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Saving Darvish for Game 3 start makes sense

Decision says more about Game 2 starter Hill than Yu
MLB.com @mike_petriello

LOS ANGELES -- It was decided before the Fall Classic that after the obvious decision to go with Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, the Dodgers would follow with Rich Hill in Game 2 and Yu Darvish in Game 3.

That was perhaps a little surprising initially, because while Hill is a very good starter with a well-documented career rebirth, Darvish is the one with the ace pedigree, the one the Dodgers gave up some well-regarded prospects to the Rangers for in July. They didn't do that to win the National League West, which was already well in hand. They did it for October. They did it for right now.

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LOS ANGELES -- It was decided before the Fall Classic that after the obvious decision to go with Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, the Dodgers would follow with Rich Hill in Game 2 and Yu Darvish in Game 3.

That was perhaps a little surprising initially, because while Hill is a very good starter with a well-documented career rebirth, Darvish is the one with the ace pedigree, the one the Dodgers gave up some well-regarded prospects to the Rangers for in July. They didn't do that to win the National League West, which was already well in hand. They did it for October. They did it for right now.

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So why is Darvish starting Game 3 instead of Game 2? It's easy to point to his strong career numbers in Minute Maid Park -- in six starts, he has a 2.16 ERA and a 56/11 K/BB ratio -- as a reason, but it's actually too easy to do that. Those numbers don't matter much. They're not why this is happening. Instead, the Dodgers have other strong factors at play.

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To begin with, this is more about Hill than it is about Darvish or the Astros. Manager Dave Roberts said as much when he made the same decision in the NL Division Series against the D-backs.

"We feel good with Rich pitching at home, he's comfortable and had a lot of success here," Roberts said on Oct. 5, before the playoffs began. "And Yu feels comfortable pitching either at home or on the road."

Hill, who took a no-decision after four innings pitched in the Dodgers' Game 2 loss to Astros, had a 2.77 ERA and a .568 OPS against at home as opposed to a 4.06 ERA and a .730 OPS on the road, and he's far more of a fly-ball pitcher (46 percent fly-ball rate, one of the 10 highest among starters with 100 innings) than Darvish (37 percent) is. Clearly, Dodger Stadium is a friendlier locale for a fly-ball pitcher than Minute Maid Park.

They made the same decision in the NL Championship Series against the Cubs, when the Dodgers started Kershaw and Hill at home and then Darvish on the road in Game 3. When it came time to make the choice for the World Series, Roberts defaulted to what had gotten them here.

"Ultimately, we defaulted to what's been working," said Roberts. "The guys can stay on their schedules and routines, and we feel good about it."

Video: WS2017 Gm3: Astros facing familiar foe in Darvish

That's partially because the path to the World Series has been so easy for the Dodgers. After winning behind Kershaw in Game 1, they'd won eight of their nine postseason games, which, in addition to the layoff between the NLCS and World Series, has allowed the starters additional rest.

When Hill got the nod Wednesday in Game 2, he did so on 10 days' rest since facing Cubs on Oct. 15. When Darvish starts tonight, he'll be on nine days' rest. If the Dodgers had swapped Hill and Darvish, Hill would have been coming up on being idle for two weeks.

Roberts did admit to at least considering the ballpark concerns, based on whether the Dodgers would have faced the Astros or the Yankees in the World Series, saying that "there was a little bit of the ballpark thing, whether we'd play in Yankee Stadium or Minute Maid," but he didn't specify whether that was more about Darvish or more about where he didn't want Hill to pitch.

Besides, remember what it means to look at Darvish's history in Houston. Four of those six Darvish starts in Houston came from 2011-14, and the first three were spectacular. Those three starts in '13 starts saw Darvish pitch 23 2/3 innings, striking out 37, allowing four walks, four runs and five hits. On April 2 of that season, Darvish came within one out of a perfect game before Marwin Gonzalez broke it up with a ninth-inning single.

Video: TEX@HOU: Darvish takes no-hit bid into eighth

You recognize Gonzalez's name. He's been Houston's primary left fielder in October, though at the time he was a light-hitting infielder (.234/.280/.327 as a rookie the year before) still years ahead of his 2017 breakout. And if you look at the box score, you'll recognize Jose Altuve, who was starting his first full season and would go on to put up just a .678 OPS. But you'll also see Rick Ankiel in right, Brett Wallace at third and Carlos Corporan behind the plate.

On May 11, 2013, Houston's lineup included Jimmy Paredes, Trevor Crowe, Matt Dominguez and Robbie Grossman. When Darvish struck out 15 Astros on Aug. 12, 2013, it was against Brandon Barnes, Jake Elmore and Marc Krauss. The 2013 Astros weren't exactly rolling out George Springer, Carlos Correa or Alex Bregman, which is why their .299 OBP was the second lowest in baseball.

Since then, Darvish has had good starts in Houston against good lineups -- he allowed one run in seven innings on June 12 of this season -- and poor starts against weak lineups (six runs in four innings on Aug. 9, 2014, though it was his final start before injuring his elbow).

There's plenty of reason to pitch Darvish in Houston, just like there's plenty of reason to pitch him in Los Angeles or anywhere else; he can be an ace. But there's nothing more to this call than the simple choice of wanting Hill at home and not wanting to disrupt the rotation order.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Yu Darvish