Chicago Cubs: Facing Rich Hill will define playoff roster

Oct 15, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill (44) talks with media before game one of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit:
Oct 15, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Rich Hill (44) talks with media before game one of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: /

After losing Hyun-Jin Ryu to elbow surgery and Scott Kazmir to a host of injuries, the Los Angeles Dodgers needed pitching support behind Clayton Kershaw. In walks Rich Hill and the rest is history. He takes on the Chicago Cubs today.

Between Oakland and L.A. this year, Hill went 12-5 with a 2.12 ERA in 110 innings—the second most since his 2007 campaign with the Chicago Cubs (195 IP). He also recorded his second-highest strikeout total (129) since ’07.

In six starts with the Dodgers, Hill went 3-2 with a 1.89 ERA and 0.786 WHIP. He quickly solidified himself as a reliable number-2 in the rotation despite his finger blister issues.

He’s allowed a meager .188/.260/.532 slash-line to righties this year, and .218/.264/.522 to lefties. His numbers at Dodger stadium are comparable as well—.215/.282/.582.

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To make matters more crucial for the Cubs, Hill has only allowed four home runs this year, one of which came in the playoffs.

During the regular season, The Cubs hit lefties very well, slashing .267/.449/.807 collectively. Their 59 home runs were third highest in the league and were fifth in extra base hits with 147.

The playoffs have been a different monster for the Cubs offense altogether. They’re slashing .157/.247/.546 against lefties—the worst offensive numbers by a team still in championship contention. They’ve also struck out 24 times, reminiscent of offensive struggles from past years.


So, how important is it that the Cubs find a way to beat Rich Hill? In a word: very. Chicago needs to show that they can hit left-handed pitching this postseason. Especially if they’re going to play either Toronto or Cleveland in the next round.

As strange as it might sound to a casual Cubs fan, playing another close game with L.A. in Game 3 might play in Chicago’s favor. In games he has less than two runs of support, Hill allowed a .252/.340/.667 slash line to opposing batters, with a 2.60 K/BB to back it up.

The Dodgers have only scored two of their five total runs against Cubs starters this series. And Chicago’s front four lead the remaining teams in collective ERA with a 2.52. Batters also hit well against Hill deep in the count. When batters get ahead, they’re hitting .268/.345/.841 with three doubles, one triple, and knocked in nine runs.

This year, when the Cubs get ahead in the count, they’re slashing .307/.549/1.060 with 131 extra-base hits, and 309 runs scored—38.2% of their total for the year.

Not Home Sick

The Cubs have hit better away from Wrigley Field as well, blasting 19 more home runs and scoring 30 more runs. They’ve also hit well against finesse pitchers, recording a .279/.474/.829 stat-line.

Playoff-standout Javier Baez has been leading the Cubs offensive production this postseason. He’s slashing .402/.639/1.056 through six games and is second to Willson Contreras in offensive production against lefties.

Baez has the second most hits (9), tied for most runs scored (5), and fifth-most runs created in the playoffs. His .217 ISO is second on the Cubs behind Kris Bryant (.292).

Contreras is batting .750/.750/1.500 against lefties this postseason, with three hits and two RBI.

Next: Cubs need to get things together, quick

Jake Arrieta is scheduled to start for Chicago in Game 3, carrying fewer innings than years past and a clearer head. Even though skipper Joe Maddon started Miguel Montero with Arrieta against San Francisco in the NLDS, it seems wise to give Contreras the nod in this matchup.

If the Cubs don’t start hitting lefties better, the threat of facing someone like Andrew Miller with the Commissioner’s Trophy at stake is that much more worrisome.