In a winner-take-all game, any advantage can be the difference between advancing and going home.
In an effort to gain an early upper hand in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has opted to use reliever Corey Knebel as an opener Thursday instead of handing the ball to left-hander Julio Urias from the jump.
The Dodgers have used Knebel as an opener before this season, and Roberts' strategy likely is to try and force Giants manager Gabe Kapler into starting his left-handed platoon lineup against the right-hander Knebel before bringing in Urias after Knebel.
Considering the Giants have stacked their lineup with right-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers all season, it's an interesting opening chess move by Roberts to try to create a little chaos with the Giants lineup initially and give Urias more favorable matchups against more left-handers once he enters.
An interesting sidenote to the Dodgers' decision is that righties are hitting better (.563 OPS) than lefties (.477 OPS) against Knebel on the season.
Knebel opened four games for the Dodgers this season, including a Sept. 3 game against the Giants when he tossed two scoreless innings.
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It's a savvy move by the Dodgers if it prevents the Giants from stacking the top of their lineup with right-handed bats. Knebel can steal three outs and Urias won't be bothered by coming out of the bullpen as it's something he did last October during the Dodgers' run to the World Series title.
The question now becomes whether or not Kapler will stick with a heavy right-handed lineup believing Urias will get the bulk of the work after Knebel, or if he'll go with the left-handed-hitting platoon to try and get an advantage against the opener Knebel early in the game.
While the Dodgers are electing to go with an opener in Knebel, Kapler will hand the ball to the Giants ace right-hander Logan Webb. Webb tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings in the Giants' Game 1 win.
Everything is on the table in Game 5, and the chess moves are just beginning.