September 25, 2017

Standing just a few feet away from a room full of baseball writers at Gaylord National Resort in Nashville last December, Rich Hill got emotional.

The now-37-year-old lefty reflected on a star-crossed career, one that had seen him harness his electric curveball into an excellent 2007 season with the Cubs, only to nearly fall off the baseball map. From 2008 through 2015, Hill made only 22 starts, including none from 2010-2014, as he battled a litany of injuries, settled mostly for relief work when he could crack a big league roster, and journeyed so far he even pitched in indie ball for a short time as part of his long road back. But after a dynamic (if still injury-, and blister-prone) 2016 campaign in which he flashed a microscopic 2.12 ERA, Hill had earned a three-year, $48 million deal from the Dodgers, by far the biggest contract of his career.

So far, that investment looks pretty good. Yet another round of blisters tamped down his innings count this year, and Hill has allowed home runs at his fastest rate in more than a decade. But he’s also rounding into form at just the right time, striking out 30 batters in his four September starts, while holding opponents to a .158 batting average, and producing a 2.45 ERA.

After a season spent using the 10-day disabled list as both a not-very-subtle way to manipulate roster rules and as a legitimate place to stash multiple actually injured pitchers (at times), the Dodgers can now roll with a loaded playoff rotation, one that has twin aces in Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish at the top. But when your number-three starter is the fourth-most prolific strikeout artist in the league (and an incredible perseverance story to boot), that’s pretty damn good.

1. Cleveland (98-58, plus-241, LT: 1) 

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