I’ve already taken a 30,000-foot view of the overall matchup and buzzed the tower on how the members of the Cubs rotation match up against Dodgers hitters. And now I will cap off what is likely to go down as the most epic and accurate series preview in the history of independent Cubs blogs run by guys with kids named Addison and Ryne by looking at how Cubs hitters have fared versus Dodgers starters.
Man, now I feel kinda uptight because I set the bar so high. Ugh, these expectations are gonna be the death of me. Anywho, back to the awesomeness:
When we last left our heroes, they were busy holding their NLCS counterparts to a .185/.245/.267 slash line and had allowed only 4 home runs in 334 plate appearances. Of course, none of that matters if the Cubs can’t put up some hits and runs of their own. With that in mind, I looked into the historical performance of LA’s pitchers when they’ve faced the men who will step to the plate for the Cubs.
Before we get into specifics, a couple notes on the Cubs’ offensive performance in general. The NL Central champs were fourth in the league with a .759 OPS against righties, but they absolutely raked to the tune of an .807 OPS against lefties that saw them ranked second in the National League. That bodes well for the Cubs, who should be facing southpaws in three of the fours spots of the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Except that these particular lefties aren’t exactly a trio of schlubs.
You could present an argument that Kershaw is not the best pitcher on the planet, but you’d be wrong. Like, really wrong. He’s still human, though, a fault the Cubs have been able to exploit over the course of his career. While the dominant lefty has held opponents to a career triple slash of only .205/.263/.301, the Cubs have roughed him up to the tune of .229/.258/.324 (.582 OPS). Boom!
You may have noticed that their deviation from the average doesn’t really provide a great deal of wiggle room. Nor does a 9.5-to-1 K/BB ratio that’s roughly five times worse than their season mark. At 10.4%, the Cubs have the highest walk rate in baseball. When they face Kershaw, however, they draw free passes at a measly 3.9% that’s significantly lower than his very nice 6.9% career average.
So is there really much of a chance for the Cubs to get over on Kershaw? Sure, but they may have to catch lightning in a bottle to do it. While he’s not a guy who can generally be waited out, there’s always the possibility that the Cubs can play a little longball. Both Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant have taken the perennial Cy Young candidate deep in the past, with the former doing so against that famed curveball last season.
The Cubs haven’t had as much trouble with the curve as Justin Timberlake this season, though Kershaw’s Uncle Charlie is even more badass than Clint Eastwood. I’ll be honest, I’m mentally chalking up a loss in Game 2. Maybe that’s so I can feel better when the Cubs do outlast Kershaw before demoralizing Kenley Jansen.
A veteran of Japan’s NPB, Maeda is in his first MLB season and has yet to face any of the Cubs hitters. I think that means they’ll hammer him into bolivian (thanks for not pointing out that intentional misspelling) and force the Dodgers to use their pen heavily to open the series.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve seen next to nothing from this cat and I’m only scouting the stat line when I evaluate him. He works mostly in the 80’s with a curve so slow (72.5 mph)you’d honk at it if it drove in the left lane on the interstate. Maeda’s a little like Kyle Hendricks in that he overcomes his low velocity by using the fastball to set up his secondaries, namely a slider that ranks among the league’s best in terms of both overall and weighted value.
He’s not a big strikeout guy but he doesn’t walk too many, either, so he’s probably not going to just hand the game over. Then again, he’s never faced a lineup like the one the Cubs will run out against him and he’s notched an 11.17 ERA in his last three starts. Add to that the fact that he’s squaring off against Jon Lester in Game 1 and it looks like the Cubs could get something done.
It’s hard to be fair in my evaluation of Hill because I’ve got a real soft spot for him. Not just because he’s a former Cub, but because he has scratched and clawed to remain in the game and finally busted back out with the Red Sox last season at 35 years old. While health issues, namely blisters, have limited him to just over 110 innings this season, they haven’t cut his efficacy. Hill has held opponents to a .195/.269/.261 (.530 OPS) slash this season by working in that same Maeda/Hendricks range.
Hill’s strength is a curveball that rates among the league’s best, though his fastball has been excellent this season too. Because of a circuitous career path that has kept him mainly in the AL since 2008, most of the current Cubs have no experience against him. David Ross, Ben Zobrist, and Miguel Montero have combined for 19 at-bats against the lefty, with Grandpa Rossy accounting for 14 of those. In what appears to be an aberration, Ross has struck out in seven of his appearances.
Even though he’s pitched really well, I just can’t find anything scary about Rich Hill. He strikes me as the kind of guy the Cubs will really work over, though I’m speaking purely from intuition here.
Oh, hey, another lefty starter. The Cubs have seen the recently-minted 20-year-old twice this season and have had really good results against him in those early outings. In only 43 plate appearances, they tagged him for a .359/.395/.590 slash (.985 OPS) that included 3 home runs (one each from Bryant, Javy Baez, and Jason Heyward).
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts still hasn’t even said for sure who will start Game 2, let alone who will round out the rotation, but it makes sense for Urias to take the ball for the second game in LA. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. This kid is incredibly talented and may end up being a great pitcher, but I’ll take my chances against a rookie who’s bounced between AAA and the majors and then the rotation and the pen.
Cubs vs. Doders rotation as a whole
- .247/.285/.366 slash against
- .651 OPS against
- 35.6% K rate
- 5.3% BB rate
- 13 XBH (7 doubles, 2 triples, 4 homers)
This isn’t going to be a walk-over, but I see no reason to believe the results of this series won’t follow what we’re seeing in the stats. Which is to say that Cubs hitters and pitchers have generally outperformed their Dodgers counterparts. And the larger sample of a seven-game set helps to iron out some of the wrinkles you find in a shorter series. I’ve been saying Cubs in five and I’m going to stick with that. It’s gonna be a helluva ride, though, so hold on to your butts.