Chicago Cubs: Pitching leads storylines for NLCS Game 3

Oct 17, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) talks to the media before today
Oct 17, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) talks to the media before today /

The Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers NLCS series will continue tonight with Game 3 in Los Angeles.

After two games in Chicago, the 2016 NLCS between the Chicago Cubs and Dodgers has shifted out west for Games 3-5. Despite scoring a combined 12 runs in Game 1, offense came at a premium during Sunday’s Game 2.

Between the two teams, just one run was scored on a combined five hits in Game 2. Adrian Gonzalez‘s solo home run in the second inning proved to be the decisive play in a 1-0 Dodgers’ victory.

Despite seeing pitchers Jon Lester, Kenta Maeda, Kyle Hendricks and Clayton Kershaw already, Game 3’s pitching matchup is intriguing in its own right. Tonight’s matchup between Jake Arrieta and Rich Hill should be entertaining for several reasons.

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Rich Hill’s blister

Both the Dodgers and the Cubs are starting a pitcher who put up impressive numbers during the regular season. The Dodgers will start a 36-year-old journeyman in Hill, who they acquired at the trade deadline from the Oakland A’s. Between both clubs in 2016, Hill went 12-5 (20 starts) with a 2.12 ERA in 110 1/3 innings.

Although Hill put up impressive numbers this season, he has had a lingering problem that could hinder him tonight. Dating back to July, Hill has been battling a blister on his left middle finger. The issue was so severe (Hill throws left handed) that he was placed on the 15-day DL by the A’s back on July 30th.

After the Dodgers acquired Hill, they placed him on the DL themselves August 2nd. The injury kept Hill from making his Dodgers’ debut until August 24th. Additionally, he only was able to make six regular season starts with Los Angeles because of the blister problem.

Because of the blister, the Dodgers have been pretty cautious when it comes to Hill’s inning total with the team. Hill failed to make more than 93 pitches in a start with the Dodgers, only pitching seven innings one time. During that start, Hill actually had thrown seven perfect innings before getting removed.

Dodgers’ manager y said the blister should not be an issue during tonight’s game. At the same time though, he did not shut down the notion that Hill is 100 percent okay.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Roberts said that the team checks the blister after every inning to make sure Hill can still pitch. He even went as far to say that “the Dodgers will ‘keep our fingers crossed’ that Hill’s finger avoids the fate that has plagued it several times this year.”

Hill could very well be good to go during tonight’s game. Just like the Dodgers, though, fans from both sides should keep an eye on Hill’s blister throughout the game.

Jake Arrieta and the long ball

At first glance, Arrieta’s 2016 stats, can presumably indicate that he had an easy-going time on the mound. While this was true for many Arrieta starts, some were a rollercoaster for the former Cy Young award winner.

Arrieta went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA over 197 1/3 innings (31 starts) in 2016. Opponents hit just .194 against Arrieta, showing that getting on base against him was quite difficult. Before the All-Star break, Arrieta went 12-4 in 18 starts with a 2.68 ERA. After it, though, he did struggle on the mound, at least for his own standards.

After the break, Arrieta went just 6-4 (13 starts) with a 3.69 ERA. While these numbers are not bad by any means, Arrieta did seem to pitch better during the first half. So what exactly changed for him?

In 2015, Arrieta gave up 10 home runs over the entire season. Before the All-Star Game this season, he gave up seven. After it, he gave up nine, nearly as many as 2015 in its entirety. One home run doesn’t always impact the final result of a game. In the postseason, though, one long ball can change a game’s entire momentum.

By no means does give up a home run translate to a team winning or losing a game, obviously. During Game 3 of the NLDS, Arrieta pitched six innings and allowed two runs and the Cubs lost. Arrieta gave up no homers and the Cubs lost in extras long after he exited the game. All I’m saying is one swing of the bat can change a postseason game drastically.

Essentially, this fact applies to Hill, Arrieta, and any pitcher during the playoffs. Giving up any runs is undesirable. However, getting beat by the long ball can be both demoralizing and crushing for a team.

Next: NLCS: Chicago Cubs travel out to Los Angeles for Game 3 vs Dodgers

Through the first two NLCS games, a home run has been the deciding score in both instances. Miguel Montero hit a go-ahead grand slam during the bottom of the 8th in Game 1, giving the Cubs a 7-3 lead. Gonzalez hit a solo home run during the top of the second in Game 2, the only run of the game in a Dodgers’ win

Tonight, the Cubs need the same Arrieta that they saw during his NLDS start against the Giants. If he can pitch similar to that, the Cubs hypothetically should be in a good position to win.