The Los Angeles Dodgers are throwing a curveball at the San Francisco Giants ahead of the winner-take-all Game 5 of the NLDS on Thursday night. Rather than starting star pitcher Julio Urías — who started Game 2, and was assumed by everyone to get the nod — Dave Roberts has opted to begin the game with Corey Knebel on the mound.
Corey Knebel will start Game 5 tonight.— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 14, 2021
The Dodgers are presumably using Knebel, a righty, as on opener before potentially handing things over to Urías, a lefty. This is likely to either force Gabe Kapler’s hand, or get an early advantage in handedness. Or both. Against Urías, the Giants figured to start six or seven right-handed position players. Now those players will either be at a disadvantage against a righty (maybe ... more on that in a minute), or Kapler will put a few lefties in the lineup.
It also gives the Dodgers the advantage of potentially being able to use a pinch-hitter the first time through the lineup. If LA gets a few hitters on base in the first two innings, they’ll be able to pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot in the second inning before giving the ball to Urías.
Still, some Giants fans will probably feel relief here. Urías was one of baseball’s best pitchers this season, and was very strong on Saturday, allowing just 4 baserunners and 1 earned run in 5 innings, with 5 strikeouts. A chance to put some runs on the board before having to face him is a little bit relieving.
But it won’t be an easy task against Knebel, who had a 2.45 ERA and 2.90 FIP during the regular season. In two appearances against the Giants this year — including one outing in this series — Knebel has pitched 3 innings and allowed 2 hits, 0 walks, and 0 runs, with 4 strikeouts.
There’s also the chance that Roberts gets really funky with things, and doesn’t go straight to Urías. If the Giants stack the lineup with righties in anticipation for Urías, Roberts could potentially reverse-manage the game, opting for a few relievers before letting Urías take the final four or five innings.
But there’s a catch to that catch: Knebel has actually pitched better against lefties than against righties this year. In a virtually identical sample size, right-handed hitters are .208/.350/.313 (.563 OPS) against him ... not exactly inspiring numbers, but notably better than left-handed hitters, who are .140/.245/.233 (.477 OPS). This has been true for Knebel’s career, as righties have a .716 OPS against him, where lefties have an OPS of just .611.
A game that was not lacking in compelling storylines just got a lot more fascinating.