By: Alex Patt
The Dodgers have taken the first two games in the NLCS as the series shifts to Wrigley Field. Cubs lost in game one by a score of 5-2 and lost 4-1 on a walkoff home run by Justin Turner last night. The hitting has been non-existent in this series, and the bats need to wake up very soon. For this article though, I will discuss last night’s starter for the Dodgers, Rich Hill.
Cubs fans in at least their late teens can probably remember Hill pitching in a Cubs uniform a decade ago, and many remember it was a rough go for him. The lefty had some promise coming up when he began filling in for Kerry Wood in 2005 when he was battling injuries, but the next few years had plenty of ups and downs. A combination of command issues and injuries set Hill back and he was out of Chicago after the 2008 season. From 2009-2015 Hill bounced around between five different MLB teams and pitched to a 4.88 ERA and 1.522 WHIP in 137 games (only 17 starts) in that time. Though he stayed in baseball all those years, he faded away into obscurity and was kind of forgotten.
Then 2016 happened. Hill started with the Oakland Athletics and in 14 starts pitched to a 9-3 record with a 2.25 ERA and 1.092 WHIP. He found the command he was looking for the past decade and made that promising curve he has work consistently. His efforts got him traded to a contending LA team where he pitched even better. He finished 2016 with a 12-5 record, 2.12 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 0.997 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. He got a three-year, $48 million extension with the Dodgers before the 2017 season. So far it has paid off in 2017 as he went 12-8 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.091 WHIP this past season.
So this is where the Cubs come in. Hill last night went 5.0 innings and gave up one run on three hits and struck out eight. Not only that, but in last year’s NLCS Hill dominated the Cubs lineup 6.0 shutout innings striking out six. Hill, now 37, has had his way with the Cubs in the postseason as a Dodger…and it feels kind of weird. There is certainly no reason for Cubs fans to dislike Hill on a personal level and it seems that most fans, including myself, wish him the best. He had his shortcomings in Chicago (Hint: his 2007 NLDS start against Arizona), but he had some misfortune with injuries and he gave it all he could. A lot of respect for the guy who kept at it even when it looked like he was done in the majors.
Yet seeing him make the likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras and such look like fools at the plate gave both myself and many of my Twitter followers some odd and “salty” feelings. I watched both of Hill’s postseason starts against the Cubs thinking, “Where was this in the 2007 NLDS?” Obviously the guy has improved much since then and we know the answer, but in the moment it was very frustrating. It was like seeing your ex-boy/girlfriend who you do not necessarily hate get or do something you want, creating some bitterness (I thank my Bill Swerski Sports Talk Chicago co-host Shawn Hopman for that analogy). It does not help that the Cubs bats have been cold all postseason, but last night’s game was important and the offense was still MIA. Much credit to Hill for not giving up and finding his groove, but it would have been nice if the Cubs could have figured him out.
Now the Cubs are in an 0-2 hole in this best-of-seven series and it is basically do or die time. Game three will be at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night.