Tag: Los Angeles Dodgers

Former Dodgers Pitcher Ralph Branca Dies at 90

Longtime Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca died Wednesday at the age of 90.

Bobby Valentine, a former MLB manager and husband to Branca’s daughter, Mary, announced the news on Twitter: “One of the greatest guys to ever throw a pitch or sing a song is [no] longer with us. Ralph Branca passed this morning. In his 91st year on earth he left us with [the] same dignity and grace that defined his [every day] on earth. He will be truly missed!!!”

Branca is famous for surrendering the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” home run to Bobby Thomson in 1951, which delivered the New York Giants the National League pennant.

Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and MLB Network was among those who reacted to the news of Branca’s death:

Jay Jaffe of SI.com also chimed in, praising Branca for the manner in which he handled a situation that otherwise could have defined him negatively:

Branca pitched for the Dodgers from 1944 through 1953 before enjoying brief stints with the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees. He returned to Brooklyn for one final appearance in 1956 before retiring at the age of 30.

The Mount Vernon, New York, native posted a career record of 88-68 with a 3.79 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 829 strikeouts in 1,484 innings.

He made the All-Star team each year from 1947 through 1949. His best season came in 1947, when he went 21-12 with a 2.67 ERA and finished 11th in the MVP voting.


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Would Evan Longoria Trade Actually Make the Los Angeles Dodgers Better?

It’s November. That means turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and Evan Longoria to the Los Angeles Dodgers rumors.

Here’s one, courtesy of MLB Network’s Jon Morosi:

OK, that’s less a rumor and more informed speculation. And maybe Longoria-to-L.A. talk isn’t quite as inevitable as Thanksgiving.

The Dodgers trading for Longoria makes a share of sense, though. It’s also not a new idea.

Rumblings about the Tampa Bay Rays third baseman heading to Southern California cropped up at the 2016 trade deadline, per Morosi. At the time, however, the Dodgers employed Justin Turner at the hot corner.

Now, Turner is a free agent. The Dodgers have a hole to fill. Cue the Longoria chatter.

“Our most acute needs as we head into the offseason are the roles previously occupied by our two free agents,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times. “We have to figure out what we’re doing at third base, and figure out an anchor for the back of the pen.”

Longoria is more than just any third baseman. He’s a three-time All-Star coming off a superlative season that saw him hit .273 with a career-high 36 home runs and 98 RBI.

He has ties to Friedman, who was general manager in Tampa Bay when the then-Devil Rays drafted Longoria with the third overall pick in 2006. Plus, he was born and raised in SoCal.

Longoria has six years and about $100 million left on his deal, but the Dodgers have baseball’s highest payroll. The Rays will likely expect a strong return of young talent, but the Dodgers have a deep farm system.

The dots connect. In fact, it seems like a borderline perfect marriage.

Here’s the central question, though: Is Longoria preferable to Turner? The Dodgers could simply re-sign their old third baseman, after all.

To begin, let’s stack the two players’ 2016 stats next to each other:

There’s remarkable symmetry, especially when you consider both players are right-handed swingers who were born in Southern California within a year of each other.

If we zoom back a tad, however, Turner gains an edge.

Between 2014 and 2016, Turner’s WAR (12.8) was higher than Longoria’s (11.9) by FanGraphs’ measure. Turner has also been a superior defender over the past two seasons, posting a 16.7 ultimate zone rating compared to Longoria’s 7.7.

Turning to the projection systems, Steamer foretells a .263/.324/.460 slash line for Longoria and a .285/.354/.466 line for Turner in 2017. 

That’s not to suggest Longoria is chopped liver. He’d slot nicely into a Dodgers lineup that features reigning National League Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, powerful center fielder Joc Pederson and veteran pieces such as first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and catcher Yasmani Grandal. 

In terms of dollars, Turner should command more than the $13 million Longoria is owed in 2017 and may well eclipse his average annual value for the next few seasons in a weak free-agent class. Something in line with the five years, $95 million the Boston Red Sox gave Pablo Sandoval in 2014 seems attainable.

Longoria, on the other hand, will cost more than cash. The Dodgers will also have to part with high-upside prospects to land him.

The small-market Rays are always seeking to shed salary, but even if the Dodgers eat all the money, they’ll have to dip into their MiLB stash.

