 6 that’s happening no matter what.

Not starting Kershaw in Game 5 may end up hurting the Dodgers. But it’s not going to kill them.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter 

Read more MLB news on