The Chicago Cubs are threatening to regain control of the National League Championship Series and the pitcher the Dodgers has assigned to face them in Game 5 is … Kenta Maeda?
The same Kenta Maeda who has lasted a combined seven innings in his two playoff starts. The same Kenta Maeda who has a postseason earned-run average of 6.75. The same Kenta Maeda who is almost a month removed from his last victory.
Before you start asking if Manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers front office came down with a case of collective amnesia, they still remember they have Clayton Kershaw on their roster.
Scary as the idea of starting Maeda might be, the Dodgers have to do this. They have leaned heavily on Kershaw in the last couple of weeks, perhaps too much. Kershaw can't pitch every four days for the entire postseason and expect to still be standing at the end of the World Series. At some point, the team's other starters will have to do their jobs.
Roberts certainly sounded resigned to this reality. Asked if there was any condition under which he would consider starting Kershaw on three-days' rest Thursday, Roberts replied with a definitive, "No."
Roberts was questioned again after a 10-2 loss in Game 4, which tied the best-of-seven series, 2-2.
"It's going to be Kenta," he insisted.
Reporters who cover Roberts wouldn't ever compare him to George Washington being asked about his father's cherry tree, but there was a pretty significant indication the rookie manager was telling the truth: Kershaw threw a bullpen session Wednesday, which would line him up to pitch Saturday in Game 6.
Kershaw pitched in the opening game of the Dodgers' division series against the Washington Nationals. He returned only four days later to pitch in Game 4. Two days later, he pitched again, this time in relief. He earned his first career save by recording the last two outs in the winner-take-all Game 5.
If there were any concerns that he might have emptied his tank in the NLDS, he demonstrated that wasn't the case in Game 2 of this series, which he won by pitching seven scoreless innings.
However, the Dodgers shouldn't continue pushing their luck with him unless they have to.
While Kershaw has proven in recent years that he is the rare pitcher who can withstand the physical demands of starting on three-days' rest — as opposed to the regular four-days' rest — the Dodgers have to do what they can to preserve his body when they have the opportunity. If the Dodgers advance to the World Series, Kershaw could be making three more starts.
As well as Kershaw has pitched this month, the Dodgers have to continue to be mindful of his back, which has a herniated disk. They have to remember this has been an abnormal season for him that included 10 weeks on the disabled list.
"I think the accumulation of his usage over the last 10 days plays a factor in our decision," Roberts said.
Roberts also mentioned how the Dodgers can't secure their place in the World Series with a win in Game 5. They can't be eliminated with a loss, either.
And it's not as if starting Kershaw on Thursday would push Maeda out of the rotation entirely. The question isn't whether Maeda will start again in this series. The question is when and where. He either pitches at Dodger Stadium in Game 5 or at Wrigley Field in Game 6.
Granted, there are some drawbacks to the first option.
Jon Lester will be starting for the Cubs Thursday. Considering that Lester allowed only one run in six innings in Game 1 and the Dodgers' season-long problems against left-handed pitchers, Maeda figures to have minimal margin for error.
The game will be the last in the series at Dodger Stadium, where they earned 53 of their 91 regular-season wins. Starting Kershaw here would add to the Dodgers' home-field advantage.
The flip side of that is that Maeda pitched better at home than he did on road. His ERA at Dodger Stadium in the regular season was 3.22, compared to 3.74 anywhere else.
The Dodgers aren't asking Maeda to deliver an All-Star-caliber performance. If Maeda pitches five solid innings, the Dodgers should have a chance to win.
And if the Dodgers drop Game 5, there would at least have their two best pitchers up next. Kershaw would start Game 6 at Wrigley Field, where he has already won in this series. And if the series is extended to seven games, they will have Game 3 winner Rich Hill on the mound.
It's not ideal, but this is the team they have and this is the best they can do.