Rookies rule LCS today as Urias, Merritt take mound
Indians can close out ALCS; Dodgers eye 3-1 NLCS lead
By Andrew Simon
Neither Ryan Merritt nor Julio Urias has much experience at the Major League level, but both rookie left-handers will have tough assignments when they take the mound today.
Merritt's Indians couldn't finish off an American League Championship Series sweep of the Blue Jays on Tuesday, falling, 5-1, in Game 4. Cleveland now has one more chance to close out the series at a hostile Rogers Centre before the festivities would shift back to Progressive Field. On the line is the Tribe's first World Series berth since 1997.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers hand the ball to Urias coming off consecutive shutouts of the Cubs, the latter a 6-0 win on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Tonight's game at Chavez Ravine provides an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 National League Championship Series advantage, with one game still to go in LA.
In the history of postseason starting pitchers, both of these southpaws stand out from the crowd.
Merritt, the Indians' No. 29 prospect, has thrown only 11 Major League innings, five of them coming on Sept. 30 at Kansas City in his only start out of four appearances. Only one other pitcher has started a postseason game after making just one previous big league start. That was Rays lefty Matt Moore, who had 9 1/3 innings under his belt before winning Game 1 of the 2011 AL Division Series against the Rangers.
The Blue Jays will counter with a pitcher who has thrown more innings in this postseason than Merritt has in his career. That would be right-hander Marco Estrada, a nine-year veteran who has posted a 2.02 ERA in five playoff starts for Toronto over the past two seasons.
Merritt, a 16th-round pick in the 2011 Draft, finds himself in this position after a wave of injuries to Indians starters, including the drone-related mishap that struck Trevor Bauer last Thursday and forced his quick exit in Game 3.
"I'm just going to treat it like any other game, try to go out there and have fun, relax, pitch to my strengths, not let the game speed up on me, trust in myself, trust in my defense and just go out there and compete and try to win a game for us," he said.
Compared with Merritt, Urias is a seasoned veteran. Promoted for the first time in late May, he ultimately pitched in 18 games for the Dodgers (15 starts), posting a 3.39 ERA across 77 innings. Urias also got his feet wet in the postseason, throwing two scoreless innings out of the bullpen to pick up the win in LA's decisive Game 5 victory at Washington in the NLDS.
On the other hand, Urias began this season as a teenager, only turning 20 on Aug. 12. That makes him the youngest pitcher to start a postseason game, passing the Royals' Bret Saberhagen, who was 20 years and 175 days old when he took the mound in Game 2 of the 1984 ALCS against the Tigers.
Like Merritt, Urias also has a far more experienced counterpart. Looking to even the series, the Cubs will go with John Lackey, who turns 38 on Sunday and has started 437 big league games -- including 21 in the postseason. That includes Game 4 of the NLDS, when he allowed three runs over four innings at San Francisco.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Lackey-Urias matchup represents the fifth-largest age gap between opposing postseason starters, at 17 years and 294 days. It's the largest since the Phillies' 45-year-old Jamie Moyer faced the Rays' 24-year-old Matt Garza in the 2008 World Series.
"Julio, I think that we expect him to just go out there and compete," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "use his pitch mix and go after these guys, give us a chance to win a baseball game. It's what Julio has done all year long."
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.