That’s where the scales truly tip toward Turner. If he and Longoria are roughly the same player, why give up payroll and trade chips for one when the other will require only money?

Los Angeles will have to battle other suitors, possibly including the archrival San Francisco Giants, per Morosi

The Dodgers should make Turner a priority, though, and consider Longoria a distant plan B. The best move isn’t always the splashiest or the one that commands the most headlines.

Sometimes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

To put it in Thanksgiving terms: Longoria is the stuffing, Turner is the turkey. Gobble, gobble.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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Corey Seager Fulfills Top MLB Prospect Destiny as Unanimous Rookie of the Year

When you’re also up for the Most Valuable Player Award, winning Rookie of the Year is a mere formality.

Still, Corey Seager will take it.

And if you’re just now joining us, he did. When the results of the National League Rookie of the Year voting were announced on MLB Network on Monday evening, the 22-year-old shortstop came away as a unanimous winner over Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Kenta Maeda and Washington Nationals center fielder Trea Turner.

Seager is the first Dodger to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award since Todd Hollandsworth made it five straight for the organization back in 1996. Cue him being over the proverbial moon.

“I’m excited and overwhelmed right now,” Seager said, via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. “It’s a distinguished award. Congratulations to the other two, to Trea and Kenta. It’s awesome to be nominated, really exciting to win. I don’t have the words for it, really.”

Since Seager doesn’t have the words to describe his win, we’ll pick one for him: inevitable.

I don’t know if we’ll ever see a young player take a path to the Rookie of the Year Award as straight as the one Kris Bryant walked. He went from being Baseball America‘s College Player of the Year in 2013 to the Minor League Player of the Year in 2014 to the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year in 2015.

But as far as paths go, the one Seager took to his Rookie of the Year Award was the next best thing.

He started his pro career as the No. 18 pick in the 2012 draft. A year later, he was a top-100 prospect going into the 2014 season. Then he was a top-10 prospect going into 2015. Coming into this season, he was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Major League Baseball by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com and ESPN.com.

It was all about the bat. By the time Seager broke into the majors late in 2015, he was a .307 hitter with an .891 OPS in the minors. He lived up to that and then some, hitting .337 with a .986 OPS with the Dodgers in a 27-game sample size that was small enough to keep his rookie status intact.

That set a high bar for Seager in his first full major league season in 2016. He cleared it by having the best offensive season for a rookie shortstop in history.

That’s not so much reflected in his .308/.365/.512 slash line, nor in his 26 home runs. It’s more so reflected in his adjusted OPS+ of 137, which was the best ever for a rookie shortstop with at least 300 plate appearances.

Then there’s his total offensive value, which snapped a rookie shortstop record set over 100 years ago:

None of us can say we weren’t warned that Seager was capable of this. The specific words varied, but every scouting report on him told tales of a hitter who was gifted in every way.

For example, here’s what Keith Law put in his write-up at ESPN.com:

Seager, the younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle, has electric hands at the plate and does everything very easily — his swing, hip rotation and power look effortless — but it’s his approach that makes him the best prospect in baseball. Seager’s pitch recognition is advanced way beyond his years, and you’ll see him make adjustments within at-bats that even veterans don’t make. He’s better than most players his age at adjusting to a pitch he didn’t expect and does very well covering the outer half without creating a hole on the inner third.

Seager lived up to all this. Per Brooks Baseball, he hit no worse than .215 against any particular pitch. He also finished with red-hot spots in all but one area of the strike zone.

And he didn’t get by simply by hitting it where they weren’t. According to Baseball Savant, Seager averaged 91.5 mph on his batted balls, easily topping the league average of 89.1 mph. He hit 212 balls at 95 mph or better, which was just three fewer than the majors’ OPS leader, David Ortiz.

As further proof of Seager’s hitting mastery, look how he spread those rockets around:

The one thing the prospect gurus weren’t sold on coming into the year was Seager’s defense. There were concerns that he was too big to play the position and that if the Dodgers wanted his bat in the lineup, they would have to live with a drag on their overall ability to field the ball.

Not true, as it turned out. According to advanced metrics, Seager’s defense was somewhere between brilliant (10.6 ultimate zone rating) and fine (zero defensive runs saved).

