This would have been a much tougher decision if the Dodgers had won last night, but Kenta Maeda should absolutely get the ball in Game 5 tonight for the Dodgers.
With the series tied 2-2, the Dodgers need to win two of the next three games to advance to the World Series … but you already knew that. The way things are set up right now, Maeda starting tonight should be a no-brainer.
The Dodgers almost stole Game 1 with Maeda on the hill opposing Jon Lester. That isn’t completely fair seeing as he only went four innings and the Dodgers did the bulk of their damage against the Cubs bullpen, but Maeda didn’t completely implode, either. Having him start on regular rest, at home (which is huge) is the Dodgers best chance to win this series.
Maeda didn’t fare as well on four days’ rest (3.97 ERA) as he did on five days’ rest (3.01 ERA), but he was a little better at home (3.22 ERA) than he was on the road this season (3.74 ERA). Earned run average doesn’t tell the whole story, but I feel a lot more comfortable with Maeda starting at home in a game that won’t determine the season as opposed to a game on the road (against the 103-win Cubs) that could decide the season.
This will be the fourth time the Dodgers have faced Lester this season. Predictably, he hasn’t given up a lot (two runs in 21 innings), but they showed an ability to make solid contact off Lester in Game 1, and at some point those balls will find holes. Conversely, Lester could be lights out and it doesn’t matter how well Maeda pitches. That’s baseball.
But, this being the right choice mostly has to do with Clayton Kershaw and maximizing his number of outings, quality of outings and length of outings.
If Kershaw were to go on short rest today, first, there’s no guarantee he’d be effective enough to keep the Cubs in check. He did so in Game 2, but that was coming off a 7-pitch outing three days prior, not a full start just four days ago. He has been fantastic on short rest in the playoffs, but one has to wonder how many times the Dodgers can go to that well.
The biggest thing is the Dodgers will need to win a road game if they want to advance. Kershaw is the best chance of that happening. In fact, the Dodgers are set up as best as they can be to take a Game 6 and/or 7 in Chicago with Kershaw and Rich Hill on the mound — on extra and full rest.
And if I may look ahead, Kershaw is going to have to start on short rest at some point in a potential World Series appearance. His start Saturday would mean his next day on full rest would be a week from today — an off-day in the World Series. There’s no way Kershaw doesn’t see the mound before Game 3, so he’d go in Game 2 (just like this series). It’d be better to have Kershaw on short rest in that scenario (especially since he has just one career appearance against Cleveland in his career). That’s the time to start him on short rest, not now. And it appears Dave Roberts is going to do the right thing.
At some point, a non-Kershaw/Hill starter is going to have to step up. Maeda couldn’t ask for much more than what’s in front of him. If he can give the Dodgers five solid innings, they would take that and never look back.
Every remaining game this season is the “biggest game of the season,” but this one has a bit more riding on it. If Maeda and the Dodgers win, Kershaw in a clinching Game 6 is the best-case for the Dodgers. If they fall, there’s a good chance this comes down to Hill and Jake Arrieta in Game 7.
Baseball is the best/worst.