Dodgers-Cubs NLCS: The buried story so far has been Dodgers' stingy run prevention
Beneath the heroics of hitters like Puig, Taylor and Turner, the Dodgers just aren't giving up runs
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig's Game 1 heroics. Justin Turner's Game 2 heroics, including becoming the first Dodgers player to hit a postseason walk-off homer since Kirk Gibson in 1988. Chris Taylor's home run to tie Game 1. Hell, even Puig's monster series to this point. Those are the most fun stories of the NLCS so far. They deserve all the attention they get, too.
But, man, the Dodgers pitchers with the help of their defense, are doing some work. Through two games, the Cubs have just three runs on seven hits. The scoring came on a two-run homer by Albert Almora in Game 1 and a solo shot from Addison Russell in Game 2. Basically, they haven't even scored a single run on a rally. They just have been unable to piece hits together.
Not only that, but the Dodgers aren't giving out free passes. The Cubs led the NL in on-base percentage and were second in walks this season. They walked 622 times in 162 games, good for nearly four per game. They have only drawn two walks in two NLCS games. The regular season OBP was .338. So far in the NLDS, it's .143.
I suppose the storyline could be that the Cubs need to hit better, and they do, but credit has to be given to Dodgers pitchers.
The bullpen in particular has been utterly filthy. They threw four perfect innings (12 up, 12 down) on Saturday in Game 1. In Game 2, the bullpen again worked four scoreless innings. This time around, there was blemish: Jansen hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.
Still, through two games, the bullpen's line: 8 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K.
Rich Hill also set the tone with a good outing of his own Sunday, working five innings and striking out eight. He gave up the Russell home run, but only allowed three hits and one walk in all.
It's rather hilarious that the worst pitcher of the series so far has been Clayton Kershaw. He wasn't bad, either. He was just OK. It's a 3.60 ERA on Kershaw and that's by far the worst so far.
With such a stellar bullpen, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has been in favor of not letting his starters go through the lineup a third time, and the strategy has worked.
"I don't think that where we're at right now in the postseason, it's not necessarily a pitch count thing for any of our guys," Roberts said of pulling Hill after just 79 pitches. "You're essentially counting outs and trying to get the best matchup for your guys."
"It goes back to the trust that we have in our pen and for each of our starters. It's a matter of giving everything you have for as long as you can."
He's right to trust his bullpen. They've really grown into a lights-out unit as a whole.
Credit Brandon Morrow, who has already thrown 2 2/3 scoreless innings in the series. He started the season in the minors, now he's in the NLCS sitting high-90s with a 92-mph slider.
"He's become obviously incredibly valuable," Roberts said of Morrow. "But I think that his past of being a starter, then going as a closer, he's closed as well, so he has the ability to throw strikes. Now when you look at the stuff, the velocity is plus-plus, and the slider plus-plus. So now you take those components as far as the head, the preparation, the feel, and the pitch mix, that makes an elite back-end guy."
I agree, Morrow does look like an elite-back-end reliever. Roberts brought him out for the sixth inning on Sunday, though. That's how deep the bullpen has become.
Converted starter Kenta Maeda was excellent in Game 1 and he wasn't even needed in Game 2 -- though he was the play if the game went extras, Roberts said afterward. Lefty Tony Watson has worked 1 1/3 innings of spotless ball. Josh Fields and Tony Cingrani have both only faced one hitter, but they did their job and retired each.
Fittingly, we'll close with Kenley Jansen. What even needs to be said? He's the best reliever in the world. He's basically automatic.
Let's put it this way.
In the ninth inning, the Cubs let Willson Contreras and Albert Almora face Jansen. Both are right handed. There were lefty options on the bench like Alex Avila, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ (switch hitter). Maddon didn't use them. My thought at the time was Maddon realized there's no way the Cubs could score, so he wanted to stick with his better defenders and hope to outlast Jansen in the game.
Whether that's true isn't really the point. That's how dire the situation seems from the offensive mindset with Jansen on the hill. I watch games all day, every day for seven months and I'm sitting wondering if a manager in the playoffs is just conceding that his team has no chance to score against a guy.
Things don't get much easier for the Cubs. Yu Darvish goes in Game 3 and he has the ability to pitch like an elite-level ace. His last four outings have yielded a 0.37 ERA with 28 strikeouts and one walk in 24 1/3 innings. No one in the bullpen should be overworked after four full days off before Game 1 and another one coming on Monday. Then there's All-Star lefty Alex Wood in Game 4.
The path to a Dodgers sweep seems clear, and it runs through Dave Roberts' pitching staff and the luxury he has to prevent opposing offenses from seeing his starters a third time.
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