NLCS Pitching Preview: Why the Series Will Come Down to Rich Hill

Oct 9, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill (44) pitches against the Washington Nationals during the fourth inning during game two of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill (44) pitches against the Washington Nationals during the fourth inning during game two of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

With the matchup tied 1-1 in the NLCS, it is now a best of five series between the Dodgers and Cubs with Los Angeles gaining home field advantage. What will the rest of the series look like on the mound?

Chicago has a four-man rotation set that has not yet been changed throughout the playoffs. The team had the privilege of taking it easy at the end of the regular season to set up their prefered lineup of starters: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey. Manager Joe Maddon and staff have showed no signs of venturing away from that rotation, but there are still a lot of games left in the NLCS.

The Dodgers are about the opposite. Clayton Kershaw will pitch as much as humanly possible and Rich Hill will also get his starts when it is his turn. Aside from that pair, Kenta Maeda will most likely stay in his turn and then Julio Urias, Alex Wood, and Ross Stripling are all capable starters. Urias seems to be their favorite option as he was lined up to start game four of the NLDS before Kershaw took it on short rest.

More from Call to the Pen

While Chicago was fortunate to have a four game series which perfectly started their rotation over to begin the NLCS, the Dodgers went to five games in the NLDS, forcing their ace Kershaw to start twice and pitch three times. Since then, their pitching lineup has been a bit of a jumbled mess, as Rich Hill is announced for game three, but not much else is certain.

The team would conceivably like to have Kershaw back again in game five to pitch at the final home game of the series. He would be getting three days rest once again but was not overextended too much in game two, making it a possibility. Game four is the mystery for Los Angeles as Julio Urias seems like the likeliest of starters.

Options for Game 4

Julio Urias- 77 IP, 3.39 ERA in 2016, 887 OPS against in batters third PA of game. 6+ days rest: 5 starts, 1.86 ERA. 11 IP vs. Cubs: 7 R, 12 K

Alex Wood- 60 ⅓ IP, 3.73 ERA in 2016, last start May 30. Four scoreless relief innings from Sept 21-Oct 2. 19 IP, 3.79 ERA vs. Cubs in career

Ross Stripling- 100 IP, 3.96 ERA in 2016. 1 IP in NLCS: 0 R 0 H, never faced Cubs, last start was September 6

Kenta Maeda- 175 ⅔ IP, 3.48 ERA in 2016. 7 IP, 7 R in playoffs, never pitched on three days rest, 3.97 ERA on four days rest. Only game against Cubs was game one

Dave Roberts will likely go with Urias, and choose to take him out after going through the batting order twice if he can get that far. A potential problem with that is the fact that there are three straight contests from games three to five. Over-using the bullpen in game four could be fatal for a game five with Kershaw on short rest, or for a pitcher like Maeda who struggles to go deep against good teams. That is why game three starter Rich Hill must go at least six innings, with a hope for seven.

Dodgers Starters

Preparing for this game four is tough for Roberts, but none of it is likely to matter if Hill does not show up. In his past five starts, including two in the playoffs, Hill has given up 12 earned runs in 22 ⅓ innings, good for an ugly 4.84 ERA. His walks and strikeout numbers are okay, so Dodgers faithful have to hope his recent struggles are merely due to bad luck.  

Game five will most likely be Kershaw’s, even if he is on three days rest again. Unless the Dodgers win games three and four, there is absolutely  no reason for LA to keep Kershaw off the mound in a crucial game five.

Six, if necessary, will then likely go to Maeda, who would have five days of rest at that point. Seven, if necessary, would then most likely fall to Rich Hill again on four days rest depending on how he does in game three. Kershaw may be available in the pen for extended innings after two days of rest depending on how his game five start goes. So, with my projections this is how the pitching matchups will shake out.

Forecasting the Matchups

Game 3: Arrieta vs. Hill

Game 4: Lackey vs. Urias

Game 5: Lester vs. Kershaw

Game 6: Maeda vs. Hendricks

Game 7: Hill vs. Arrieta

With a bunch of exciting pairings there is a lot to look forward to in each game in the NLCS. Nonetheless, Hill is the Wild Card, as all other games seem to be equal in matchup or favor the Cubs. Lester and Kershaw will be very evenly matched in game five. Kershaw is a bit better as a pitcher, but Lester will have regular rest while the one-time MVP will only have three days.

Lackey would seem to have the advantage over Urias due to the vast experience difference. Before a disappointing game four start in San Francisco, Lackey had a 2.66 ERA in his past eight postseason games, and an above average 3.22 career postseason ERA overall. Lackey also really came on at the end of the season with a 2.34 ERA in his final nine regular season starts. The 20-year old Urias will have no easy task if they end up facing each other in game four.

In game six, Hendricks has the advantage over Maeda as Hendricks has been terrific at home and can go much deeper than Maeda. Hendricks had an insane 1.32 ERA at home in the regular season, not to mention a very good game in the second contest of the NLCS. On the other hand, Maeda had an average 3.74 ERA away from home, and an ugly game one at Wrigley.


If Hill can get back to mid-season form, the Dodgers could take the series by winning his two starts and winning Kershaw’s next start. Hill did in fact have 19 scoreless innings to start his Dodgers career, and carried a pristine 2.25 ERA with him in Oakland.

Next: Bauer's Non-Baseball Related Injury

If he cannot return to form, Jake Arrieta is a very good pitcher and the Dodgers may not stand a chance with two rookies set to start the games outside of Hill and Kershaw’s starts in this now best out of five series.

Still, assuming the outcomes of any of these games is silly, even when an ace like Kershaw is on the mound. The ballgames will come down to a multitude of things ranging from hitting, running, managerial decisions, and bullpen usage among others. Nevertheless, a good game or two from lefty Rich Hill could go a long way to bringing the Dodgers to the World Series and sending the entire city of Chicago into a deeper depression than what they get after watching the Bears play.