That this led to Seager winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award is up there with Mike Trout’s American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2012 as among the least surprising wins ever.

It was obvious when Seager went into the All-Star break with an .879 OPS and 17 homers that he was the man to beat for the award. His cool-down didn’t come until he hit .205 with a .619 OPS in the postseason. By then, the Rookie of the Year votes were already in the bag.

Now the only question is if the votes that went into the National League MVP bag will produce the same result when the announcement is made Thursday. Seager’s up against Bryant, a fellow phenom, and Daniel Murphy, a sweet-swinging veteran. There’s less of a clear choice in this race, but the favorite does appear to be Bryant rather than Seager.

But if Seager doesn’t follow his Rookie of the Year Award with an MVP Award on Thursday, it’ll likely just be a matter of time before he does.

Call it an educated hunch. If he’s already an MVP-caliber player as a 22-year-old rookie, becoming even more of an MVP-caliber player in the future doesn’t seem like too much to ask.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Dodgers Need Chris Sale, Have Ammunition to Get Blockbuster Done

The Los Angeles Dodgers need another ace. They have a deep farm system. And the free-agent starting pitching cupboard is basically bare.

Add those disparate facts up and what do you get?

Possibly Chris Sale plying his trade in Southern California.

It’s pure speculation at this point. But the Dodgers targeted Sale at the 2016 trade deadline and were willing to dangle prized young left-hander Julio Urias, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

The deal never materialized, and Sale finished out the season with the Chicago White Sox. The Dodgers, meanwhile, advanced to the National League Championship Series but fell to the eventual champion Chicago Cubs, in part because their depleted rotation ran out of fuel.

Now, imagine Sale paired with Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw. That’s two of the top southpaws in baseball, and a 1-2 buzz saw that could push the Dodgers over the top.

Will Sale be moved?

It’s no sure thing, but this much is clear: After four straight losing seasons and an eight-year postseason drought, it’s time for the White Sox to engineer a course correction. 

“We aren’t approaching this offseason thinking we can make a couple of short-term tweaks to put us in position to win on a sustainable basis,” general manager Rick Hahn said recently, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. “We intend to make a firmer commitment to a direction to put ourselves in a better long-term position.”

Translating from GM speak, that means the Sox could be sellers. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe has heard from multiple rival executives that “Hahn is open for business on just about his entire roster.”

Sale is Hahn’s shiniest item.

The 27-year-old five-time All-Star has eclipsed 200 strikeouts in each of the last four seasons and thrown more than 200 innings in three of them. He’s averaged 10.04 strikeouts per nine innings since his debut in 2010, the sixth-highest total among active pitchers. 

Most importantly, he’s under contract for the next three seasons, for $12 million in 2017, a $12.5 million team option in 2018 and a $13.5 million team option in 2019. In a world where the Arizona Diamondbacks paid Zack Greinke $34 million to post a plus-4.00 ERA, that’s an unequivocal bargain.

The sticker shock will be real. The Dodgers would likely have to part with multiple prospects from a farm system Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked No. 6 in the game.

That could include one of Urias and right-hander Jose DeLeon and a top position player such as power hitting outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger or touted 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz. 

That’s a lot to give up. But the Dodgers need to bolster their rotation—period.

Last year, injuries decimated their starting corps like henchmen in a James Bond flick. By the time the playoffs arrived, they rolled with a three-man unit of Kershaw, Japanese import Kenta Maeda and trade-deadline pickup Rich Hill through the division series before handing a start to the 20-year-old Urias in the NLCS.

Maeda will be back alongside Kershaw after posting a 3.48 ERA in 175.2 innings in his first big league season. 

The 36-year-old Hill battled blister issues after coming over from the Oakland A’s in early August, but he put up a 1.83 ERA in six regular-season starts with L.A. He’s a free agent, and while the Dodgers will surely kick the tires, it’s not normally in president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman’s DNA to give multi-year contracts to players rounding the bend on 40.

Right-hander Brandon McCarthy is signed through 2018 but is coming off an injury-plagued, up-and-down season. South Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu is an even bigger question mark after missing all of 2015 and nearly all of 2016 with shoulder and elbow problems. 

