Dodgers Bullpen Could Play Huge Role in NLDS Decider

(Photo Credit: Eric Risberg/AP)

As far as predictions go, it’s been almost impossible to even come close to the scripts played out so far by the Dodgers and the Nationals in the 2016 NLDS. And with the winner-take-all Game 5 previews pouring out everywhere in the baseball blogosphere, there’s a good chance that none of them approach what’s on tap in the season finale.What we do know is that veteran lefty Rich Hill will start on the mound for the Dodgers, squaring off against Washington righty Max Scherzer. And that the first pitch is slated for 8:08 p.m. Eastern time in the nation’s capital. Anything beyond those few facts could easily result in a battle to the end free-for-all which will see one team advance to the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs.

While Dodgers’ fans everywhere are wondering at what point 20-year-old rookie Julio Urias will make his presence known in the series, the club may be wishing it decided to carry at least one extra reliever instead of an extra position player on the pine. Regardless, with Hill obviously appearing to be on a very short leash in the decider, Urías may finally get his chance to throw with a bullpen behind him that will have absolutely no limits.

When considering the Dodgers’ pitching strategies, skipper Dave Roberts and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt will presumably put everything on the table, knowing that if indeed the team finds a way to advance to the championship series, the roster may easily be replenished with several fresh arms to supply relief.

Hill will be pitching on three days rest for just the second time in his career. The only other time was in July of this year as a member of the Athletics, when he allowed five runs on three hits and four walks in just three innings of work. Hill only managed to last 4-1/3 frames against the Nats in the second game of the series last Sunday.

That being said, there’s probably not a better backup plan than Urías. He posted a 5-2 record with a 3.39 ERA over 77 innings of work for the Dodgers this season, including a very impressive 9.8 K/9. He actually started two games against Washington this year and didn’t factor into either decision, with the first coming at home on June 22 when he struck out six batters, but allowed two earned runs on six hits and a walk in an even five innings. In his second start at Nationals Park, he was pulled after four frames in the 6-3 victory, but was on an apparent pitch count at that point in the season. He struck out four and walked none while allowing only one earned run on five hits.

When mentioning the remainder of the Dodgers bullpen, it’s really difficult to gauge how well the relief corps is performing because most traditional stats are inaccurate measuring tools. For example, the run that Pedro Baez allowed in Tuesday’s contest when he plunked Jayson Werth was credited to Kershaw, as were the other two runs that Daniel Murphy drove in off of lefty Luis Avilan.

It’s commonly known that ERA is almost worthless when trying to evaluate relief pitching. While the Dodgers’ bullpen ranked first in ERA among all NL squads in the regular season, they ranked towards the middle in WHIP and OPSA for a good part of the year, as well as being near the bottom in ERC% and DIP% up until around the trade deadline.

In spite of everything, though, regular season numbers are meaningless at this point of the game, as other qualities like grit, tenacity and fortitude almost supersede the hard, numerical statistics. In addition to all the offense the club can conceivably muster, whatever relief the bullpen can provide Hill on Thursday night will be truly welcomed by all those allied to the Boys in Blue.

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