(Photo Credit: Kyodo/The Japan Times)
While the Dodgers hope to move forward and put the bad dream of Game 4 behind them, the players will need to harness every ounce of offensive energy they can at the dish and on the bases, as southpaw Jon Lester takes the bump for the Cubs in hopes of putting his club back in control when the NLCS moves back to Chicago.
Lester, a leading candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, has allowed only one run on nine hits and a walk in 14 innings over two starts this postseason. He gave up the lone run, a wind-aided homer off the bat of Andre Ethier in Game 1 of the NLCS, on four hits with three strikeouts while throwing just 77 pitches last Saturday.
As it’s no secret that opposing left-handed pitching has been the Dodgers’ primary form of kryptonite over the course of the regular season, the club has continued to hover on the bad side of the Mendoza line during the playoffs as well. In an even 100 at-bats against southpaws through both postseason series against Washington and Chicago, the Dodgers are hitting a paltry .190/.296/.280 with only five extra-base hits.
It’s tough to guess exactly who skipper Dave Roberts will include in his bizarro lineup to face Lester, yet it’s very safe to assume that Yasiel Puig will be somewhere in the middle of the order and start in right field. Puig figures to be a potentially heavy weapon against the Cubs’ lefty, despite only going 3-for-14 against southpaws this postseason, with all three singles coming in the NLCS.
Utility man Enrique Hernandez has hit a triple and a home run off Lester in the past, but it’s hard to say if Roberts will give him a nod in Game 5 on Wednesday. He killed southpaws in 2015, but hit only .190/.283/.324 in 109 games and 244 plate appearances against all throwers this year. Versus lefties in 2016, he produced a slash line of .189/.308/.361. So far in the NLCS, he’s 0-for-5 with two walks in seven plate appearances.
Howie Kendrick is a lock to appear in the Dodgers’ lineup against Lester, but has gone just 4-for-17 in this year’s playoffs. He’s only 1-for-8 in the NLCS.
Carlos Ruiz could also be a lineup option to conceivably produce some sort of offensive spark.
On the pitching side of things, the Dodgers will turn to Japanese righty Kenta Maeda in Game 5. Maeda lasted just four innings and allowed three runs on four hits with three walks in Game 1. He gave up four runs in three innings against the Nationals in his only NLDS start. Maeda posted a 4.25 ERA in the second half of the regular season and has now pitched five innings or fewer in nine of his past 12 starts.
Maeda told reporters on Wednesday that he plans on focusing on the present while leaving his recent struggles behind him.
“I’m not going to be too careful, even though I haven’t been pitching well in the postseason,” he said. “What I’m going to be (is) really focused on pitching well and not worry too much about what I have done in the past.”
During the same media session, Roberts reiterated his confidence in his 28-year-old righty starter.
“I expect him to get ahead of hitters,” he said of Maeda. “I have all the confidence in the world in Kenta that he’s going to give us a chance to win.”
First pitch for Game 5 is slated for 5:08 p.m. Pacific time and will be televised on Fox Sports 1.