October 22, 2017

Though sidelined for six weeks by a lower back strain, Clayton Kershaw may have well earned his fourth Cy Young award for his regular season performance, leading the league in wins (18), ERA (2.31) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.73). He has not been in vintage form since returning, serving up 11 gopher balls in 51 innings while posting a 3.52 ERA, but for the first time during the team's run of five straight NL West titles, the suddenly bullpen-rich Dodgers didn't have to deploy him on short rest in the Division Series or wring every last drop of his reserve in the seventh inning. In the Dodgers' two 2013 and ’16 LCS runs, Kershaw had thrown 19 or 19 1/3 postseason innings in the previous 14 days before his fourth postseason start and was subsequently rocked for a total of 12 runs in nine innings. This time, he's at 17 1/3 innings over 17 days before that fourth start, so there's hope that the extra rest—particularly with the last few of those innings mostly stress free thanks to the blowout—will help.

With Roberts deploying early hooks for Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood as well, Dodgers starters have averaged just 5.3 innings per turn, with Kershaw (LDS Game 1) and Darvish (LCS Game 3) the only ones going past six innings. It's worked, in that the rotation has delivered a 3.19 ERA with 10.4 strikeout per nine and a 4.9 K/BB ratio, albeit with 2.8 HR/9. Only two of their 13 homers allowed came with men on base, however, and the group has faced just 22 batters the third time through the order; the other three LCS teams ranged from 40 (Cubs) to 46 (Astros).

Early-season blister problems led Hill to back off the usage of his curveball in favor of a fastball that may lack in velocity but more than makes up in movement—only six of 192 qualified starters get as much—and variations in speed and release point. He's been rolling lately, with a 2.13 ERA and 12.3 K/9 in seven starts and 38 innings since September 1, never allowing more than two runs. Darvish, who has undergone an overhaul since his July 31 deadline acquisition, with the Dodgers helping him simplify both his mechanics and repertoire, has been downright dominant of late. With greater reliance upon his cutter and slider at the expense of his four-seamer, he's posted an 0.87 ERA with a 35/2 K/BB ratio in 31 innings over his last five starts. Wood, on the other hand, is nearly out of gas after an 11-0, 1.56 ERA first half. His velocity is down and he wasn't sharp in his NLCS start, his first game action since September 26, and has now allowed 2.1 HR/9 in 69 1/3 innings since the All-Star break.

Dallas Keuchel will get the ball for Houston in Game 1 after his terrific regular season and strong playoffs. The former Cy Young winner battled injuries but put up a 2.90 ERA and 136 ERA+ in 145 2/3 innings. He was excellent in his first two postseason turns, holding Boston to one run in 5 2/3 innings and blanking the Yankees over seven in ALCS Game 1 while striking out 10, but New York got to him in Game 5, tagging him for four runs in 4 2/3 frames. Behind him will be Verlander, the ALCS MVP who is on arguably the best run of his entire career. Since coming to Houston at the end of August, the 34-year-old righty gave up only four runs in 34 innings, striking out 43, and has been just as good in the postseason, with four runs allowed and 24 strikeouts in three starts (and one brief, bizarre ALDS relief appearance) over 24 2/3 innings.

Morton, the hero of Game 7, will likely draw the assignment for the third game of the Fall Classic. Armed with a power fastball and a biting curve, he can hold any lineup down at least twice through the order. Game 4 will probably go to McCullers, who closed out Game 7 in tremendous fashion, allowing only one hit and striking out six in four scoreless innings. His power curveball destroyed the Yankees; the only thing that might keep him from starting in Game 4 is Hinch potentially using him as Morton’s relief in Game 3. If McCullers doesn’t draw the Game 4 start, that will most likely go to Brad Peacock.

Edge: Dodgers

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