The Dodgers won tonight, but the path was certainly rocky. Before tonight’s game, Mike posted a thread called “Finally a real pitcher.” After Carlos Frias turned in one of the worst starts in major league history, and not great starts by Roberto Hernandez and Dan Haren before that, the promise of a Zack Greinke start felt like an oasis in a desert of mediocrity.
Unfortunately, the oasis was a bit of a mirage. Chris Coghlan greeted Greinke with a single on the first pitch and Greinke quickly threw away a pickoff throw (his first error since 2010). Greinke followed up the error with a walk of Javier Baez and looked extremely uncomfortable while doing so, hunching over and wincing on the mound. The Cubs broadcasters wondered if he was hurt, and we know about the “creeping concern” in his elbow and how important Greinke for making the postseason and beyond.
Greinke continued to struggle in the first, allowing two consecutive singles to Luis Valbuena and Jorge Soler, putting the Cubs up 2-0 before an out was recorded. While nightmares of Carlos Frias began, Ryan Kalish bunted for some reason, then the Cubs made the last two outs of the inning sequentially. However, that inning spent 31 of Greinke’s pitches.
Greinke made it through the next three innings unharmed, though none of the innings were clean and he threw 53 more pitches in the process. The fifth inning bookended the start with another series of Cubs hits. Greinke recorded the first out, but allowed four consecutive singles and a sacrifice fly, which plated the third and fourth runs of the evening. Greinke wasn’t hit particularly hard that inning, though: one single was a clean ground ball, one should have been an error as it rolled under Dee Gordon‘s glove, and one was a bloop behind the shortstop. Only the initial single and the sacrifice fly were hit hard.
Ultimately, Greinke only finished the five innings, allowing nine hits and four runs. However, he struck out five batters and walked one. He induced 12 swinging strikes in his 112 pitches, right in line with his season’s average rate. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t nearly as bad as his line showed, either. It was just one of those nights where everything found a hole and the defense didn’t help.
At first, it felt like this was going to be chalked up as another loss, with the Dodgers only managing one run during five solid innings by Cubs starter Tsuyoshi Wada. However, with the score 4-1 in the seventh, Neil Ramirez stepped in to pitch. Matt Kemp started the inning with a deep fly out to left center, knocked down only by the wind blowing in. That’s when the floodgates opened. Ramirez didn’t fool anybody, and though the Dodgers were lucky that Logan Watkins booted a potential inning ending double play by Juan Uribe, they hit everything hard. Even Andre Ethier, pinch hitting for A.J. Ellis, hit a very nice double to the opposite field gap to drive in a run. It was his best swing in awhile. When all was said and done, the Dodgers scored five runs and batted around while the Cubs refused to put in a left handed pitcher for some reason.
The Dodgers added another run in the eighth inning after Drew Butera drew a bases loaded walk (!). They scored again in the eighth on another wind-inhibited long fly ball by Kemp, who could have had at least two homers if the wind was blowing out. Dee Gordon had his sixth multi-hit game in a row, driving in the go-ahead run in the seventh with a double. Yasiel Puig added three hits of his own, including two rocket shot line drives which seemed like good signs. Alas, Greinke did not manage to help his cause on offense.
After Greinke left the game, Paco Rodriguez (whose velocity is down 2-3 mph) pitched a scoreless inning. Pedro Baez did too, stranding runners on the corners in a 26 pitch high wire act. Brian Wilson added a strikeout in a 1-2-3 inning, then Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth in a non-save situation, his first action since Sunday, and struck out two.
The win puts the Dodgers 2.5 games ahead of the idle Giants and reduces their magic number to clinch the west to 8. Tomorrow features one of the biggest pitching mismatches you will ever see – at least on paper. Edwin Jackson and his 6.09 ERA will face Clayton Kershaw and his 1.70 ERA at 11:20AM Pacific Time.