Lefty Scott Kazmir is around after declining to opt out of his contract, though the Dodgers may look to trade him, per Sherman. Alex Wood pitched out of the bullpen in the postseason but is an option to rejoin the rotation if healthy.

That’s a lot of ifs, maybes and what-have-yous. Plus, Los Angeles could lose closer Kenley Jansen to free agency, weakening a bullpen that led MLB with a 3.35 ERA and covered for the rotation’s lapses.

Not a good look for the squad with baseball’s highest payroll and a 28-year championship drought.

Getting Sale would immediately and immeasurably boost the Dodgers’ stock. Along with Kershaw and Maeda, he’d form a rock-solid top three augmented by either Urias or DeLeon and whomever manages to come back and stay healthy from the above-mentioned group.

The Dodgers won’t be Sale’s only suitor. Expect every club with pitching needs and prospects to burn to come sniffing. Cafardo astutely name-dropped the Boston Red Sox in particular:

In the thinking-big department, [Boston president of baseball operations Dave] Dombrowski may have enough starting pitching, but how could he resist at least exploring a deal for White Sox ace Chris Sale? Dombrowski inquired about the lefthander at the trade deadline but the price was high. That price will be high again, but adding Sale would give the Red Sox a starting rotation that includes David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez (unless he was in the deal),Steven Wright, and Clay Buchholz/Drew Pomeranz.

The Red Sox have the pieces to outbid Los Angeles. But while they may want Sale—who doesn’t?—they don’t need him like the Dodgers.

The hot stove is about to start crackling. Rumors will fly like sparks in a stiff wind. This isn’t the last time you’ll read about Sale and the Dodgers.

Some speculation just makes too much sense.


All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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Howie Kendrick Trade Rumors: Latest News and Speculation on Dodgers OF

The Los Angeles Dodgers “are exploring” potential trade options for Howie Kendrick as they look to build on their National League Championship Series appearance, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

Continue for updates.

Phillies and Angels Possible Landing Spots

Tuesday, Nov. 8

Rosenthal listed the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels as teams who could be interested in Kendrick. He said Philadelphia is “looking for short-term upgrades,” while Kendrick started his MLB career with the Angels.

Rosenthal pointed out Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was the assistant general manager for the Angels for part of Kendrick’s time with the team. Kendrick played for the Angels from 2006 to 2014.

What’s more, Rosenthal said the Angels are looking for a second baseman heading into the 2017 season.

That would likely suit Kendrick well, considering Rosenthal’s major league sources said he “grew frustrated with his role last season.” While his 487 at-bats ranked fifth on the team, he played left field, second base, first base and third base at times after playing second most of his career.

He also started just three of the Dodgers‘ 11 playoff games, as manager Dave Roberts used Andrew Toles in left against right-handed pitchers.

Despite the apparent frustration, Kendrick’s fielding at second base often dictated his moving around given his struggles in the last two seasons with the Dodgers. According to FanGraphs, he was responsible for minus-12 total defensive runs saved above average at second in 2015 (989 innings) and minus-four in 2016 (210.1 innings).

He will make $10 million in 2017 in the final season of a two-year contract with the Dodgers, per Rosenthal. A trade would mean the Dodgers received something in return before the 33-year-old Kendrick potentially heads elsewhere on the open market following the upcoming campaign.

Kendrick was a 2011 All-Star with the Angels when he hit a career-best 18 home runs, but he was not that offensive force for the Dodgers in 2016. He slashed .255/.326/.366 with eight home runs and 40 RBI and couldn’t replicate some of his past numbers:

While the decline is likely worrisome for teams targeting Kendrick, he is versatile enough to play multiple positions if needed and brings postseason experience and veteran leadership to the table with 30 playoff games in his career.

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Top Prospects Who Showed MLB Superstar Potential in 2016 AFL Fall Stars Game

Only the Chicago Cubs deserve to look back onto the 2016 Major League Baseball season. For every other organization, it is now time to look forward.

That made the timing of Saturday’s Fall Stars Game, the showcase of the Arizona Fall League’s best players, perfect.

And no, the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber did not play in the game, though he played two Arizona Fall League games in order to get ready for the World Series.

But a host of top prospects did play and shine in the game, giving reason for a handful of organizations to be excited about the future. Who among them stood out the most?


