The National League championship series is tied at 1-1 heading back to Philadelphia.
The Los Angeles Dodgers slipped by surrendering home field advantage, but all it takes is stealing one win from the Philadelphia Phillies to shift the balance of power back into their hands.
It will be a chilly Sunday night at Citizen’s Bank Park, with temperatures expected to be in the low-40’s at the time of first pitch. Compare that to the balmy 93-degree temperature at first pitch on Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles, and the players will be feeling the chill out on the field.
Weather permitting, I have broken down three keys to the Dodgers success in Game Three on Sunday evening.
Hiroki Kuroda must work down in the zone
Hiroki Kuroda will make his first start this postseason after missing the division series with a herniated disc in his neck.
He hasn’t started since Sept. 28, which could be bad news in the eyes of some baseball insiders because Kuroda features a sinkerball attack.
Normally, that would treat him well at the homer friendly Citizen’s Bank Park, but with all the rest he has under his wing it leaves open the opportunity that his arm will be so lively that it could lead to him elevating pitches in the zone.
That’s why any baseball scouts say that a sinkerball pitcher is better off taking the mound when he is a little tired because it helps downward movement on his sinker.
Nonetheless, Kuroda is a pitcher that stays close around the zone and rarely walks batters. This comes as a relief for the Dodgers, who issued seven walks in a Game One loss.
The Phillies have hit Kuroda poorly in the past, notching only two hits in six innings back in June against him. He was also the lone starting pitcher to pick up a victory in last season’s NLCS.
If Kuroda keeps his sinker down in the zone, it will give him the opportunity to locate his fastball on both sides of the plate and keeps the Phillies hitters off balance.
The Dodgers need to hit with runners in scoring position
In Games One and Two combined, the Dodgers are just 3-for-20 with runners in scoring position, a number that is far too low to bring a pennant back to L.A.
Despite going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, they rallied to win Game Two behind a timely error and a bases loaded walk.
They were given a gift when Chase Utley made an uncharacteristic throwing error on an easy double play ball, but the team will have to get some clutch hits in order to take control of this series.
Now, it was a rare occasion in Game One when the Dodgers lost, because they outhit the Phillies 14-8 in that game and during the regular season, the team went 79-15 when recording more hits than the opponent.
Considering that stat, Los Angeles just needs to keep battling at the plate and do whatever they can to come through with ducks on the pond.
Scoring a run early on Cliff Lee will be enormous
Throughout the season, the Dodgers made a living out of jumping out in front of an opponent in the first inning.
In fact, when scoring first they posted a record of 66-24, and the Boys in Blue outscored their opponent 117-54 in the first frame during the regular season.
They must put pressure on Lee before he settles into the game, especially with the weather conditions looking to be in the low-40’s. That means Lee will gain more feeling of the ball as the game progresses and he gets more warmed up, so the Dodgers have to be aggressive early on to get on the board.
Lee is also religious about working ahead in the count, and he is one of the best in the league at throwing first pitch strikes. This means the Dodgers need to be looking to swing the bat early in the count in hopes of catching a fastball intended to get Lee ahead in the count.
I think this will result in good things for Andre Ethier, because Lee usually tries to work fastballs early in the count to lefties. I expect Ethier to be looking for a fastball away, and if he connects there's a good chance Ethier could leave the yard in his first at-bat.
Lee approaches righties with more off speed pitches early in the at-bat, so don't expect a big day from Matt Kemp, who has sever troubles at times with breaking pitches.