As many expected, the Braves will turn back to their ace, Mike Foltynewicz, in a do or die Game 4 matchup. Folty started Game 1 and only made it through two innings, allowing four earned runs in a postseason debut he would surely like to forget. He’ll have a shot at redemption Monday night against Rich Hill of the Dodgers, who will be making his first postseason start this year.
Hill has bounced around the MLB over his 13-year career, but has found a bit of a second-coming over the last three seasons in Los Angeles. The southpaw got his first taste of postseason play back in 2007 with the Chicago Cubs. That also happened to be the only season of his career where he pitched over 140 innings (195.0) and made more than 25 starts (32). After that, Hill battled a bevy of injuries that would have derailed even the most perseverant of players.
Somehow, nearly a decade removed from his best season in the majors, Hill was able to not only become a starter again but build up enough value to be included in a trade to the Los Angeles in 2016. He wound up making six starts in the regular season for the boys in blue, going 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA. And after nine seasons without throwing a postseason pitch, started three games in the playoffs. In 13 innings, he went 1-1, allowing 5 earned runs (3.46 ERA) and struck out 19 batters.
That was just the beginning of a full fledged comeback by a ten-year veteran. Hill returned to the Dodgers in 2017 and continued his spectacular work with a 12-8 record and a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts, and was even better in the postseason on the way to the World Series. Hill started 4 games, threw 17.2 innings and recorded an ERA of 2.55 with 24 strikeouts. 2018 has been more of the same, which is why it is no surprise Dave Roberts in 100% confident in his Game 4 starter.
Hill’s success is usually dependent on his curveball, which is one of the game’s best. He will throw the pitch about a half of the time, in any count against any hitter. And perhaps what makes the pitch so special, is Hill’s ability to mix it up. The curve will come at batters from different arm angles, different speeds and locations, which creates a headache for opposing hitters. In a league where the hanging curveball has a become a giant no-no, Hill is making a living off of it.
The Braves will have to hope that at least one of those curves turns into a giant mistake. Hill has had a tendency to give up the long ball, allowing 38 home runs in 49 starts over the last two seasons, but the Braves couldn’t generate any of those in their one matchup against him this season. Hill went seven shutout innings (tied for his longest start of the season), as the Braves could only manage 3 measly hits in an 8-2 Dodgers win at SunTrust Park. It was possibly Hill’s best start of the season, which should give him some confidence heading into this all important Game 4.
Despite the Braves inability to score a run against Hill in the regular season, they do have significantly better numbers versus left-handed pitching. Their team batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS numbers are all higher against southpaws. However, it’s also worth mentioning, Atlanta faced two left-handed starters in the first two games of this series and failed to score a run. It’s the postseason, throw the numbers out the window, and see which one of these teams can handle the pressure of a critical Game 4 the best.