Tuesday night the Chicago Cubs will face Yu Darvish of the Los Angeles Dodgers, while the National League Central champs will send Kyle Hendricks to the mound.
If this had been Game 1, then much would need to be said about the trade deadline acquisition by the Dodgers and the budding ace for the Cubs.
However, if the series keeps moving the way it has after Games 1 and 2, each of the two pitchers will only be footnotes since the series has been left up to the bullpens of both teams to win or lose.
The Cubs have not fared that well in that regard, as Chicago has not had good results from its relief pitchers. Cubs relievers are currently sitting with an ERA of 7.03 during the postseason, and have given up eight hits, six runs and walked six over seven innings.
The relief problems are not just having the wrong buttons pushed by manager Joe Maddon. The Cubs skipper pushed closer Wade Davis in the NLDS Game 5 finale for 44 pitches, which in turn limited the availability of Davis in both Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.
Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Brian Deunsing all are talented and have all pitched well at some point this season, but none of the three are similar to today’s relievers where a starter throws 80 to 90 pitches during four innings and then can come in and shut down the opposition for three to four more innings until the closer enters and gets his four-out save.
The bullpen for the Dodgers is just the opposite. It has been very dominant throwing eight innings of scoreless baseball. The relievers have in fact thrown nearly perfect innings, giving up not hits, no walks and striking out nine Cubs.
Just one imperfection has been seen and that was Anthony Rizzo being hit by a pitch in Game 2 by Kenley Jansen.
Compare those to the last few postseasons where the only reliable arm in the bullpen was that of Jansen and even Clayton Kershaw during the postseason has had to step in to help in relief.
Therefore, the Cubs need a strong performance out of Hendricks. This will be his third appearance in the postseason. He pitched seven scoreless innings in NLDS Game 1, but was touched for nine hits and four runs in Game 5 that eventually the Cubs won.
If the strong Hendricks comes to play, Maddon could ride him late into the game where Davis, who is now rested, could close it out and see the series narrow to 2-1, but if the poor Hendricks shows up the Cubs could face a 3-0 hole.