With an offensive that is struggling, Chicago Cubs’ Manager Joe Maddon changed the lineup. And it should work tonight.
Tonight is the night. Game 3 in Los Angeles is the pivotal game for the Chicago Cubs if they are to win the NLCS. The Dodgers send Rich Hill to the mound against a new Cubs lineup. It could spell trouble for the veteran pitcher.
Sure, Hill had a great year; however, he is a better road pitcher than home. His record at home this year is 4-4, compared to 8-1 in road games. Most of those stats are from his time with Oakland. At Dodgers’ stadium, he is 2-1 with a 0.53 ERA.
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But it is the moves Maddon made that may swing things to the Cubs advantage. Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant are slotted for their normal order. Then, switch-hitter Ben Zobrist is third, followed by Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. This part of the order is key.
On the year, Rizzo hit .290/.410/.573 when batting cleanup. The average is slightly lower than when batting third, but everything else is higher. He even walks more and strikes out less batting fourth. And it is not a small sample size. He batted fourth in 71 games, compared to 80 when he was slotted third.
Couple Rizzo in the clean-up slot with Baez behind him and you have a potentially lethal order. Now, the Dodgers’ pitching staff will have to choose which treat they want to go after. Since Baez has been on fire this postseason, I expect Rich Hill and company to make Rizzo beat them. And. while left-handed hitters failed to hit a home run off Hill, they had a better batting average than right-handed batters.
In addition to moving Zobrist in the lineup, Maddon also starts Jorge Soler in right field over Jason Heyward. This move gives the Chicago Cubs another strong right-handed bat in the order. If Hill has issues with his 75 miles per hour curveball, which is his best pitch, Soler can crush one. And, with a fastball that averages 91 miles per hour, look for the Cubs to be aggressive early.
To say Rich Hill is a finesse pitcher would be accurate. He relies on a four-seam fastball and curveball but does have sliders (79 MPH) and change-ups (83 MPH) in his pocket. If the Cubs can manage the fastballs, look for an offensive show. If not, it could be a long night.