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Nationals/Dodgers

The Nationals moved up 2-1 on the Dodgers with Monday’s decisive 8-3 victory. To celebrate, both teams have decided to make my life a living hell and put off announcing their Game 4 starters until well after my deadline. Seriously, we don’t know which of Best Pitcher in the World Clayton Kershaw or Wunderkind Julio Urias will be taking the ball for Game 4, nor do we know if Dusty Baker will line up Joe Ross or Reynaldo Lopez to face L.A. We don’t know anything, other than that the Dodgers are in the hot seat.

UPDATE: It'll be Kershaw vs. Ross.

Washington Nationals (Joe Ross) at Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw), 5:00 PM ET

PECOTA odds of winning: 57% Dodgers, 43% Nationals

Projected Starting Lineups

Nationals vs. Kershaw (L)

Dodgers vs. Ross (R)

Trea Turner (R), CF

Chase Utley (R), 2B

Bryce Harper (L), RF

Corey Seager (L), SS

Jayson Werth (R), LF

Justin Turner (R), 3B

Daniel Murphy (L), 2B

Adrian Gonzalez (L), 1B

Anthony Rendon (R), 3B

Josh Reddick (L), RF

Ryan Zimmerman (R), 1B

Joc Pederson (L), CF

Danny Espinosa (S), SS

Yasmani Grandal (S), C

Jose Lobaton (S), C

Andrew Toles (L), LF

Joe Ross (R), P

Clayton Kershaw (L), P

Injuries/Availability

It’s been one game after another for the Nats and Dodgers, so each team might be a little worn out after this run of three consecutive games. Obviously Gio Gonzalez and Kenta Maeda are out of the question tonight, but don’t be surprised if the Dodgers are willing to pull out all the stops in order to push this to a Game 5. And while the bullpens are a bit worn after the short hooks on Gio and Maeda, the Dodgers used seven relievers to the Nationals’ four. Pedro Baez and Joe Blanton each threw 35-plus pitches. As Craig Goldstein noted in his Playoff Prospectus recap, Ross Stripling may be necessary today as neither Urias nor Kershaw should be expected to throw major innings. And Stripling’s also pitched in the last two games in three days.

The Nationals have a fairly fresh bullpen despite long appearances from Sammy Solis and Shawn Kelley in Game 3. Marc Rzepcynzski and Blake Trenien didn’t throw, Mark Melancon only used nine pitches, and cardiac Ollie Perez used eight.

Outlook

The Dodgers have the advantage getting to play this one at home and with the benefit of facing a right-hander in Ross (good, but not unbeatable) or Lopez. The Nationals have the advantage of not having to win this game to survive and play another day, with a fresher bullpen and momentum on their side. The Dodgers have the position-player depth to make it interesting against the Nationals’ bullpen, but the Nats get to tee off against Urias or the short-rested Kershaw or Rich Hill. On talent, the Dodgers may have this, but on preparation Dusty Baker’s team may have an advantage. —Bryan Grosnick

Who should the Dodgers start?

Kershaw on short rest in Game 4 and Urias on extra rest in Game 5 or Urias on regular rest in Game 4 and Kershaw on regular rest in Game 5? There has already been a lot of talk and takes and analysis on all of this, and there are arguments for each choice. The argument for the former is that a) Kershaw on short rest is better than Urias on regular rest, and that b) the Dodgers need to win Game 4 in order to even have a chance to win Game 5. The argument for the latter is that a) the Dodgers need to win two games regardless of when Kershaw starts, b) both Urias and Kershaw will perform better on regular rest, and c) Kershaw’s experience better prepares him to pitch Game 5 on the road.

The fact is that this probably does not make as big of a difference as we think it does. Choices make us over-think our decisions, especially when there is no definitively right answer, especially when there is uncertainty. What people end up doing when facing uncertainty is what Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow calls answering an easier question (when faced with a difficult choice). The difficult question is “when does deploying Kershaw give the Dodgers the best chance to win the series?” In answering this question, we realize that the “you have to start your best pitcher in an elimination game” argument or the “you have to win Game 4 to win Game 5” argument can be thrown out because the Dodgers need to win two games regardless of order and they can only pitch Kershaw once.

