Nearly two days after it happened, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s managerial oopsie-doodle in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series is still the only thing anyone wants to talk about. (And who could blame them?)
But it’s important to remember: the Cubs are playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in a seven-game series, and it’s far from over. The Cubs have lost two, but Sunday’s snafu wasn’t the end. In fact, there’s another game Tuesday night, as the series shifts back to Chicago. Another game means that the Cubs will have a chance to crawl back from their 2-0 deficit, and show that their offense has a little life in it.
So which Dodgers starter are the Cubs taking on in NLCS Game 3?
Yu Darvish's Slider to Paul Goldschmidt was downright FILTHY. pic.twitter.com/nd3fwwL2fh
— Pitcher List (@ThePitcherList) October 10, 2017
Yup, it’s that guy. Yu Darvish. That’s him totally fooling Arizona Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt in his last start, which was against the D-backs in Game 3 of the NLDS. Darvish helped the Dodgers complete a three-game sweep of the Diamondbacks, pitching five innings of one-run ball before manager Dave Roberts called in his bullpen.
That was eight days ago. Darvish had electric stuff in that start, but it hasn’t made him overconfident about facing the Cubs. Here’s what he said to the media on Monday:
They’ve got really good lineups from top to bottom, and they play as a team so there is nobody in that lineup that I can get easy on. So it’s going to be a battle, and I just want to take one pitch at a time, one guy at a time.
Darvish isn’t taking anything for granted — he knows the Cubs can be a tough offensive team to face. And they definitely can be. But right now, that’s not who the Cubs are. Out of every team that’s left in the playoffs, they have the lowest batting average by far. They have the lowest everything, in fact. Over seven 2017 playoff games, they’re hitting .162 as a team. Their collective on-base percentage is a paltry .251, and their slugging percentage is at .262. It’s bad. Compare that to the Dodgers: over five playoff games, they’ve collectively hit .275/.387/.463.
The Cubs’ postseason stats are a far cry from their regular season offense, in which they hit .255/.338/.437. And since the playoffs are such a small sample size, you could even say that the Cubs are perhaps due for an offensive breakout. Right?
Well, that brings us back to Yu Darvish. Because while the Cubs probably won’t hit like crap forever, Darvish isn’t really anyone’s idea of a slump-busting pitcher. And the Cubs are at a distinct disadvantage here: with Darvish spending most of his career in the AL, most of the Cubs hitters have barely seen him. In fact, of the 10 players that Maddon has started over the last seven postseason games, only one has faced him for more than three at-bats: Ben Zobrist. Zobrist is 2-for-12 against Darvish, with two walks and four strikeouts.
Of the other nine guys that Maddon has started, four haven’t faced Darvish at all: Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Javier Baez and Jon Jay. The other five (Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward) have seen him for two or three at-bats, all coming in a July 2016 interleague game against the Texas Rangers. All of them racked up at least one strikeout, and only Rizzo managed a hit.
Maddon actually has more experience with Darvish than anyone, having spent the first three years of Darvish’s career managing an AL team. And during his news conference yesterday, he told the media that he and the Cubs have a plan of attack for Darvish.
“Obviously without getting into detail, we know what he likes to do. Most of the times when you’re able to get pitchers of that quality, two things have to occur, they’re off with their command a little bit and you get them early in the game. That’s normally — because when you get guys like that settled in, it becomes increasingly difficult and more difficult to get them as the game is in progress.
So that’s the two things I’ll be looking for. If there are any command issues and how we react in the early part of the game, because, again, if you permit them a lead at all, it’s really hard to match up with them in the latter part of the game.”
Of course, that requires that Darvish be off his command. And with an eight-day layoff, that’s entirely possible. But it’s also possible that with over a week between starts, Darvish is simply very well rested and well studied on all the Cubs hitters.
We don’t know what could happen. The eternally dependable Corey Kluber took the mound for the Cleveland Indians two separate times in the playoffs, and both times he looked awful. So anything is possible. Darvish could forget how to throw a baseball, or Bryant could try holding the bat at the wrong end as a fun experiment. We won’t know until both teams take the field on Tuesday night. But no matter what, it’ll be worth watching.
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