Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Playoff Reset: Nationals vs. Dodgers NLDS Game 4

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The Game: Washington Nationals @ Los Angeles Dodgers, NLDS Game 4
The Time: 5:00 PM EDT
The Place: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The Channel: FS1
The Starters: We have no idea!

The Upshot:

Even before yesterday’s Nationals’ win there was speculation on what strategy Dave Roberts and Dusty Baker would take with respect to starting pitching in this afternoon’s contest. Would the loser of Game 3 go to their ace on short rest? How would the winner counter? Well, the Nats won and now Dave Roberts has to decide if he should go back to Clayton Kershaw on three days rest. I suspect that Dusty Baker is waiting to see what Roberts does before making his own decision, though his decision is more traditional: which back-end starter/swingman to use: Joe Ross or Reynaldo Lopez.

As I wrote earlier today, you have to assume that Roberts will go with Kershaw. For one thing, Kershaw reportedly went through his day-before-a-start routine at Dodger Stadium yesterday, so he’s ready. For another, the other option would be rookie Julio Urias. For as much as Urias improved as the season wore on, how many managers hand the ball to a 20-year-old with 77 major league innings under his belt in an elimination game? Especially with Kershaw sitting right there. The biggest caveat here is that Kershaw worked harder than he usually has to in Game 1 and, of course, missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury and we can’t know for sure how he’s feeling right now. My guess, however, is that by late morning we hear that Kershaw will go with Urias warming up early in case the short rest for the ace is seen to take its toll. For what it’s worth, Kershaw has done this short rest thing in the playoffs before, and he’s done it pretty well.

As for Washington, Ross has been the better pitcher all year, but he has been lit up by lefties to the tune of .317/.385/.439 while Lopez has been harder on lefties than on righties, allowing a line of .193/.291/.375 against them. Given how mightily the Dodgers have struggled against lefties all season, and given how many of their important hitters are left-handed, it’ll be tempting for Dusty Baker to play the matchups. I suspect he will.

It’s win or stay home for the Dodgers. For the Nationals, a win not only moves them into the NLCS for the first time ever, but it allows them to start that series with Max Scherzer on normal rest.

Dave Roberts has to give Clayton Kershaw the ball in Game 4

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UPDATE: Kershaw gets the nod.

7:55 AM: Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has a big decision to make for today’s NLDS Game 4: bring back Clayton Kershaw on short rest to face the Nationals or, alternatively, go with rookie Julio Urias, who is fully rested. As late as last night he had still not named his starting pitcher for today. In our view, however, there’s no choice at all: he has to go with his ace.

Yes, there are factors which may argue in favor of Urias, the most obvious being that he’s fully rested. He likewise pitched fantastically in August and September, although he pitched in relief in three of those outings and a couple of his starts were short, get-your-work in affairs. But c’mon, is a rookie manager going to go with a 20-year-old rookie starter in an elimination game when he has Clayton Kershaw sitting right there?

People who say “yes” to that have some data to back them up in the form of  overall numbers suggesting that, generally speaking, starters on short rest do not do too well in the postseason. Indeed, in the Wild Card era (1995-present) there have been 121 playoff games in which pitchers have been used on short rest. They are a combined 35-40, with a 4.35 ERA. Which looks even worse when you realize that managers tend to use their best pitchers, not their worst, on short rest. If your ace is posting a 4.35 ERA, your ace is not doing his job.

Kershaw, though, has been an exception to that rule. He’s pitched on short rest in each of the past three seasons. And he’s pitched pretty well:

  • On short rest in last year’s NLDS Game 4 against the Mets, Kershaw allowed one run over seven innings to get the win and help the Dodgers stave off elimination for one more game;
  • In 2014 he did the same Friday-Tuesday NLDS Game 1/Game 4 thing on short rest against the Cardinals, allowing three runs in six innings, taking the loss. Not great, but not a disaster; and
  • In 2013 he pitched Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves on short rest, allowing zero earned runs, but two unearned runs, in six innings. There he got the no-decision but the Dodgers prevailed in the infamous Craig Kimbrel-standing-in-the-bullpen-watching-it-all-unfold game.

So, overall, in three short rest playoff starts, Kershaw is 1-1 and has struck out 23 batters with just four walks and posted a 1.89 ERA. He has, in the past, done what the Dodgers need him to do today.

The only caveat in play, of course, is how Kershaw is feeling. Remember, he missed a lot of time with injury this year. And he labored pretty heavily in Game 1 of this series. He only went five innings and his pitch count wasn’t eye-popping, but it was high for just five innings and a lot of those pitchers were in high stress situations. There’s also the matter of who in the heck pitches the deciding Game 5 if Kershaw goes today and wins. We’ll leave that part of the analysis to Leo Durocher, though:

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Still I think Dave Roberts has to give Kershaw the ball today. If he falters, he has Urias, who has made several mutlti-inning relief appearances in his rookie year. Think of them as being piggy-backed, perhaps. But think of Clayton Kershaw as the man you want when your entire season hangs in the balance. If Dave Roberts gambles on Kershaw today and loses, well, he lost with his best. If he gambles on Urias today and loses while Kershaw is left sitting for a game that may never come, it’ll be a long, cold winter of “what ifs.”

Man loses a bet against Joe Blanton, is forced to eat every food item at Dodger Stadium

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Last January, Joe Blanton signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Blanton had spent 11 seasons as a starter for various teams and in only a couple of those years did he post a league average or better ERA, with the last time being 2009. From 2010-2013 he was downright awful. He didn’t pitch in the majors at all in 2014. He bounced back in a major way in 2015, however, pitching spectacularly out of the bullpen for the Pirates in the final two months of the season and respectably as a swingman for the Royals before that.

The Dodgers made a $4 million bet on Blanton’s rebound being the real deal, but a Dodgers fan many of you may know from the wonderful land of baseball Twitter, TheAmitie, bet against him:

Blanton, in fact, pitched 80 innings of 2.48 ERA baseball, which was substantially above league average (158 ERA+). Which means . . . 

I made a bet that Joe Blanton wouldn’t pitch league average ERA+ for 75+ innings this year. This was a terrible mistake on my part, as he did it, and now I have to follow through on my bet to eat one of everything at Dodger Stadium.

He got the money to buy the tickets to the games and the concession items via Kickstarter and today he paid his debt to the gambling gods. Go check out the most recent set of tweets at his friend’s Twitter feed to see some video updates, which are enough to make me queasy. If, for no other reason, than this was prominently featured:

Thoughts, prayers for our soon to be very sick comrade at Chavez Ravine.