While this makes an argument for starting both pitchers on regular rest (and thus Urias in Game 4), there are still arguments in favor of starting Kershaw in Game 4. One argument for Kershaw in Game 4 is how the team would respond if they feel like their manager is making a mistake by not giving them their best chance at winning (note: this is about their beliefs and how they would react to those beliefs, not whether those beliefs are correct). Another argument for Kershaw starting Game 4 is how he and the rest of the team would respond going forward were they to lose without starting their ace. Additionally, while the baseball community has been speculating as to how well Urias would handle Game 5 on the road, we do not know Urias’ and Kershaw’s mentalities, what they best respond to, etc., as well as do the Dodgers—meaning, given this, the Dodgers should get the benefit of the doubt in this decision if they are framing their choice correctly; if they are answering the difficult question.

If, however, Roberts and the Dodgers choose to answer an easier question such as “which choice is most defensible or which will I regret the least?” then they do not really deserve the benefit of the doubt. Because we are not in the room and because the answers given to the media are not always truthful (for example, Roberts might say he is going with his ace because that’s what you do in an elimination game, but really might be going with him for different reasons so as not to expose the team’s decision making process), we will never really know if Roberts and the Dodgers are framing the decision properly and making the best decision based on the best analysis. Which is all to say that once the games have been played and the Dodgers have either won or lost, articles with the benefit of hindsight will declare Roberts’ and the Dodgers’ decision to be right or wrong and some of these articles might even declare Roberts’ and the Dodgers’ process to be optimal or not, but we will know that there is no way to definitely know.

We know how they might have erred and we know how people tend to err when making decisions that involve uncertainty. We know that sometimes the right choice gets bad results and sometimes the wrong choice gets good results. We know that suboptimal process can still lead to the right choice. Most importantly for Dodgers fans, we know that the best we can hope for is that Roberts and the Dodgers are properly framing their decision and that they are making a choice that maximizes their chances of winning. —Jeff Quinton

Cubs/Giants

Conor Gillaspie once again played the unlikely hero–beating one of the National League’s top relievers for the second time in a week–and the Giants stayed alive after beating the Cubs 6-5 in 13 innings. Thank goodness this game was so engaging, but now seeing Chicago and San Francisco go at it again tonight might feel like an anti-climax. Especially with the somewhat-volatile Matt Moore throwing for the Giants with the season on the line.

Chicago Cubs (John Lackey) at San Francisco Giants (Matt Moore), 8:30 PM ET

PECOTA odds of winning: 59% Cubs, 41% Giants

Projected Starting Lineups

Cubs vs. Moore (L)

Giants vs. Lackey (R)

Dexter Fowler (S), CF

Denard Span (L), CF

Kris Bryant (R), 3B

Brandon Belt (L), 1B

Anthony Rizzo (L), 1B

Buster Posey (R), C

Jorge Soler (R), LF

Hunter Pence (R), RF

Ben Zobrist (S), RF

Conor Gillaspie (L), 3B

Addison Russell (R), SS

Brandon Crawford (L), SS

Javier Baez (R), 2B

Joe Panik (L), 2B

Willson Contreras (R), C

Gregor Blanco (L), LF

John Lackey (R), P

Matt Moore (L), P

Injuries/Availability

I guess we talk about the bullpen first here, as both teams used up some bullets during last night’s long slog. Starting with the Giants: Sergio Romo threw two innings and 32 pitches, gave up the critical game-tying dinger in the ninth, and seems to get used sparingly in back-to-back situations. I wouldn’t be surprised if he, Ty Blach, and Derek Law all are either out of the picture or are in line for minimal use tonight. That leaves the Giants with Santiago Casilla, Will Smith (who also pitched last night), and maybe Jeff Samardzija as the big weapons left in the bullpen with Madison Bumgarner spent and Johnny Cueto on tap for Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Cubs almost certainly won’t go back to Mike Montgomery after four innings of relief, but other than he and Aroldis Chapman, the team’s other relievers didn’t make it to double-digit pitches, and may be just fine for tonight.

On the position-player side, we’ll keep assuming that Eduardo Nunez isn’t at 100 percent and that Jorge Soler is available again, but may still be slightly compromised. The way that Cubs pitchers have been hitting–now both Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta have homers this series–perhaps using a couple of arms as bats wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. All systems are (mostly) go.

Outlook

If there is one thing that we learned over the course of the 2016 season, it is that the Cubs were far and away the best team in baseball. If there is one thing that we learned over the course of the last seven years, it is that we should never, ever–under any circumstances–count out the San Francisco Giants in the playoffs during an even year. Bumgarner may not be around for Game 4, but there’s the history of Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro, Travis Ishikawa, and now Conor Gillaspie … never mind the fact that the Giants are actually a pretty good offensive team overall. The Cubs may lead on paper–even in San Francisco–but it’s not over yet. —Bryan Grosnick