Dodgers had two choices: trust the brain or trust the gut. They went with gut.
Last night, I incorrectly assumed the Dodgers would save Clayton Kershaw for a decisive and final Game 5 in DC. It just seems like logical thing to do. First, the Dodgers have to win the next two games to win the series, and Kershaw can only pitch one of those games. All things being equal, I’d rather–if I were the Dodgers–have Kershaw pitch on the road in a tougher environment matched up against the Nats best pitcher, Max Scherzer. Pitching him in Game 4 forces him to go on 3 days rest. I wouldn’t ordinarily object to that, but Kershaw is still building back his stamina after missing most of the second half with an injury. He only reached 100 pitches for the first time in Game 1. Saving him for Game 5 might mean the Dodgers get 6 innings Thursday instead of 5 tonight–not insignificant consider the Dodgers bullpen is a little beat worn out and beat up.
Still. This is the playoffs. There’s an old axiom that you worry about tomorrow tomorrow. It just feels wrong to keep your best pitcher on the sidelines, even if he’s only at 75 or 80 percent due to short rest. The Dodgers season could end tonight; Dave Roberts doesn’t want that to happen with his best weapon still in the arsenal. Maybe the thought of starting a 19 year old rookie, Julio Urias, in an elimination game sounds unconscionable to the Dodgers manager.
The most topical analogy is Buck Showalter’s failure to use his best reliever, Zach Britton, in the Orioles extra innings Wild Card Game loss. To me, this is fundamentally different. I think Showalter made a grave mistake saving his best pitcher. But in that situation, Britton was capable of pitching multiple innings. With the game tied in the 11th, he could have pitched that inning, the Orioles could have scored in the top of the 12th, and Britton could have closed it out in the bottom of that inning. Showalter could have avoided using his inferior reliever, Ubaldo Jimenez, altogether. Here, the Dodgers have to start a pitcher other than Kershaw. I think it’s best to do it at home, against Joe Ross rather than Scherzer.
Rich Hill will be available on Thursday night on 3 days rest as well. Maybe the Dodgers plan on starting him then. Maybe the equation is Kershaw (3 days rest) + Hill (3 days rest) > Urias (full rest) + Kershaw (full rest). Maybe Roberts wants the option of Urias or Hill or some combination of the two. Maybe he truly is worrying about tomorrow tomorrow and he has no plan. Gut over brain.
I will say this. As somebody pulling for the Nats, I feel better. With Kershaw looming in Game 5, even against Scherzer, I was considering Game 4 a must win. Now it feels like house money. Win today, move on. Lose, the team has a significant matchup advantage Thursday night.
A deciding Game 5 at home. What could go wrong?