By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — With a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven National League Championship Series, the Dodgers will send right-hander Yu Darvish to the mound against the Cubs in Game 3 at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night. Chicago counters with right-hander Kyle Hendricks.
How this game will play out is anyone’s guess. As of mid-afternoon, the wind was blowing out at Wrigley Field, but both Darvish and Hendricks hold an advantage on their opposing hitters — neither pitcher was seen by the foe this season.
Darvish was dealt to the Dodgers at the trade deadline on July 31, and the teams played all six of their games against each other in the first half. The Cubs’ rotation order fell as such that Hendricks didn’t start in the April series in Chicago or the May series in Los Angeles.
So how do the Cubs, with their floundering offense, solve a talented power pitching in Darvish whom they haven’t seen?
“He will be tough on any lineup the first time you see him,” said an AL West scout who has evaluated Darvish. “He has that ‘Vulcan’ split-finger pitch. The difference in the Vulcan splitter is it is thrown like a fastball from a guy with longer fingers. The normal splitter breaks an inch or two from hand to plate. The guys like Darvish get a four to five-inch drop. You remember guys like Bruce Sutter and Bryan Harvey. They had the Vulcan split.”
Darvish was 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 209 strikeouts in 186 2/3 innings this season. He had some rough patches in early September but has responded with some of his best performances of the season. In the Dodgers’ win to clinch the NL Division Series against the Diamondbacks, he threw five innings of one-run ball and struck out seven.
“This guy has four quality pitches and variations off of his fastball and curveball,” another scout said. “He will attack the Cubs hitters with his four-seam fastball and splitter in the first two pitches. If he gets ahead of the batter, he will nibble on the corners and up out of the zone. The best way to attack him is early in the count. They must be patient. If he falls behind, you must allow him to walk you. The Cubs hitters have been suckers for the high-and-out pitch during the postseason. You must make Darvish work to get to him.”
The Cubs have there own master of the off-speed pitch in Hendricks, who allowed just one earned run in 12 2/3 innings across two starts against the Dodgers in the 2016 NLCS. That included a brilliant performance in the Game 6 clincher, in which he threw 7 1/3 shutout innings.
“The only thing I can do is focus on what I can control as a pitcher,” Hendricks said when asked about the Cubs’ offensive struggles. “That for me is all about making good pitches. For our lineup, I have the utmost faith in our guys to swing the bat well. When you are struggling, especially in a 0-0 game, you cannot give in. For me, I would rather walk a guy then give in on a 3-1 count. You must have a careful mindset. One pitch can be the difference in the game.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.