The Chicago Cubs will have to earn the pennant as they face Kershaw and the Dodgers tonight at Wrigley Field. The key? Attacking his fastball.
The Chicago Cubs can win the National League Pennant for the first time in 71 years tonight. The offense in the last two game finally showed its ability to score. The pitching and defense proved worthy of the praise it received during the regular season. And, the game is played on the home field of the team with the best home record in the league. The odds are ever in their favor. Except for one thing.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, with their backs against the wall, send their best play to the mound. He also happens to be the best pitchers in all of baseball. He is the long-haired hurler that is being compared to the greats of the game. He is the most interesting pitcher in the world. He is…
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What the stats say.
The numbers tell the story. For his career, Kershaw has been amazing. In nine seasons, he earned 126 wins and lost only 60 games. He has 1918 strikes outs, 477 walks, allowed 105 home runs, and an opponent batting average of .205. These are great career numbers. Add to this four years of leading the league in ERA, three in strikeouts and shutouts, and two in wins and complete games, and you see a resume of the game’s best.
However, the postseason is slightly different. Kershaw appeared in 17 playoff games in his career, so far. His record of 4-6, coupled with an ERA of 4.39, does not reflect his regular season success. When looking at his NLCS performances, you see that he is 1-3 with a 5.26 ERA. Maybe is the level of competition improving or the stress of the postseason, but Kershaw’s numbers do not match up.
But, do not tell that to Joe Maddon. Versus the Cubs in the NLCS, Kershaw is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA.
Hit the fastball
If the Chicago Cubs are to compete tonight, much less win, they must attack Kershaw’s fastball. The Cubs are the best team remaining in terms of production off the fastball. For the regular season, they were fourth in the majors with a “Weighted Fastball Runs” ( wFB:number of runs above average on the fastball) with a 72.5 rating. They struggled versus the curveball and the change-up, with ratings of -1.8 and -7.8 respectively.
Individually speaking, many of the Cubs’ starters proved they hit the fastball well. For example, Kris Bryant‘s “weighted fastball runs” is 37. Dexter Fowler is 26.4. Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist rate at 13.5 and 12.7, respectively. Add that together, and the top four batters in the Cub’s lineup combine for 89.6 runs above average when hitting the fastball. In the words of Darth Vader, that is “most impressive.”
While Kershaw possesses an amazing curveball, he threw his fastball 50.5% (1039 times out of 2057 pitches) of the time this season. While the fastball can reach 96 miles per hour, his average velocity is 93 MPH. And, most of the time, his fastball is middle of the plate or inside third to right-handed batters. These pitches account for 55.6% of all fastballs thrown by Kershaw, according to Fan Graphs.
The formula looks simple, yet the execution of that plan will be a challenge. Kershaw throughs the fastball 50% of the time. The Chicago Cubs hit the fastball well, and score off of those hits. Hence, producing off Kershaw’s fastball is crucial.