LOS ANGELES — For the first day of the playoffs there are no MLB games, giving us a Wednesday to wait for Thursday’s Game 5 of the NLDS, with the Dodgers and Nationals the only teams left fighting in the first round.
With the Cubs’ win over the Giants on Tuesday night, the Dodgers and Nationals are the only game in town on Thursday, giving them the evening slot of 5:08 p.m PT, the first non-daytime start of the series.
There are just five teams still alive in the playoffs, with both the Blue Jays and Indians sweeping their way into the ALCS, and the Cubs awaiting the Dodgers-Nationals winner in the NLCS.
It also means the Dodgers packed for a long trip when they fly to Washington D.C. on Thursday, because if they beat the Nationals on Thursday they would open the NLCS in Chicago on Saturday and Sunday.
The next game at Dodger Stadium is either going to be Tuesday, for Game 3 against the Cubs, or opening day, April 3, 2017 against the Padres.
One of the memorable moments of Game 4 was, during the winning rally in the eighth, seeing Andre Ethier finally get an at-bat in the series. He technically appeared in Game 2 as a pinch hitter, but was burned and not used once a left-handed pitcher was brought in as a counter move. In Games 1 and 3, Ethier was used as a decoy at some point, standing in the batters box only to be pulled back and not used.
So in his first plate appearance of the series, after missing nearly six months with a fractured right tibia, an injury that isn’t fully healed though he’s still in a condition to be able to contribute, Ethier got a pinch-hit single that moved Andrew Toles into scoring position.
“We have the utmost confidence in Dre,” said second baseman Chase Utley, who drove home Toles for the winning run. “He's been in those situations, as well. He always put great at-bats and he's a great pinch hitter. You knew he was going to do something special, and he did.”
Pinch hitting is a difficult task, for several reasons — coming in cold off the bench, usually facing a tough relief pitcher — but the Dodgers as a team were especially bad at it in 2016. The National League hit .254/.322/.412 overall during the regular season, but as pinch hitters the league hit .219/.303/.358.
Dodgers pinch hitters hit just .189/.283/.285, 13th among 15 NL teams in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.
Dodgers pinch hitters in the NLDS are 2-for-3, including Ethier’s single and Carlos Ruiz’s home run on Monday.
Ethier down the stretch in that role was 4-for-11 (.364) with a home run and a double.
“With Andre, you know, for me, the small sample in September meant nothing. It was more the at-bat quality, and that's what I told him from the beginning,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I knew he was going to play a pivotal role in each of these series.”
The Dodgers have used 24 of their 25 players so far in the NLDS. The only player not yet used is Julio Urias, who is likely to be used in some capacity in Game 5.