Inside Edge, a leading baseball scouting and information service, will provide scouting reports to Yahoo! Sports throughout the MLB playoffs. Here's their breakdown of Game 3 of the 2008 National League Division Series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.
INSIDE EDGE BREAKDOWN -- CUBS VS. DODGERS
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• Rich Harden began the year with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts for Oakland and only got better after his July trade to the Cubs, pitching to a 1.77 ERA in 12 outings. He rearranged his skill set a bit, becoming less dominating but finishing off more hitters for Chicago. His swing-and-miss rate on strikes dropped from 27 percent to 23 percent, but he lowered opponent average from .166 to .106 on two-strike counts. He elevated his two-strike fastball more often after moving to the NL. As a Cub, a third of his strikeouts have come on pitches up in the zone.
• Efficiency is not one of Harden’s strengths. He averages 4.13 pitches per batter, well above the 3.77 league average for starting pitchers. He takes 22 percent of plate appearances to three-ball counts, so his 10 percent walk rate is a couple of points higher than a typical starter’s. The walks haven’t hurt too much because Harden allows only a .294 slugging percentage with runners on base, well below the .429 league slugging average for starters.
• Hiroki Kuroda’s been exceptional at preventing runs by allowing a .242 batting average with runners in scoring position (.266 league average). With RISP, he tries to induce a ground ball with his split-finger fastball, which gets hit on the ground nearly 60 percent of the time. Kuroda throws splitters 20 percent of the time when’s ahead in the count with RISP.
• Current Chicago hitters are 11-for-51 (.216) with only one extra-base hit versus Kuroda. The Cub who’s enjoyed the most success against him is Alfonso Soriano (3-for-7). Kuroda has tried to get him out with a flurry of sliders, which Soriano usually misses. Although he struck out twice by chasing sliders, Soriano has been all over Kuroda fastballs, swinging on eight of 10 in the zone for two hits.
• Jeff Samardzija can dial his fastball up to 97 mph, but he seemed to lose confidence in it in Game 1 after Blake DeWitt knocked a double on the fourth consecutive mid-90s heater from the Cubs rookie. He threw sliders or changeups on 10 of his next 15 pitches to Casey Blake, Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal – who flied out on a hard-struck fastball. The off-speed stuff has worked better for Samardzija. Opponents are batting .319 against his heater and .098 versus his mix of sliders, changeups and splitters.
• Lefty Hong-Chih Kuo has been a force in the Dodgers bullpen with his 2.14 ERA. With a 25 percent miss rate on swung-on pitches, Kuo does a good job at keeping the ball out of play, and has been equally effective against left-handed (.202 batting average) and right-handed (.205) batters. Kuo has good command of his fastball at all elevations, throwing it for strikes 68 percent of the time, but his breaking pitches are sub par. Opponents have .286 against his occasional sliders.
• The Cubs hit .246 as a team in the first two games of the Series, but Derrek Lee has put some quality at-bats together, reaching base in half of his October plate appearances. He's 2-for-2 against breaking balls with two strikes in the NLDS-- a nice accomplishment for the veteran first baseman, who batted .193 against two-strike curves and sliders in the regular season.
• Kosuke Fukudome got off to a hot start in his first Major League season, hitting .327 in March/April, but cooled considerably as his average declined in every month. He hit a lowly .178 in September, and his cold streak has continued into October, going 0-for-8 so far in the postseason. Renowned in Japan for his disciplined approach, Fukudome is trying to chase his way out of the slump. He’s swung on 30 percent of pitches outside the zone during the NLDS and missed on most of them. He was locked in on fastballs at the beginning of the season, hitting .351 off them, but has only four hits in his last 24 at-bats ending on heaters,
• Left-handed batter James Loney is hitting .304 against righties, but only .265 when the pitch is on the outer third of the plate. When Harden pitches Loney away, however, he will need precise control. The first baseman struggles on outside pitches that are high and low, but middle-away offerings are right in his swing plane. Loney hits .312 on those pitches. If the ball catches too much of the plate, he can hit it with authority. Loney is slugging .570 on pitches left over the middle.
• His teammate across the diamond, third baseman Casey Blake, tries to wear pitchers down. He usually takes on the first pitch, and swings on just 60 percent of pitches in the zone. Blake lays off most off-speed pitches and likes to wait for the fastball he can drive. He’s slugging .833 when ahead in the count and hits only 36 percent of fastballs on the ground (42 percent league average).
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Since joining the Dodgers, Ramirez is slugging over 1.000 against all pitch types early in the count. Of his 19 homers as a Dodger, 13 have come early in the count. The only positive for opposing hurlers is that 65 percent of Manny's PAs have ended late in the count. Here's a look at his production early in the pitch sequence while wearing Dodger blue:
Cubs hitters who match up well vs. Kuroda
DeRosa hit .367 this season against fastballs at or below the knees from right-handed pitchers; Kuroda is down in the zone 44 percent of the time with his fastball.
Kuroda pitches inside with his fastball 32 percent of the time to right-handed batters and Soto has posted an OPS of 1.233 against inside fastballs from righties this season.
Cubs hitters who could struggle
Theriot was able to pad his stats against right-handed pitchers by hitting .382 against curveballs, a pitch that Kuroda does not feature.
Since the beginning of September, Lee has had a hole in his swing against right-handed pitchers -- he is 1 for his last 22 against outside fastballs from righties.
Dodgers hitters who match up well vs. Harden
Manny has posted a 1.387 OPS against fastballs from right-handed pitchers since July 1st with more extra-base hits (24) than strikeouts (22).
In-zone breaking balls from right-handed pitchers have been no problem for Ethier as he has hit .474 off of them this season. Harden has been using his breaking balls to lefties more regularly since becoming a Cub.
Dodgers hitters who could struggle
Blake has chased 34 percent of high fastballs that top 90 mph from right-handed pitchers this season.
Changeups and splitters have limited Dewitt to a .182 batting average this season with only two extra-base hits. Harden has used his changeup and splitter 23 percent of the time when facing a lefty.