LA better suited to face Cubs' righty starters in Games 2-4
By Mike Bauman
CHICAGO -- Here is a reason for the Los Angeles Dodgers to take comfort: None of the next three Chicago Cubs starters in the National League Championship Series is left-handed. The record says that, no matter how good those Cubs pitchers are, the Dodgers will have a better shot against them.
The Dodgers lost Game 1 of the NLCS, 8-4, to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night. Game 2 of the National League Championship at Wrigley Field will be televised Sunday by FS1 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
As October nights at Wrigley go, this one was hitter-friendly, with a helpful wind blowing out to left. But the Dodgers could only take advantage once, largely because Cubs starter Jon Lester is not only a left-hander, but a very good one.
The Dodgers hit .214 against lefties this season, 30th in the Major Leagues. The Dodgers had an OPS of .623 against lefties, which also ranked last.
The news on Lester vs. the Dodgers was even worse, if possible. In two starts against Los Angeles this year, he had an ERA of 0.60. In 15 innings, he had given up seven hits and two walks while striking out 16.
Saturday night was largely the same story. Lester pitched six innings and gave up one run. He allowed four hits, walked one and struck out three. The Dodgers caught a break when Cubs manager Joe Maddon lifted Lester after just 77 pitches, choosing to pinch-hit for him in the sixth. The fact that Maddon believed that Lester was not "on top of his game" would come as no solace whatsoever to the Dodgers.
"I just thought that, tonight, Jon really wasn't on top of his game," Maddon said. "There was a chance to put add-on runs in that particular moment. If Jon was on top of his game, I may not have done it, but I didn't think he had his best stuff tonight. So that was part of that decision."
The only Dodger run off Lester came in the fifth inning, when Andre Ethier pinch-hit for L.A. starter Kenta Maeda. Ethier is a left-handed hitter, but he managed to get a ball elevated the opposite way, and it went out. It was his first home run against a left-handed pitcher since August 2013. Just a thought, but perhaps he could play a little more.
The Dodgers did tie the game at 3-3 in the eighth on a two-run single in a lefty-vs.-lefty battle, Adrian Gonzalez against Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman. But the Cubs broke open the game in the bottom of the inning against the previously reliable Joe Blanton, with Miguel Montero's pinch-hit grand slam leading the way.
As a rule, though, life is easier for the Dodgers when they are opposed by right-handed pitchers. The Dodgers hit .264 against right-handers, 50 points higher than their mark against lefties. That ranked fourth in the Majors. They have an OPS of .772 against righties, which ranked sixth.
The Dodgers can also be encouraged by the fact that their ace, Clayton Kershaw, will start Game 2. He will be opposed by Kyle Hendricks. Kershaw is coming off an NL Division Series performance in which he pitched on three days' rest, then came on in relief two days later. But Kershaw said he feels fine and is ready to work without restrictions on Sunday.
That, combined with the fact that the Dodgers hit enough to come back from a deficit, are also genuinely encouraging developments for the Los Angeles club.
"We played hard," Dodgers manager Dave Robert said. "We played well. And we do have Kersh going tomorrow, so that's a good thing. So I know that he'll be ready, and I know that there will be 24 other guys in that clubhouse that will be ready to go."
And the Dodgers with the bats will presumably be particularly ready to go against a right-handed starting pitcher.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.