Tonight, the Astros try to become World Series champions, while the Dodgers attempt to give us one more day of baseball this year. The Astros plan seems pretty straightforward: Justin Verlander will pitch until he can’t anymore, and then, depending on the score, they’ll either go with Lance McCullers (if it’s close) or some combination of the few remaining relievers A.J. Hinch trusts (if it’s a blowout). The Dodgers don’t have Justin Verlander, though, so things are going to be a little more complicated for Dave Roberts.
Rich Hill is a quality pitcher, but so far, the usage plan for him this postseason has been obvious: twice through the line-up and then he comes out. That is almost certainly going to change tonight, as Roberts would either have to continue to wear out Brandon Morrow, Kenta Maeda, and Kenley Jansen — leaving them less effective for another must-win tomorrow — or get some innings from some of the bullpen guys he hasn’t trusted in this series.
But unfortunately for Roberts, the next arms down the depth chart are left-handers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani. Having a couple of southpaws ready to replace the left-handed Rich Hill isn’t all that helpful, especially since the Astros’ top of the order are all right-handed. And the throw-day starter who is available to help out tonight is Alex Wood, also left-handed. Tonight, Roberts’ has all the fresh left-handers he needs, but he’s running low on right-handed pitchers he can use to go after George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa.
So, perhaps instead of holding Yu Darvish to start Game 7 tomorrow, the Dodgers should take a page out of A.J. Hinch’s playbook and try to tandem-start tonight’s game, with Darvish ready to replace Hill for the second half of the game.
The best case scenario for the Dodgers tonight is to win without having to use any of Maeda, Morrow, or Jansen in relief. With two days off, those three could form a devastating late-game combination again in Game 7 tomorrow, and when you add in Clayton Kershaw’s expected availability for some relief work in Game 7, the Dodgers probably wouldn’t ask Darvish to go particularly deep tomorrow. And if he’s only going to throw three or four innings in the next two games, they would probably be more helpful tonight, when the fresh arms are all left-handed. And the most likely way Roberts could avoid using his big three relievers tonight would be to have a right-handed arm on the mound he trusts, and looking at the options, Darvish is the only one who fits the bill.
Let’s map this a little bit, knowing Roberts has to plan on getting 54 outs in the next two days in some fashion. Things don’t usually go according to plan, but if you tandem-start Hill and Darvish tonight, the 54-out blueprint could look something like this.
|Game||Pitcher||Expected Batters Faced||Outs||Due Up When Pulled|
|6||RIch Hill||20||15||Jose Altuve|
|6||Yu Darvish||18||12||End of Game|
|7||Kenta Maeda||9||6||George Springer|
|7||Brandon Morrow||4||3||Yulieski Gurriel|
|7||Tony Watson||5||3||George Springer|
|7||Clayton Kershaw||9||6||George Springer|
|7||Kenley Jansen||7||6||Josh Reddick|
|7||Tony Cingrani||2||2||George Springer|
Under this plan, Hill and Darvish would handle all of Game 6, saving the right-handed relievers for tomorrow, when they’d have an extra day of rest. In order to get those guys an extra day, Darvish would have to pitch on three days rest instead of his regular four, but given that he faced just 12 batters and threw only 49 pitches in his start on Friday night, we probably shouldn’t expect the same level of short-rest penalty to apply using him today as if he was held until tomorrow. Essentially, the idea is that Darvish would be helped less by being held until tomorrow than the three right-handed relievers, who have been worked significantly harder of late.
And then, with Kershaw available to help get some outs tomorrow, the Dodgers don’t really need a traditional Game 7 starter. Maeda has plenty of experience starting games, so he could be first up in a line of arms, attacking the team’s right-handers right off the bat. And then you could basically just play the matchups, using Morrow, Kershaw, and Jansen to go after the Springer-to-Correa portion of the line-up every time they come up, and then stealing some outs with Watson and Cingrani when it gets to the bottom of the order. Cingrani is listed last there, as he would be the de facto closer if Jansen ran out of gas after facing the Astros best hitters and they just needed to steal a few outs to close out the game, but you could swap him out for Alex Wood if you want, or just decide to live or die with Jansen on the mound.
Now, plans like this only work if everyone is good, and that’s unlikely to happen. If Hill struggles, you’d have to go to a traditional reliever today, most likely, since you’ll want Darvish starting a new inning with the bases empty. So you probably have to have a guy like Ross Stripling warming while Hill goes through the top couple of hitters in the Astros line-up a third time, and hope that pair can get you through five innings so that Darvish could start the sixth.
But under this kind of plan, the Dodgers have a shot at getting 54 outs primarily from the pitchers Roberts has shown he trusts, and do so without putting the best relievers on the mound in both games, when fatigue becomes an issue. If they hold Darvish for tomorrow’s start, then they almost certainly would have to use their high-leverage relief trio tonight, which means tomorrow would have to be the Darvish/Kershaw show, with whichever reliever doesn’t get pushed too hard tonight trying to pitch yet again.
The other option is probably just hoping Rich Hill can give you seven innings, and then you save Maeda for tomorrow, and go Darvish/Kershaw/Maeda/whatever is left of Jansen. But Hill hasn’t gone seven innings in a month, and the Astros offense is a terrible match-up for a tiring left-handed starter. So while it’s easy to say that Roberts should just go old school and tell his starter to get him to pitch like its 1984, that’s just playing with fire.
Instead, if the Dodgers tandem-start tonight’s game, they could go full rested bullpen tomorrow, and make the Astros beat their best right-handed pitchers, rather than getting a chance to tee off on a tiring southpaw tonight. It’s probably not going to happen — Darvish has never pitched in relief, which I’ve entirely ignored, but Roberts can’t afford to — but if they’re going to win both of the next two games, this might give them their best shot.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.