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Rich Hill, the Dodgers, and relishing the moment

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Los Angeles Dodgers v Miami Marlins Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The Dodgers are playing roughly as well as they have ever played in well over a century as a franchise, and in trying to complete yet another series sweep against the Marlins on Sunday morning turn to a kindred spirit in Rich Hill.

After winning four consecutive division titles but without a World Series trip to show for it — running the Fall Classic drought to 28 years — the Dodgers’ season will be defined more how they do in October than during the regular season. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the ride.

Most of my time in prepping game previews or recaps over the last month or so — when the Dodgers have won 28 of their last 32 games — has been spent searching for teams either in franchise or MLB history to do what this team is doing. For instance, should the Dodgers complete their third straight sweep on Sunday they would be the first Dodgers team with two separate win streaks of nine or more games since the 1955 team.

That Brooklyn team won the Dodgers’ first championship, but doing something they did doesn’t guarantee anything for this October. Rather, it’s just to point out how rare some of these achievements are.

Yes, a World Series championship is the ultimate goal, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t parts of the journey well worth savoring.

Baseball is insanely difficult. Every bit of success should be cherished, whether it is in July or October, or whenever. You never know how long the ride will last, so make sure to enjoy every part of it.

Just ask Rich Hill.

He went from pitching in the independent leagues in late 2015 with the Long Island Ducks to becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball from September 2015 through the end of 2016, with a 2.00 ERA in 24 starts.

The peak of Hill’s resurgence came at Marlins Park last Sept. 10, when he retired all 21 batters he faced, striking out nine. A victim of timing — that was just his third start in six weeks as a Dodger, and his blister problems worried the club with the playoffs just four weeks away — Hill was robbed of a chance to finish his masterpiece, the only man in major league history pulled that late in a game with a perfect game still intact.

At the start of this season, Hill was nowhere near perfect. When he wasn’t dealing with blisters, his command was erratic, and his trademark curveball was nowhere near as effective as it was last year. He set a record by failing to last past five innings in each of his first nine starts in 2017, and had a mediocre 4.72 ERA.

But then he made a tweak to his delivery, making it more of a hybrid stretch and windup, in an attempt to give him more command. So far, it has worked swimmingly.

Hill has lasted seven innings in each of his last three starts, something he didn’t even do in 2016. During that time, he has allowed four total runs, with 27 strikeouts and only three walks.

Starting lineups

Pos Dodgers Pos Marlins
Pos Dodgers Pos Marlins
2B Forsythe 3B Prado
SS Seager (L) RF Stanton
3B Turner CF Yelich (L)
1B Bellinger (L) LF Ozuna
LF Taylor 1B Moore
C Barnes 2B Dietrich (L)
RF Hernandez C Ellis
CF Thompson SS Riddle (L)
P Hill (L) P O'Grady
Time: 10:10 a.m. PT TV: SportsNet LA

After a 14.5-percent walk rate in those first nine starts, Hill has reduced that to just 3.9 percent over his last three outings.

Whatever it is that has allowed Hill to be Hill, he seems to have found it again. And it’s been fun to watch, with the animated Hill leg kicking and hopping all over the mound after confounding batters with his curveball, now doing exactly what he wants it to do.

Enjoy it, however long it lasts.

The opponent

With starter Edinson Volquez still ailing and not yet ready to come off the disabled list, the Marlins turn to left-hander Chris O`Grady in the series finale. The 27-year-old is making his second major league start, after beating the Giants last Saturday in San Francisco. O’Grady had a 3.29 ERA in 12 games, including nine starts, for Triple-A New Orleans, with 54 strikeouts and 15 walks in 54⅔ innings.

The Dodgers have won nine straight games and 16 of their last 18 against left-handed starting pitchers, and their 19-9 mark against southpaws is the best in the majors.

They are hitting .262/.348/.471 against lefties this season, second in the majors in OPS (.820) and wRC+ (117), and first in home runs (54).

Trayce Thompson gets the start in center field on Sunday, with Kiké Hernandez starting in right field. Austin Barnes gets the call behind the plate, giving the Dodgers six right-handed bats to go with Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger in Sunday’s lineup.

Game info

Time: 10:10 a.m. PT

TV: SportsNet LA