Houston will send out Lance McCullers Jr. to face the Dodgers in Game 3. The Dodgers know what’s coming: curveball after curveball after curveball. The trick is going to be doing something with it.
Dallas Keuchel‘s hard sinker and Justin Verlander‘s gas are difficult to contend with, but nasty, sharp breaking stuff and high heat is the name of the game these days so they’re used to it. McCullers arsenal is something different altogether. They’re not old school curveballs. They’re not big looping benders. They’re knuckle curves on which he changes speed, often varying it by 10 m.p.h. However fast they go, he throws them more than anyone on the planet throws curves. Indeed, in 2017 McCullers threw his curve 47.4 percent of the time. The second guy on that list — Game 2 starter Rich Hill, who is famous for his curve — was only at 37.5%.
McCullers’ regular season curve rate may understate things at this point of the season. In Game 7 of the ALCS, he came in and tossed the last four innings in relief, throwing 24 consecutive curveballs to end the game. Yankees hitters knew they were coming, but they couldn’t do a thing about it. Justin Turner is pretty good at destroying stuff low in the zone, so maybe he’ll have some success when that 12-6 curve strikes six. Yasiel Puig has developed the sort of plate discipline no one ever thought he’d have, so perhaps he can avoid chasing the curve like so many Yankees hitters did on Sunday. Either way, figure that McCullers will throw the thing until the Dodgers show they can do better than New York did with it.
Astros hitters are going to have the opposite problem.
Being in the same division with the Rangers, you think they’d know Dodgers starter Yu Darvish very, very well, having faced him 14 times. Thing is, the Yu Darvish they think they know is gone and there’s a new one in his place. As Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times noted the other day, the Dodgers changed Darvish’s approach after he came over in a trade, convincing him to stop throwing his split-finger fastball and slow curve and stick with his slider and cutter as secondary and tertiary pitches. Since he fully changed his approach seven starts ago, Darvish has an ERA is 0.80. In his first six starts with the Dodgers: 5.34.
The game will still come down to bullpens — both kinda tired, the Astros’ kinda rocky — and the big stars on offense we’ve all gotten to know really well over the last month. But the thing to watch tonight is Lance McCullers and Yu Darvish throwing the opposition a curve. In Darvish’s case, by not throwing a curve.