Note: All prospect rankings are courtesy of MLB.com.

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Clayton Kershaw Comes Up Small in the Biggest Start of His Life

Clayton Kershaw‘s worst postseason misadventures have mostly been tales of his having it and then losing it.

In Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, he never had it.

The Los Angeles Dodgersace left-hander was long gone by the time Yasiel Puig grounded into a double play to close a 5-0 win for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday nightsending them to their first World Series since 1945 and that much closer to their first championship since 1908. After setting out in his latest attempt to save the Dodgers from elimination, Kershaw lasted only five innings and allowed all five of Chicago’s runs.

That only four of those runs were earned is a small consolation prize. Kershaw’s career postseason ERA is up to 4.55 anyway. That’s the highest of any pitcher with at least 85 postseason innings.

And as noted by Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, Kershaw’s Game 6 performance was just the latest case of his being at his worst when the Dodgers need him most:

This isn’t the only reason L.A. has yet to turn any of its four straight NL West titles into a pennant or a World Series. But it is a reason. And a big one, at that.

Of course, the Dodgers may not have staved off elimination Saturday even if Kershaw had pitched like the three-time Cy Young winner they know him to be. Chicago pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman combined to allow only four baserunners, and all four were erased on three double plays and a pickoff. It was 27 up, and 27 down. In circumstances like those, there’s only so much a starting pitcher can do.

It is the primary function of the starting pitcher, however, to at least give his team a chance to win. Kershaw couldn’t even do that.

The vibrations were bad from the beginning. After allowing only two hits and no runs in seven innings in a 1-0 win in Game 2, Kershaw served up a pair of hits and a run to the first two batters he faced Saturday when Dexter Fowler doubled and Kris Bryant singled him home. Then there was an error by Andrew Toles in left field that set up Ben Zobrist for a sacrifice fly.

At the time, Toles’ error sounded like the opening notes of a familiar tune.

Kershaw’s postseason failures are a compelling narrative, but within it is contained a subplot of his teammates letting him down. As August Fagerstrom covered at FanGraphs, it’s typically been the guys in the Dodgers bullpen who have left him unsupported. The L.A. defense’s failure to help him seemed like the next logical step.

But it was also hard to ignore just how un-Kershaw he looked in the first inning. After needing only 84 pitches to get through seven innings in Game 2, he needed 30 to get through one in Game 6. His velocity was there, but he couldn’t get his fastball to go where he wanted it to.

Kershaw couldn’t fix that as the evening wore on, and it became apparent as he threw more and more pitches that he was dealing with another problem. His curveball, one of the great weapons of mass destruction in the sport, was not there. 

Per Brooks Baseball, he threw only 15 of them out of 93 pitches. And as ESPN.com’s Keith Law and many others observed, few of them were any good:

This seemed to become as obvious to Cubs hitters as it was to everyone watching at Wrigley Field or at home. They had come out swinging against Kershaw to begin with and only seemed to grow more comfortable once they realized they could sit on his fastball and slider.

Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo did the honors of demolishing both pitches. Contreras deposited a hanging slider in the left field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo went even further into the right field bleachers when he jumped on a sidearm fastball in the fifth inning.

“I think that the first thing I saw is the Cubs’ hitters, they had a great game plan tonight,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, per Ken Gurnick and Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. “And there was a couple mistake sliders that they took advantage of. But they were running counts, they used the whole field, and there was traffic all night for Clayton. And he gave it everything he had, but when they did—when he did make a mistake, they made him pay.”

Officially, Saturday’s outing is not the worst postseason performance of Kershaw’s career.

Per ESPN.com, he put up a game score of 39. He’s done worse in two starts since the Dodgers began their run four years ago: Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals and Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cardinals the next year.

But while Kershaw’s latest effort may not be his worst on paper, it may be the worst in practicality. He at least offered glimmers of hope with two shutout innings in the former and six one-run innings in the latter. A glimmer of hope never even appeared on the Chicago horizon Saturday.

Credit where it’s due: There was never a feeling that the Dodgers had the Cubs right where they wanted them even after they took a 2-1 series lead thanks to Kershaw and Rich Hill in Games 2 and 3. Beating a team that won 103 games in the regular season was never going to be that easy. In outscoring the Dodgers 23-6 in the final three games of the series, the Cubs proved just that.

