Associated Press

Kenta Maeda has been fantastic so far

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When the Los Angeles Dodgers lost Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks and then saw Brett Anderson and other pitchers go down or recover more slowly than hoped, there was some serious concern about the non-Kershaw portions of their rotation. In preseason previews there was always reference made to their pickup of Kenta Maeda, but it was tinged with uncertainly and in some cases guarded expectations. Indeed, in writeups he was often paired with their pickup of Scott Kazmir, as in “they got Maeda and Kazmir, but there are still questions . . .” Which was fair because, hey, we really didn’t know how he’d do.

So far, however, Maeda has been more than some needed depth added to a depleted rotation. He has been absolutely fantastic. Last night he stymied the rival Giants, allowing only one earned run in seven innings of work. In his three starts he has a 0.47 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 15/4 K/BB ratio across 19 frames. One of those walks was intentional. He’s allowed fourteen hits and only that one earned run. For what it’s worth Zack Greinke has a 6.75 ERA, 1.558 WHIP and 15/5 K/BB ratio in his three starts.

I’m not making any grand pronouncements or conclusions about Maeda or Greinke for that matter (he’ll get better obviously) but so far, in the early going, one of the big questions the Dodgers had — who will step up after Clayton Kershaw? — has been answered in a pretty satisfying way for those who have an interest in the Dodgers winning baseball games.

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Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.