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October 15, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLCS Game Four Preview: Cardinals at Dodgers

by Bret Sayre

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Things looked bleak for the Dodgers as they left St. Louis Saturday. Hanley Ramirez was questionable with a rib injury, they had lost games behind Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, and they were facing Adam Wainwright in Game 3. But after a strong performance by Hyun-Jin Ryu and a couple of well-timed hits, the Dodgers are back in the series. Here are the PECOTA odds and projected lineups for Game 4:

Cardinals (Lance Lynn) at Dodgers (Ricky Nolasco) 8:00 p.m. ET
PECOTA odds of winning: Cardinals 36.1%, Dodgers 63.9%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Cardinals vs. Nolasco (R)

Dodgers vs. Lynn (R)

Matt Carpenter (L) 2B

Carl Crawford (L) LF

Carlos Beltran (S) RF

Mark Ellis (R) 2B

Matt Holliday (R) LF

Hanley Ramirez (R) SS

Matt Adams (L) 1B

Adrian Gonzalez (L) 1B

Yadier Molina (R) C

Yasiel Puig (R) RF

Jon Jay (L) CF

Andre Ethier (L) CF

David Freese (R) 3B

Juan Uribe (R) 3B

Pete Kozma (R) SS

A.J. Ellis (R) C

Lance Lynn (R) P

Ricky Nolasco (R) P

The Set-Up:
It’s not terribly surprising that PECOTA likes the Dodgers in Game 4, but even considering the home-field advantage it is surprising how big the differential is. Squaring off in this game are two big right-handers who have been both very good and very bad over the course of this season. If this turns into a game where the starters are out of there early, two big questions will need to be answered: 1) whose middle relief corps will step up and stop the bleeding, and 2) will Don Mattingly be able to make it through a game that requires many managerial decisions without exploding Twitter?

Focusing In:
If you knew nothing about Ricky Nolasco the pitcher, other than what was on the back of his baseball card in 2013, it would be curious that the Dodgers are so hesitant to go with the 30-year-old starter. However, to know Nolasco is to fear Nolasco (at least if you’re a Dodgers backer). Coming down the stretch, he was just abysmal—putting up huge numbers in the wrong categories during his last four appearances of the regular season. Those numbers: an 11.77 ERA, 2.23 WHIP, and 1.060 OPS against.

Of course, with that said, Don Mattingly did not show hesitation in passing over Nolasco in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves—instead calling upon Clayton Kershaw on three days rest to help close out the series. Just before Game 3, Mattingly admitted he was open to shifting around his rotation after previously saying that Greinke and Kershaw would not be brought back on short rest at this point. If Nolasco does get the start, look for Edinson Volquez early (a la Jeremy Hellickson’s start in Game 4 of his ALDS series) if Nolasco seems to have left the magic at home.

Opposing Nolasco will be the big right-hander Lance Lynn, who has already appeared in this series in relief during Game 1 (throwing two scoreless innings and picking up the win in extras). In true Lance Lynn fashion, that appearance came on the heels of his Game 2 start against the Pirates in the NLDS, when he gave up five runs in less than five innings on his way to the loss. But it wasn’t all bad for Lynn in his most recent start, as you can see by the handy Brooks Baseball summary below:

Pitch Type

Velo (Max)

H-Break

V-Break

Count

Strikes / %

Swings / %

Whiffs / %

BIP (No Out)

SNIPs / %

LWTS

FA (Fastball)

94.3 (95.5)

-5.49

8.41

25

20 / 80.0%

12 / 48.0%

1 / 4.0%

7 (4)

13 / 72.2%

2.21

SI (Sinker)

93.0 (95.5)

-7.53

3.12

19

10 / 52.6%

7 / 36.8%

0 / 0.0%

3 (1)

7 / 43.8%

0.30

CH (Changeup)

88.8 (89.5)

-7.04

2.05

2

0 / 0.0%

0 / 0.0%

0 / 0.0%

0 (0)

0 / 0.0%

0.15

CU (Curveball)

82.0 (83.3)

4.51

-3.49

28

17 / 60.7%

14 / 50.0%

9 / 32.1%

3 (1)

14 / 56.0%

-0.93

FC (Cutter)

90.2 (92.2)

-1.30

5.36

5

1 / 20.0%

1 / 20.0%

0 / 0.0%

1 (1)

0 / 0.0%

0.98

Pitch classifications provided by PITCH INFO.

There were two big positives to take away from this outing. First of all, the 94.68 mph average on his four-seam fastball was the highest in any start for him this season. It was mildly worrisome when Lynn’s fastball was about a mile slower through the end of June 2013 than in his first year as a starter, but as the second half has progressed the velocity has returned, averaging over 94 mph in September before he turned it up to 11 against the Pirates. Also, he relied heavily on his curveball to positive results—getting nine whiffs on 14 swings. The 28 curveballs were the most he’d thrown in a start this year. With a lot of the firepower in the Dodgers lineup coming from the right-hand side, Lynn may need to rely pretty heavily on the pitch again today. If Lynn can be as successful with it as he was in his first postseason start, Mike Matheny may not have to use much of that middle relief corps.

Finally, the injury notes. While Hanley Ramirez did play and collect a couple of hits in Game 3, there’s always a chance that he’s unable to suit up for Game 4. I know it’s the playoffs, but it’s also a fracture in his rib. On the less optimistic side, David Freese left Game 3 with tightness in his right calf—and while Mike Matheny did call him day-to-day after the game ended, it would not be a surprise to see him sitting tonight. If that does happen, look for Daniel Descalso to get in the lineup at third base.

Matchup to Watch:
The entire Dodger roster has been an exercise in small sample futility against Lance Lynn, as they have collectively hit .148/.230/.185 with no homers in 63 plate appearances. Of course, that’s really only useful for pregame graphics and sports talk radio, as it’s extremely unlikely to be predictive of anything. The specific matchup which may give Lynn the most trouble is Adrian Gonzalez, if for no other reason than Lynn has had trouble with lefties his entire career (.797 OPS versus portsiders, .628 OPS versus starboardsiders).

My Prediction:
Despite the lack of offense thus far in the series, this game turns into a battle of the bullpens due to ineffective starting pitching. In the end, the Dodgers take it 8-6 and pull even in the series.

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

5 comments have been left for this article.

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