“The better team won the series,” said Roberts, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

The thing about aces, though, is that they’re supposed to be the equalizers.

A truly great starting pitcher can level any playing field and turn a squad of underdogs into snarling beasts that rip all reasonable expectations to shreds. Madison Bumgarner did it in 2014. Josh Beckett did it in 2003. Et cetera.

Kershaw has the power to do this. It’s not the constant favor of Lady Luck that’s allowed him to carve out a career 2.37 ERA and the best adjusted ERA in history. He is a perfect pitcher, combining excellent stuff with pinpoint command and a competitive fire that can melt flesh right off the bone.

But for the life of him, he just can’t get his many talents to stick in October. And until he does, disappointment will keep finding the Dodgers.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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NLCS Schedule 2016: Game Time, Live Stream and Updated Odds

After suffering through back-to-back shutouts in Games 2 and 3 of the National League Championship Series, the Chicago Cubs‘ slumbering offense awoke for a 10-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 to tie the series at two games apiece.

Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo, who had both been slumping badly throughout the postseason, both homered to trigger the Chicago attack. Both men had three hits in the game, with Russell scoring two runs and driving in two while Rizzo scored two and drove in three runs.

While the Cubs got back to work at the plate, the Dodgers were held to six hits and committed four errors. 

The Cubs, whose 103-58 record was the best in baseball during the regular season, have seemingly recaptured the momentum that had disappeared in their consecutive losses.

They will attempt to regain the lead in the series Thursday night in Game 5 at 8:08 p.m. ET at Dodger Stadium, sending left-handed ace Jon Lester to the mound to face Kenta Maeda of the Dodgers. The game will be televised on FS1, and the live stream is available on Fox Sports Go.

Some thought the Dodgers would send Clayton Kershaw to the mound in Game 5 on short rest, but Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts opted to go with Maeda.

The Washington Nationals tagged Maeda with a loss in the National League Division Series, and he allowed three runs on four hits in Game 1 against the Cubs.

Roberts explained his decision to go with Maeda to the media prior to Game 4.

“Well, I think that [Thursday] isn’t a deciding game,” Roberts said, per CBSSports.com. “It’s not an elimination game. And I think the accumulation of [Kershaw’s] usage over the last 10 days plays a factor in our decision.”

Lester has been in good form this postseason, as he is 1-0 with a 0.64 earned run average. In Game 1 of the NLCS, he gave up one run and four hits in six innings. Manager Joe Maddon replaced him after that, even though it looked like he could have gone further after throwing just 77 pitches.

Lester is coming off a strong regular season that included a 19-5 record, a 2.44 ERA and a 1.016 WHIP. He also struck out 197 batters and walked 52 in 202.2 innings.

Lester has also had success throughout his career in the postseason. The 6’4″, 240-pound Tacoma, Washington, native has a 2.57 ERA and 1.027 WHIP in 18 career appearances.

Lester’s status as one of the best money pitchers in baseball helps the Cubs in the eyes of the oddsmakers. Chicago is a -151 (bet $151 to win $100) favorite to take the 3-2 lead in the series, according to Odds Shark. The Dodgers are +141 (bet $100 to win $141) underdogs in the game.

Kershaw is scheduled to pitch Game 6 of the series on Saturday night against Kyle Hendricks. If the series goes the full seven games, Rich Hill of the Dodgers and Chicago’s Jake Arrieta are likely to be slated for a rematch.

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Will Dodgers Regret Not Unleashing Clayton Kershaw on Cubs in NLCS Game 5?

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 ESPN.com, 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 BrooksBaseball.net 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 Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Julio Urias, Youngest MLB Postseason Starter Ever, Ready for NLCS Pressure

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the driver’s seat in the National League Championship Series.

Now, rookie Julio Urias can steer them to the brink of a World Series berth.

After defeating the Chicago Cubs 6-0 in Game 3 of the NLCS on Tuesday, the Dodgers hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven tussle. They’re two victories away from their first trip to the Fall Classic since 1988.

So far this postseason, L.A. has started ace Clayton Kershaw, Japanese import Kenta Maeda and trade-deadline acquisition Rich Hill. Its bullpen, headlined by closer Kenley Jansen, has taken care of the rest.

