It’s who scores the most, but it helps to score first
By Cary Osborne
One truth about this National League Championship Series is that the team that has scored first has won every single game.
Is that coincidental? Maybe. But consider the starting pitching we’re seeing here. Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester, in that order, ranked one through four in ERA among all starting pitchers who threw at least 100 innings this season. Jake Arrieta was 10th in the National League.
When these pitchers have a lead, the pressure appears to shift onto their opponents.
Four times in this year’s playoffs, the Dodgers have come from behind to tie a game or take the lead, but after Game 4 of the National League Division Series, Dave Roberts said he was a firm believer in momentum’s impact on a baseball game. After Game 5 he reaffirmed it, noting how playing from behind has created some stress.
“I think that it is nice to get a lead, and so the last two nights those guys have been able to get the lead and put a little pressure on us,” Roberts said. “So I think that, yeah, I do believe in momentum, but I also believe that the next day’s starting pitcher has a lot to do with momentum. So I like our guy.”
That guy is Kershaw in Saturday’s Game 6 who is 85-0 in his regular season career when the Dodgers score four runs. When the Dodgers scored first in Kershaw starts this season, they were 13-1. When they scored first in the first three innings, they were 13-0.
Maybe this still sounds coincidental or trivial, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said it’s imperative that his team scores first in games.
“Well, that’s been our mantra all year, to score first and to win innings,” he said. “It’s big. It is big. The winning percentage for that team normally over the course of a long season is heavy, heavily in their favor. So that’s one of our goals. We’re able to do it, and of course when the other team gets up, there’s always their percentage that you beat the team that scores first, too, sometimes. We’ve got to go there mentally. But that’s our goal on a nightly basis to attempt to score first.”
According to Sportsdatabase.com, the Cubs were 78-21 during the 2016 regular season when they scored first. That was the most wins and best wining percentage of any big league club.
The Dodgers were 55-25.
They haven’t built much early momentum offensively in this series. In innings one through three, the Dodgers have scored two runs total in the five games. They got a run in the second inning of Game 2 and the third inning in Game 3 — their two wins. They didn’t score until the fifth in Games 1 and 4, and were down 3-0 and 5-0, respectively, by the time they scored in those games. The Dodgers trailed 1-0 until they scored a run in the fourth inning in Game 5.
It would do them well to score first on Hendricks. The Cubs were 16-2 when scoring first for him and 3-9 when their opponents scored first off him. Opponents were 2-7 against the Cubs when scoring first off Arrieta and 5-16 when the Cubs scored first with him on the mound.