Besides setting up clean, feel-good narratives in sports, the idea of redemption can be a powerful motivator for athletes.
The Los Angeles Dodgers should know this, of course, after the stellar performance they got from Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 3 of the NLCS to give them some life in what otherwise looked to be a short series against the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s also for this reason why the team and manager Don Mattingly should definitively state that Ricky Nolasco will be getting the ball for Game 4.
Yes, he’s already been announced as the starter, but it’s the type of announcement so wrought with ‘probables’ and uncertainty that it’s really more of a distraction than anything else.
For his part, the right-hander seems to be taking it as professionally as can be expected given the major caveat that he could have his first-ever postseason start swept from underneath his feet once again, this time by Zack Greinke on short rest. To be fair to the Dodgers, it probably would have made sense too — at least, prior to Game 3 anyway.
By staying alive instead of being pushed to the brink, however, the benefits of pitching Greinke has changed with the context.
Sure, Greinke is undoubtedly the better pitcher, and just happened to have dominated the Cardinals in a hard-luck Game 1 loss, but the fact is that he’s no longer absolutely needed in this game. And while the Dodgers did have a positive result from making the right choice and starting Clayton Kershaw on short rest, a longer series means that the benefits may no longer outweigh the risks.
Say Greinke did start on Tuesday and struggles, putting the Dodgers on the brink. Their options are then limited to starting Nolasco in a do-or-die Game 5 (which is unlikely), or going with their absolute best in Kershaw on short rest again. Neither are truly ideal options, and it’s probably in Los Angeles’ best interest to keep the former Miami Marlins ace out of potential series-deciding starts.
If they deviate from the plan in Game 4, they’ll have essentially no choice but to do so, barring all of their starters going on short rest for the rest of the series, with Greinke potentially doing so twice.
That’s obviously not an idea scenario, which is why the team ought to be giving Nolasco, who will no doubt have his share of nerves and question marks going into his first career postseason start, the outing with the least on the line (well, all things considering). As it so happens, that start is the one on Tuesday.
Besides, it’s not like Nolasco doesn’t bring his own track record of success with the Dodgers. His horrid starts from the middle of September on may have wiped most of the goodwill from it, but for a good month-plus prior to that, Nolasco wasn’t just matching the team’s other aces step for step … he was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball (1.64/0.89 ERA/WHIP, 5-0, .200 BAA in August).
So, the ability is there. The motivation is there. The Dodgers can’t avoid starting Nolasco forever, and if there was ever a “safe” matchup for him to go in, Game 4 is it.