In Game 4, however, skipper Dave Roberts will hand the ball to Urias, who will become the youngest starting pitcher in MLB playoff history at 20 years and 68 days old, per Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. (h/t Adam McCalvy of MLB.com). He’s slated to break Bret Saberhagen’s record, as the Kansas City Royals starter was 20 years, 175 days old when he pitched in the 1984 ALCS.

No pressure, kid. 

“Julio, I think that we expect him to just go out there and compete,” Roberts said, per McCalvy. “Use his pitch mix and go after these guys, give us a chance to win a baseball game. It’s what Julio has done all year long.” 

Specifically, it’s what he did in the second half.

In 40.2 innings after the All-Star break, Urias posted a 1.99 ERA with 40 strikeouts. More impressively, he boasted a 1.26 ERA in 35.2 innings since Aug. 8. He has consistently shown the stuff of the standout stud Los Angeles believes he’ll become.

Now, he can prove himself on baseball’s biggest, brightest stage.

These Cubs are potent, even though they’ve scored zero runs in the last two games against L.A. Their lineup is stuffed with budding superstars who can change everything with a single swing.

If you’re looking at backstory, Urias made two starts against the Cubs in the regular season.

On June 2, he yielded eight hits and five earned runs in five innings in a 7-2 loss at Wrigley Field. It was just the second start of his MLB career. He was still 19 years old. He was in the most historic, renowned ballpark in the National League. It wasn’t exactly a fair display of his talent.

On Aug. 27, however, he pitched six innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts in a 3-2 victory at Chavez Ravine—where he’ll pitch Wednesday night in front of a full-throated Southern California home crowd. 

That second start made Urias feel “more comfortable” against the Cubs, per David Vassegh of AM 570 L.A. Sports. 

But it’s not predictive. The Cubs ranked second only to the mile-high Colorado Rockies among NL clubs in runs and OPS in the regular season. Urias could get whacked on Wednesday, like anyone else.

The burgeoning hurler appears poised for success, though. He’s a different animal from the fresh call-up who took the mound back in June.

Urias is rested, having thrown just two innings since Sept. 29. Those two frames just happened to come in a winner-take-all NLDS Game 5 against the Washington Nationals. He had ice water in his veins during the outing, becoming the youngest MLB pitcher to ever win a postseason game.

And while this is a game the Dodgers would like to win, it’s not one they need to win, so the expectations are marginally less weighty.

Not that Urias can’t take it. The southpaw is still about a year shy of the legal U.S. drinking age, but Roberts called him “calm and cool,” per Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times

“Some of it plays to the youthfulness, the naivete, and just not really understanding the gravity of this moment, which is great,” Roberts said, per Moura.

For his part, Urias acknowledged the stakes. 

“It’s something you have to deal with,” he said, per Paul Skrbina of the Chicago Tribune. “I felt the adrenaline when I was on the bench, so I’m thinking it’s something I’m also going to feel [in Game 4].”

No Cubs hitter has anything approaching a deep history against Urias. But Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jason Heyward have all homered against him. 

“It’ll be easier to establish what we want to do against him, just because we’ve all had at-bats against him,” Bryant said, per MLB.com’s Phil Rogers. “But it’s a different time of the year. I’m sure he’ll be throwing a little harder because it’s the postseason.”

There’s also the controversy over Uriaspickoff move, which The Beat’s Justin Russo captured: 

That’s a possible source of grumbling if you’re searching for one. Cubs manager Joe Maddon called it “balking 101,” per MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch. So keep an eye on that.

Sideshows notwithstanding, however, Urias has a path to October glory if he can outshine veteran Chicago right-hander John Lackey, who was finishing up high school in Abilene, Texas, when Urias was born. He can pen a legend and scribble his name all over it.

“Under normal circumstances,” USA Today‘s Jorge L. Ortiz opined, “the Dodgers brass might have preferred to go with a more experienced starter.” But these aren’t normal circumstances. Injuries have beset L.A.’s starting corps. So here’s Urias, healthy and ready.

The Dodgers are in the driver’s seat. And a kid who’s barely tasted his 20s has his foot poised over the accelerator.

Buckle up.


All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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