A quick look at the Los Angeles Dodgers' circumstances reveals them to be quite dire.
The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, 4-2, Tuesday night. Ricky Nolasco lasted only four innings in his first start since Sept. 25, and the Dodgers wasted some key scoring chances against Lance Lynn and a host of relievers.
Make it a 3-1 series lead for the Cardinals now. One more loss and the Dodgers will go bye-bye.
Oh, there's also the Hanley Ramirez situation. He was clearly feeling the rib he fractured on a hit-by-pitch in Game 1, and he ultimately had to leave Game 4 early. Given the way he looked, it's hard to imagine the Dodgers shortstop being in the starting lineup Wednesday afternoon.
Then there's the fact that the Dodgers will head to St. Louis even if they win Game 5. Among NL clubs, only the Atlanta Braves had a better home record than the Cardinals this season.
So yeah, like I said...Quick look. Circumstances. Quite dire. It's not going to be easy for the Dodgers to dig themselves out of their hole.
But doing so won't be impossible. Far from it, actually.
As the Dodgers were quick to remind everyone on Twitter, 11 teams have come back from a 3-1 series deficit before. It happened just last year, of course, as the San Francisco Giants came back in the NLCS to defeat, naturally, the Cardinals.
And these Dodgers have one thing...well, make that three things that the 2012 Giants didn't have: Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Greinke will be on the bump in Game 5, and Kershaw and Ryu will be there for Games 6 and 7 if need be.
All three are capable of dominating the Cardinals and leading the Dodgers to a comeback for the books. At the least, we know for a fact that the first part is true.
Greinke, Kershaw and Ryu have all been seen once already in the NLCS, starting Games 1, 2 and 3, respectively. Not one of them produced a bad start. On the contrary, all three produced dominant starts. Such points are best illustrated with numbers, so here's a whole table of them!
*GSc=Game Score, a stat developed by Bill James that evaluates a given start based on things like outs recorded, innings pitched, strikeouts and so on. The counting starts at 50, so anything over that is good and the higher the better.
I haven't crunched the numbers for what Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander have done against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, but I'm guessing they've done better. I won't risk saying that what Greinke, Kershaw and Ryu have done is as good as it gets for a trio of starters in October.
What they've done, however, is pretty darn good. They've eaten innings and have kept baserunners to a minimum, both by limiting hits and free passes. To boot, the hits they have given up have been of the soft variety, and they've missed their share of bats.
The Dodgers only won Ryu's start, but the losses were hardly their pitching's doing. Greinke was long gone by the time Carlos Beltran collected a walk-off hit in the 13th inning of Game 1, and the only run Kershaw gave up in Game 2 was unearned.
That the trio was able to shut down the Cardinals offense to the degree they did wasn't the biggest surprise. Greinke and Kershaw were two of the best pitchers in baseball this season, and the stretch run saw the two of them and Ryu finish on fire. Like so:
|Pitcher||Span||IP||ERA||K%||BB%||Opp. OPS||Avg. GSc|
|Greinke||Last 16 Starts||108.2||1.57||23.0||5.3||.535||66|
|Kershaw||Last 16 Starts||114.2||1.57||26.2||4.4||.509||68|
|Ryu||Last 11 Starts||70.0||2.57||21.0||2.9||.631||59|
Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw were able to continue their hot pitching in the Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. Greinke gave up only two earned runs on four hits in six innings in Game 2, and Kershaw gave up one earned run on six hits and 18 strikeouts in 13 innings combined between Games 1 and 4.
Ryu was the ugly duckling of the trio, lasting only three innings and giving up four earned runs in Game 3. He looked iffy enough to make one wonder if his first season as a major leaguer had worn out his arm.
But as Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles reported, Ryu was likely done in by nerves in his postseason debut, not his health. The rookie from Korea certainly looked more comfortable on the mound Monday night. More importantly, he pitched like himself—I wrote about it if you're interested, and I naturally think you should be.
Of course, it also helped that Hyun-Jin Ryu was benefiting from a favorable matchup when he recently took the mound against the Cards. So was Kershaw in Game 2. He and Ryu share a bond as left-handed starters, and such pitchers were the Cardinals' kryptonite during the regular season.
The Cardinals were a darn good offensive team in 2013. The best in the National League, in fact, as they scored almost 80 more runs than the next-most productive Senior Circuit offense. You'd think such a good offensive team would be able to beat anyone. But my goodness were the team's splits against southpaw starters terrible:
|vs. RH Starter||.278||.340||.413||.753||17.5||7.7|
|vs. LH Starter||.242||.309||.366||.675||19.1||7.8|
The only thing the Cardinals did as well against lefty starters was walk. Everything else...yuck.
Bear in mind these numbers were compiled mainly with Allen Craig (foot) in the lineup. He was actually better against righty starters, but he still managed a .748 OPS against lefty starters. Matt Adams, by comparison, only managed a .564 OPS against lefty starters.
As I noted in my column on Ryu, St. Louis' struggles against lefty starters have kept biting them in October. Against Francisco Liriano, Kershaw and Ryu, the Cardinals have managed only eight hits and two earned runs in 19 innings.
To be fair, it won't be all bad for the Cardinals if the Dodgers next win behind Greinke to extend the series. Games 6 and 7 will be at Busch Stadium, and they'll be throwing their two best pitchers at the Dodgers: wonderful wunderkind Michael Wacha and the extraordinary Adam Wainwright.
How soon will the NLCS end?
The Dodgers, however, certainly have the pitching edge in Game 5 with Zack Greinke going up against Joe Kelly. If Game 6 happens, they'll have the edge again with Kershaw over Wacha. And while one can't give the edge to Ryu over Wainwright in a potential Game 7, hey, Ryu's already outdueled Wainwright once and would still be going up against a lineup that has consistently crumbled against the southpaws.
It's going to take more than just great pitching for Don Mattingly's Dodgers to become the 12th team in MLB history to overcome a 3-1 deficit. Their hitting hasn't been so great of late, and it's hard to count on an explosive turnaround with Hanley Ramirez hurting like he is. Of course, Andre Ethier's health is also compromised, and you just never know when Yasiel Puig's circuits are going to be overwhelmed.
Pitching, however, has a way of being the great equalizer in October. And this year more than any other, it looks like great pitching is the only key teams need.
Or, in the case of the Dodgers, a ladder. They're in a hole, but Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu are their way out of it.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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