NLDS Game 3: Everyone Take a Deep Breath and Relax

1) The Cubs are still a very dangerous team, and one with their backs against the wall at that.
2) For as well as the Dodgers have played, you can’t ignore that the Cubs are nearly as responsible for their losses as the Dodgers are for their wins thanks to eight walks in Game 1 and four errors in Game 2.
3) You can never expect a sweep.
4) Sure, Hiroki Kuroda’s been pretty good, but Rich Harden’s been utterly dominant since going to Chicago.
Got that? Good, because those are important points to keep in mind while trying to contain our glee. Now on to the glee!
1) Manny Ramirez owns Rich Harden. Manny’s got 11 career at-bats against Harden, all Boston/Oakland matchups. In those 11 at-bats? Three homers. Considering Manny’s on a solid “one homer per 2008 NLDS game” pace and with a history like that, I’d say this is a pretty good sign. Otherwise, Harden’s never faced the Dodgers, and most of the LA roster has never seen him. Of the four besides Manny who have, three aren’t going to be in the lineup (Nomar, Ozuna, Berroa) and Casey Blake… is 0-8 with 5 strikeouts. Ugh. I know as well as you that this won’t happen, but i’d at least give consideration to the idea of letting Jeff Kent play second and moving Blake DeWitt to third for this one.
2) Hiroki Kuroda owns the Cubs. Harden who? Hiroki faced Chicago twice this season, and gave up just one earned run in 15.1 innings. Let’s bask in the warm glowing warmth of selected snippets from the ESPN game recap of his utterly dominating four-hit shutout on June 6:

Hiroki Kuroda was so good that Derrek Lee broke his bat in frustration at home plate after striking out in the seventh.

Kuroda allowed four hits and struck out a career-high 11 in his first complete game, leading Los Angeles to a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
“I had a great time,” Ardoin said. “Whenever you go out there and compete with a guy who brought the intensity that he brought to the mound tonight, it’s always fun. His slider was very effective tonight. It was a big league slider, definitely. We had a plan going in, and he was great at executing it.”

“He was a different pitcher tonight than when he pitched in Chicago,” Lee said. “He wasn’t bad that time, either, but he didn’t have near the velocity he had tonight and his slider wasn’t as sharp. His slider was extremely good tonight and kept us off balance. I mean, when you have 11 strikeouts, you’re throwing some pretty good stuff up there.”

3) Hiroki Kuroda owns right-handed hitters. With Kosuke Fukudome likely on the bench for Game 3, the Cubs will either have an one-lefty lineup featuring Jim Edmonds (if Reed Johnson gets the start in right) or just two lefties (if Mike Fontenot plays second with Mark DeRosa going out to right). The importance of this simply cannot be overstated when you realize that Kuroda allowed the 10th lowest OPS to right-handed batters of any pitcher in baseball, and there’s some pretty hefty names occupying the nine spots ahead of him - guys like Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Hudson, and okay, fine, Rich Harden’s there too. It’s not hard to see why Kuroda had such success against the Cubs, seeing how strongly right-handed their lineup is. Clearly, what side of the plate you’re hitting from isn’t nearly as important as the talent you possess, and obviously the Cubs hitters are plenty talented. But this matchup couldn’t possibly be more tailor-made for Kuroda, could it?
In all seriousness, this looks to be on paper yet another fantastic pitching matchup, although we all saw how that worked out for the Cubs in the first two games. Harden’s made twelve starts for the Cubs and couldn’t possibly have been better, allowing only a .525 OPS and scoring a 1.77 ERA. When healthy, which is always an issue with him, he’s without a doubt one of the more talented pitchers in the game today. However, don’t underestimate Hiroki Kuroda. No, he’s not Harden’s equal by any stretch, but don’t forget what I wrote last week:

*Very quietly, Hiroki Kuroda has been incredibly valuable. After he allowed just two hits over five scoreless innings today, that makes eleven straight starts in which he hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs. Over those eleven starts his ERA is just 2.58, and he’s LA’s third starter at best. How many teams would kill for a first starter with those numbers?

A 2.58 ERA over 11 starts is nothing to take lightly, and that’s before you factor in his success against the Cubs and righties.
Finally, I’m sure there’s a great caption for this shot of Matt Kemp getting swallowed by the ivy the other night, but damned if I know what it is – although I must say, when I turned it sideways, it looked like he was swimming through a sea of leaves, which is kind of awesome as well.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg